Health Care Marketing Needs To Get Personal

November 8, 2021 | blog | By Christina McKinney

Not that long ago, when you weren’t feeling good, or something felt odd, or it was just time for an annual physical, you called your doctor’s office. You made an appointment, saw the doctor, and then waited a year for the next interaction. For some in health care, that’s surprisingly still business as usual. But for those paying attention to the extraordinary transformation happening between patients and providers, health care (and specifically health care marketing) will never look the same again. The power in medical relationships has shifted and patients—or more accurately, health care consumers — are now running the show. Moving forward, if doctors, hospitals, dentists, pharmacies, or anyone else in the health care sector wants to continue to grow, health care marketing can’t be an afterthought. It has to be the first thought.

Welcome to Patient-Centric Care.

It’s not uncommon for companies, or even business sectors, to have a long-term strategic vision. But in health care, that hasn’t always been the case. While marketing as we know it first showed up around 1910, it wasn’t until the late 1970s before doctors and hospitals really engaged in any kind of sustained consumer outreach. Even then, efforts were more a function of public relations and generating community goodwill than targeting patients with campaigns based on consumer research. Fast forward 40 years and, thanks to technology, competition, and a profound shift toward consumerism, health care looks completely different. Just follow the money.

In the late 1970s, U.S. national health care expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 6.9 percent. By next year, it will be more than 18 percent. In the past, health care was very much a “need-based” business. You got sick; you went to the doctor. Today, people are taking a far more active role in their health care. They’re  advocating for themselves and their families in a way older generations haven’t before. And much like in other current consumer behavior, with that advocacy, patients are making their decisions with a far more informed opinion than their parents did. That’s why health care marketing is so crucial to reach today’s health care consumers before they are making those decisions.

More than at any time in history, health care providers have an extraordinary opportunity to reinvent their care and the patient experiences they offer.

We Want What We Want and Where We Want It.

It might seem as though the onus is squarely on the doctors, hospitals, dentists, and pharmacies to initiate change. 20 years ago, that might have been the case. Today, it’s not. In the era of patient-centric care, the patient experience starts with health care marketing. Further, the quality of that experience is predicated on how well the provider meets the patient where they want them to be. That’s the influence of increased consumerism.

The challenge health care marketing teams have to solve is how to be where patients expect and want them to be. That starts with looking at health care through the lens of a customer journey, rather than a simple trip to the doctor’s office. Yes, many patients may call their doctor to make an appointment. But increasingly they also want the freedom to schedule an appointment online, or talk to their medical provider via email or Zoom. Want to “drop in” for your care? Thanks to “quicker” options like CVS’s Minute Clinic or grocery store pharmacies that give shots and vaccines, that’s an option too. 

It’s Time To Get Personal

Today’s health care journey includes dozens of influential touchpoints and providers have to find a way to be present in as many of them as possible. Medical visits in the past were decidedly one direction – medical provider to patient. Today,  the internet and the democratization of information have given patients a far greater voice and ownership of their health care.

Twenty years ago, shopping health care meant getting a second opinion on a knee replacement. Today, patients are getting a second opinion on the quality of the check-in experience and how long they had to wait to see the doctor. Patients have choices and, fair or not, they are informing those choices with their experiences from every other consumer front. As an example, technology in nearly every one of its forms makes other aspects of patients’ lives easier so naturally they expect the same to be true for health care. If I see my PCP and she refers me to a specialist in her network, why should I have to fill out my medical paperwork twice? And why can’t my PCP see the X-ray the specialist had me drive halfway across town to get?

Health care marketing can’t just be about driving transactions. It’s about establishing trust. It’s about building relationships that deliver comfort, relevance, and immediacy. Building strategic partnerships and networks that make patients’ lives easier and providers more profitable.

Successful health care marketing is about brand building in a way that continually resonates as health care continues to evolve.

The Future of Successful Health Care Marketing.

