A quick story: I had just come back into the office from my first assignment—chasing down dirt on J-Lo’s latest divorce. I went straight to the managing editor to ask how on earth this kind of fluff had made this publication the most profitable in the world.
This was People magazine, the mother of all tabloids. Their success, he said, came from knowing their audience.
And not just knowing basic demographics. They knew the soul of their audience: Women living monotonous lives in rural America. The content played on their insecurities and imaginations to create a weekly fixation. People was an escape.
The 2013 Greystone Healthcare Internet Conference (HCIC) challenged the healthcare marketing industry to take a similar approach to web marketing—minus the celebrity stalking—by asking 1 question:
Who is your healthcare website talking to?
This question shifts the priority of healthcare web marketing from pleasing doctors and senior leaders to pleasing patients. Patients want to get up close and personal with healthcare organizations and their physicians online first.
Dr. Natasha Burgert from Kansas City kicked off HCIC as the first keynote speaker. She has an active blog, and when you Google her first and last name, her twitter feed pops up first. How many docs can say that?
Who is she talking to online? Her patients. Three of her main take-home messages were:
- A 20-minute visit each year is not enough to connect with patients. A blog helps her stay in touch.
- Healthcare marketing teams can get docs involved by having specific requests, she said. For example: “Let’s set up an interview about the main questions new patients ask about breastfeeding?” That way, instead of wasting time to repeat information, docs can share the content with patients.
- Because patients can get medical information directly from her, they don’t have to rely on Oprah, Facebook or WebMD.
Starting with Patient Personas
Instead of starting a new website with stale content—or worse, a wireframe—several healthcare organizations started by talking to their patients.
Paul Stone from Providence Health & Services and Tina Mankowski from UW Medicine in Seattle started recent website redesigns with user personas.
Personas are not actual people, but hypothetical sketches of a typical type of patient. Providence’s personas included the weekend warrior who broke something doing a stunt and the young mom with a sick child. The site then serves up relevant content written specifically for that type of patient.
The new site for Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania is organized around content hubs, and it started with patient usability research.
The previous site confused patients. For, example, are spine issues treated by the neuro or the ortho team? Docs wanted to keep the content separated, because that’s how they think of spine issues, said Pamela Riddell and Alyssa Young from Lehigh’s marketing team.
Web usability researchers found that—surprise, surprise—patients didn’t care about neuro versus ortho. They cared about what to do next. Lehigh’s content hub for spine issues guides patients through the hospital’s services based on where they are in their journey.
Monitoring—No, Controlling—Physician Reviews
Physicians have a role to play in this too. At least three of the sessions at HCIC talked about reputation management.
Currently, when people are looking for healthcare services, only about 20% look at reviews online. But Jeremy Mathis from University hospitals in Cleveland thinks this will go up.
That’s why Mathis said his team educates their docs on how to keep their physician directory listings updated. He also advises all docs to put a Google Alert on their names. That way if any web content about them is indexed, they can receive an email and check it out for themselves.
They also update and monitor physician review sites, like Vitals and Yelp. The key is to address themes in the feedback, not by fire back at the patient.
“No one wins an argument online,” Mathis said.
Get this: The University of Utah Health Care actually posts patient ratings and comments right on each physician bio.
They are controlling how their docs are viewed online, so patients can skip Yelp, said Brian Gresh, senior director of interactive marketing and web. This also rewards high-performing docs and urges slackers to step it up their.
HCIC Take-Home Message
If healthcare organizations are going to speak directly to patients, they have to invest in content.
During marketing strategy expert David Meerman Scott’s HCIC keynote, he talked about how healthcare, of all industries, should be investing in authentic content.
Not delivering canned content, template web designs, constipated clinical language that patients can’t understand. The content has to have a real voice, even better if it’s produced in real time.
Having a blog or brand journalism site and an active social media presence is no longer just a good idea. It’s an imperative.
Is healthcare ready for this? Are we ready to ask who are we talking to, and then tell docs, senior leaders and the folks in legal: “No. We’re not doing that, because patients want this.”
Are we ready to make our patients the trump card?