Today’s patients expect accessing healthcare to be as easy as booking a haircut online or downloading an app to their phone. The problem is, “You walk into a healthcare setting and nothing is straightforward or easy,” says Joe Wisniewski, Head of Platform Growth at Turquoise Health.
These difficulties exist for a reason. “Part of the challenge is that there is different legislation that regulates interactions between a health customer, healthcare provider, and a healthcare vendor—as opposed to ‘I'm just downloading your podcast because I like it,’” says Elizabeth Monier-Williams, a fractional marketing executive with more than ten years experience in the healthcare field. “There are very high stakes around some of this information.”
Still, that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for patients who don’t have that context. “Sometimes decisions can seem random to the customer because of the extra layer of thinking and process that has to go in the back end to protect their data,” she continues.
But there are ways you can create a compelling and personalized journey and still protect your users’ privacy—you just have to think carefully about the kind of experience you want to create. We sat down with Joe and Elizabeth to discuss best practices for patient-centric healthcare marketing.
Empower patients to self-segment with a preferences center
When it comes to personalizing healthcare content, you have a dilemma: Just sending the deluge of content your marketing or clinical education team creates can overwhelm your patients. But personalizing your content delivery to a patient’s particular concerns could feel creepy. The best solution is to use opt-ins and self-segmentation to allow patients to curate the kind of content they want to see.
“In the mental health space, a lot of companies do tailor topics where you can tell their system, ‘I am interested in pieces about clinical depression,’ or, ‘I am interested in anxiety reduction,’ and their system will feed you those things,” says Elizabeth. “The companies that do it best are those that allow the customer to segment what pieces of the journey they want and deliver that information in a timely, unobtrusive way.”
There are a number of ways you can do this. You can create choose-your-own-adventure content experiences—such as a blog where patients can easily filter by tags and topics that are most relevant. You can also enable patients to sign up for specific email lists or newsletters based on their areas of interest.
“Make it easy and transparent for the patient to see what they have opted into and what they have not,” says Elizabeth. “It should be easy for them to completely delete themselves if they decide that they don't want to receive your messages anymore.”
This may mean grappling with some technical debt. If you historically haven’t had a robust tagging system for your blog or your email lists have gotten wonky, you’ll likely need to do some clean-up before you can arrive at a beautiful and intuitive preferences center. But the personalized experience you’ll be able to create will be well worth it.
Remove unnecessary barriers so patients don’t need to give you their insurance details just to explore your offering
Due to the nature of the sensitive patient data you’re handling as a healthcare provider, you have to contend with a lot more rules and regulations than consumer businesses. Unfortunately, that might mean your patient experience becomes an afterthought. “I think it's sometimes difficult for health organizations to think about what a seamless customer experience looks like because of the other layers of approval and regulation they're managing,” says Elizabeth. “You have to think from the customer’s point of view—if it feels clunky or obstructive, they need to know there’s a reason why.”
One big way you can think about creating a better patient experience is to remove barriers, wherever possible. “Walled gardens where you have to hand over a lot of medical information in order to be able to see anything don't work so well,” says Elizabeth. “You want to find a balance of letting people come in, look around, and see if it's something they're interested in.”
For instance, instead of forcing patients to dig around for their policy number or list every medical ailment they’ve had since childhood, maybe you can collect that information when they book a service or even at their first appointment. Maybe there’s a limited version of your app or portal you can give people access to, or even one with dummy data. “You want to make signing up as frictionless as possible,” says Elizabeth. “The customer has to feel like you understand their needs and are offering value before you ask them to hand over the goods—even more so than other services—because it's so sensitive.”
Removing friction—steps, clicks, forms, waits—from the registration process can help patients get value faster. It also ensures you’re not needlessly turning them away.
If a wait is necessary, make it worthwhile
Being a patient does not mean being patient. “If you’ve been to Disneyland, they do a lot to hide the fact that you’re in line,” says Joe. “I firmly believe that’s the approach marketing teams have to take.”
If there’s a reason patients need to wait to gain access to a certain service—whether they need to complete some kind of evaluation, or there’s simply a queue to begin treatment—think about what you can do to add value in the meantime. Are there materials you can share (videos, guides, articles, etc.) while they wait? Can you give them access to a more limited version of your platform so they have a chance to look around? Doctors give kids stickers—what’s the digital equivalent of a sticker for your service? This comes back to the idea of removing any unnecessary barriers, so patients can start to get value from your service as quickly as possible.
If a wait is unavoidable, be sure to provide regular updates so patients are absolutely clear on next steps and you remove as much uncertainty as possible from the waiting process. A little reassurance goes a long way.
Exceed patient expectations, every single time
As patients begin to embrace their roles as consumers of healthcare products and services, their expectations regarding providers have shifted. They expect interacting with healthcare providers to be as seamless as their favorite brands. They expect to receive personalized care and fast, frictionless healthcare experiences.
While healthcare has to deal with more regulations than other industries, you can choose to see these as creative constraints rather than limitations. By approaching these boundaries with customer empathy, you can elevate the entire patient experience without compromising on data privacy—empowering patients to choose the kind of educational content they want, removing barriers, and making the wait for services more bearable (even, dare we say, enjoyable).
“Health is such a tender and personal subject,” says Elizabeth. “The customer has to feel like you understand their needs.” By bringing empathy and understanding to every aspect of your marketing, you’ll show that you truly care—and that feeling is what patients will remember.