We live in an amazing time when medical miracles are the norm and what can’t yet be done certainly seems possible. For years, a debate has raged about what it could look like to digitize health care in a way all doctors and hospitals could access. Code Red! An unconscious patient is wheeled into the ER with a life-threatening condition. Imagine that, with just the patient’s thumbprint, doctors and nurses anywhere in the country could instantly learn the man’s blood type. What underlying conditions he has. Anything that might cause catastrophic complications for his treatment. The tech exists right now to make that happen.

In the 1970s, bionics made for popular TV fantasy like “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman” on ABC. Today, bionics make it so the profoundly hearing impaired can hear. So those in need of prosthetics can gain increased functionality. Scientists are even working on bionic organs. That may sound like science fiction. But we’re closer to bionic organs being a reality than we are to the dawn of health care marketing in the 70s. Clearly, the hyper personalization of health care will take some time. But the health providers who use data, technology, and sound marketing to build relationships with their patients now on a one-to-one basis are the ones that will own the market by the time other providers realize they are already behind the curve.

It’s About Building Relationships. Not Transactions.

Getting started is as simple as medical providers sitting down with their health care marketing teams and creating a strategic vision for building relationships at every touchpoint of their patients’ customer journeys.

It’s all about building trust. And when health care marketing and health care operational innovations combine to give their patients quality content, helpful resources, and, ultimately, great clinical care, a lasting trust is built.

Consider these two scenarios for a patient we’ll call Abby:

Hospital A

A very pregnant, 28-year-old Abby is referred to Hospital A by her OBGYN. She checks in and they deliver her baby. The hospital gives her excellent care for 48 hours and sends Abby and baby home with their best wishes. Barring an emergency, or another birth (and referral from her doctor), they may never see or treat Abby again.

Hospital B

A very pregnant, 28-year-old Abby is referred to Hospital B from her OBGYN. She checks in and they deliver her baby. The hospital gives her excellent care for 48 hours and sends Abby and baby home with their best wishes. Plus, a thoughtful basket of formula, diapers, wet wipes, and a book with $100 in coupons good at their in-network pharmacy. Three days after Abby’s delivery, one of the hospital’s customer care specialists calls Abby. She checks on her and the baby, and to see if Abby has any questions or concerns. The same specialist calls back after a month, and again after three months. She checks on Abby and baby, and thanks her again for trusting the hospital with her delivery. Now, having spoken at least three times, Abby considers the specialist a friend.

During this same 90-day period, the hospital emails Abby helpful information about post-partum recovery. They send her exercises she can do at home and the milestones to watch for during baby’s first year. In the Fall, they send Abby a reminder about flu shots with a funny pic of a baby dressed like a pumpkin. She gets another postcard in December that matches content she sees on the hospital’s Facebook page. It’s all about what to do if baby shows signs of RSV or croup. On baby’s first birthday, another cute card arrives. And, when Abby turns 30, she gets a birthday card along with a fun checklist for how to be healthier in your 30s. At 32, Abby gets pregnant with baby number two at the same time her girlfriends are due with their firsts. What hospital do you think Abby will recommend for delivery?

It’s Time To Take Control Of Your Health

Health care at every level is about trust and relationship, and those take time. They take intention and sustained communication. But for those smart enough and nimble enough to build a forward-thinking, patient-centric health care marketing plan, the longtime prognosis is excellent. Those are the companies that will win the next decade.

CHRISTINA MCKINNEY is Group Account Director at  LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

ABCadvertisingadvertising agencybionicbionicschallenger brandchallenger brand marketingchallenger brandingchallenger brandsCMOcultureCVShealth carehealth care advertisinghealth care marketinghealthcarehealthcare advertisinghealthcare marketingMinute ClinicSix Million Dollar ManThe Bionic WomanThe Voice of The Underdogtop 10 Dallas Ad AgencyunderdogZoom

Christina McKinney

at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.