If marketers have been constantly pivoting over the past two years, healthcare marketers are definitely needing a water break. What industry has seen more rapid change + been at the bleeding edge of a global pandemic more than healthcare?

In 2021, we learned a whole lot about what’s working and not working in healthcare marketing and we followed patients all over the place as they continued dealing with impacts of the pandemic. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said in spring 2020:

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

And it never slowed down. As patients continued to shift their interactions rapidly online, their expectations also changed. Patients expect online healthcare tools to be as easy to use as the other digital tools they use daily. They have different expectations about what their care might entail, and they are relying on us for more daily education and information than ever before.

Healthcare marketers — our hats are off to you! 

As we look ahead to 2022, here are five healthcare marketing trends that we are preparing for as rapid change becomes our new normal.

1. Virtual Care & Technology

Virtual care and technology will be more prominent than ever before. With the boom in telehealth, virtual care will become the primary way many patients interact with their healthcare providers. Technology that allows you to book appointments, send messages, and communicate with your provider will be available in more ways than ever before.

McKinsey reports that “telehealth use overall has stabilized at levels 38 times higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from 13% to 17% of visits across all specialties.”

What once felt like a slog (teaching patients about technology AND offering a great experience) became exponentially easier over the past two years as we were forced to offer patients an increasingly remote experience because it was the only or safest place for them to interact with us.

The exponential increase in healthcare apps and other digital technologies designed to serve patients and bridge gaps in care is also an opportunity for growth, or competition, depending on where you sit. 

Side Bar: Marketers are trying to rebrand the antiquated telehealth moniker to the more descriptive term virtual care, which is more indicative of the services provided. Regardless of the name, use of remote services continues to increase. In 2022, more and more people will be turning to telehealth for a wide range of services.

2. First Party Data

Marketers the world over are downright indignant about some of the privacy updates and changes coming from all directions, most notably the iOS 15 rollout with mail privacy protection and the iPhone ad tracking block from Apple. The debate about these features is a topic for another day. Most agree they are good for humans (the Forbes article linked above calls them “brilliant”), and yet it is another challenge for marketers to overcome. The general marketing world is grappling with how to increase first party data collection and reduce dependency on third party data sources, particularly in social media platforms that they cannot control.

This is where healthcare organizations, for the most part, are at least one step ahead. The HIPAA Omnibus Rule went into effect in 2013, so most organizations should already have implemented processes for compliance that improve their first party data collection.

Sidebar: The Omnibus Rule requires that healthcare organizations get written consent from patients before using their data for marketing purposes, and it also requires healthcare organizations to make sure they have a clear understanding of how that data will be used and who it will be shared with.

Healthcare marketers will soon have access to more first party data, thanks to the transition from ICD-10 to ICD-11 (which goes into effect January 1, 2022). This will allow you to better understand patients and their health history, which allows you to provide a more targeted, personal experience. This information will be used to drive marketing efforts to specific audiences and provide insights into what drives engagement with your brand.

It should be a priority for any healthcare marketing team to find great data analytics support and develop a plan for how to parse and use all of that data.

3. Patient Engagement

The new era of healthcare marketing will be focused on patient engagement. This means that healthcare marketers will need to provide patients with the tools necessary to make an educated decision about their health and well-being. Patient engagement is no longer just about sending out a newsletter or offering discounts. It's about arming patients with knowledge, which allows them to become more involved in their own care. You also need to build a relationship with your patients through online and offline communication.

From patient portals to telehealth, patients are demanding a more personalized experience when it comes to their healthcare, and they will continue to do so in 2022. Even more people will be turning to patient portals for a wide range of information and services. The user experience for these tools needs to be improved and constantly optimized as consumer expectations for the ease of digital experiences have risen across the board. 

People are also increasingly aware of their rights and options as healthcare consumers. With the shift of power from the doctor to the patient, people are becoming more knowledgeable about medical options and treatments.

Always putting the patient at the center of any communication will allow the physician to provide an improved experience for the patient, regardless of how they’re interacting. Technology-first or even provider-first efforts are sure to miss patient concerns. If you haven’t already, consider establishing a patient advisory board and improving your organization’s patient listening protocol so that staff have firsthand knowledge of how best to meet patient needs.

4. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Most healthcare organizations have ramped up their efforts in DEI over the past year, and this will continue to be a priority in 2022. As Smith and Jones says in their 2022 marketing trends report, “COVID thrust social and racial inequity to the forefront of public health. It was impossible to look away as specific racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups were affected by COVID at more severe rates.”

Health disparities have been a focus of public health for some time, but now these inequities are more broadly recognized and prioritized across healthcare organizations. This has also been fueled by an increasing knowledge and expectation by the public that quality healthcare services should be more broadly available to all people, not just to those that can afford it.

People are also becoming more aware of the lack of diversity in healthcare marketing campaigns and the lack of diversity in the healthcare workforce. Healthcare marketers need to create campaigns that are inclusive of all races, genders, ages, and identities that accurately portray the diversity of their patients. 

For those who also work in workforce recruitment, diversity and inclusion are a huge priority, as a diverse workforce is one of the best ways to improve health disparities. Giving patients access to providers that look like them, speak their language, make them feel safe, and understand their concerns from a personal perspective are necessary and should be a focus of any recruitment marketing in 2022.

5. The Patient JourneY

Typically called the customer journey in marketing, a patient journey is even more intimate. Part of the patient journey includes providing patients with valuable insights and resources to help them take control of their health. Another part involves thinking about the lifecycle of a patient, rather than one-time experiences.

The patient journey is no longer just about getting patients into the hospital or making appointments, it's about building loyalty and relationships that span throughout their entire relationship with your organization.

Healthcare marketing will continue to become more personalized in 2022. Over the past year, we’ve continued shifting from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more one-to-one, personalized strategy. Organizations have been targeting specific demographics, and even certain individuals, based on their health concerns and personal interests. This will also be aided by the ICD-11 code additions discussed above.

An empathetic marketing approach is another shift that will help you create better experiences for patients across the board. Marketing efforts in healthcare have typically been fact-based and informational, which is sometimes scary or daunting for patients to interact with. Taking an empathetic approach focuses on the needs and wants of patients. It puts marketers in patients' shoes and allows them to communicate in a way that helps patients overcome barriers and take steps to become healthier with less fear and obligation. This in return builds loyalty and trust, essential components of a long-term relationship.

In 2022, the healthcare marketing landscape will continue to evolve rapidly. Marketers must keep up with emerging trends in order to be effective in providing patients with valuable information and resources. The best way to do this, as with any marketing effort, is to stay close to your audience. Really listen to patients, hear their concerns, learn what they want, and work to provide them with great information that helps them get the care they need and deserve.

If you want help becoming laser focused on your program success, make sure to download and read our guide Why Effective Marketers Must Embrace Direct Response Principles.

Written by: Polly Yakovich
Category: Marketing, Strategy
October 25, 2021
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