Healthcare Marketing: Where Is the Puck Headed?

While there may be more professional ways of saying it, 2017 was a crazy year in healthcare marketing. Will they repeal and replace? What will happen with CHIPS funding? Will Medicaid be turned into a block grant program? Will CMS continue to move toward bundled payments?

Four signs point to where healthcare marketing is headed.
Four signs point to where healthcare marketing is headed.

While there may be more professional ways of saying it, 2017 was a crazy year in healthcare marketing. Will they repeal and replace? What will happen with CHIPS funding? Will Medicaid be turned into a block grant program? Will CMS continue to move toward bundled payments?

If the uncertainty at the federal level didn’t make your head spin, the pace of health system mergers might have — reaching an all-time high of 115 announcements. Now that we are three months in 2018, what can we expect for the rest of the year?

To be an effective marketer, you need to be aware of the macro forces shaping the industry and try to gauge what they could mean for the health of your region and your hospital or health system. It’s about considering where the hockey puck will be in two to three years, not just where it is right now. That type of thinking is great when the trends are fairly clear but harder to do when the environment is uncertain. There’s some bad news and some good news.

First, the bad news. The federal government will continue to roil healthcare in 2018, even though the likelihood of substantial legislative change diminishes as mid-term elections get closer. Merger activity will continue as providers try to develop sufficient scale so that future financial uncertainties can be managed. The number of consumers who have health insurance through the Exchanges will gradually decline because of the elimination of the penalty for tax filings in 2019.

The good news is that some tasks and trends will continue onward, and March is an ideal time to solidify your plans. Here are four things that haven’t changed:

The Move Toward Mobile

Hopefully your site already is mobile-friendly, but what does it let you do? Is your provider directory mobile friendly? Do the search results display in a click-to-call format? Can new or established patients request or schedule an appointment right from their phone? Does it render a map with location-aware driving instructions?

Time invested in improving the functionality of your mobile-friendly site is time well-spent.

Increasing Growth of Voice-Based Search

The popularity of voice assistants for the home is accelerating the use of voice-based searching. Voice-based searches often involve phrases such as ‘near me’ or ‘open now’ (or are implied) and are constructed differently than a keyboard-based search.

Find a search engine optimization firm with specific experience in voice-based search to ensure your visibility remains high as this type of usage increases.

Increasing Medicare and Medicare Advantage Coverage

Demographics are driving up enrollment in these programs, which has an impact on who you target, messaging, fulfillment, and use of communication techniques that increase Annual Wellness Visits or that decrease costly inpatient readmissions.

Dig into your local demographics and seek out multi-year sponsorships or tie-ins that elevate your brand among aging-in beneficiaries. Develop an outreach program that encourages seniors to use their Annual Wellness Visit benefit.

Research Is Worth It

When the environment is uncertain, you may notice an increase in suggestions about what you should be doing. Marketing is really about understanding the needs of your prospects and meeting those needs through services, communications, intake, and retention elements that make the journey a breeze.

If you have an objective, third-party research study about what your audiences want, you have a better chance of reframing conversations to how to address the needs of end-users.

Need help organizing your thoughts? This template can help.

Author: Michael Crawford

Michael Crawford became interested in healthcare listening to the conversations around the patio table as his parents and their colleagues talked about work. For the past 30 years he's used his marketing expertise to help medical groups, hospitals and health systems connect with consumers, physicians, employers, brokers and health plans. He advocates for a strategic approach to marketing, audience-based communications, coordination between marketing and customer service functions, and early inclusion of the marketing discipline when planning services. His work has earned more than a dozen awards over the past few years. He’s no stranger to healthcare reorganizations or healthcare reform, from the failed effort during the 90s to the implementation of the ACA to today’s efforts at repeal. His blog, Healthcare Marketing Survival Guide, offers advice for B2C and B2B healthcare marketers trying to chart their course during uncertain times. Connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @health_crawford.

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