1. Assessment: Consult business plans, patient satisfaction surveys, volume reports, community surveys and any other information you can gather. Consider market dynamics such as seasonality, shifting alliances between physician groups and other “political” issues.

2. Comparative analysis: Study your competitors, considering their historical advertising levels, any new product launches that may be forthcoming, and the overall competitive nature of your market. Develop your own unique selling proposition. What makes you different from your competition?

3. Define your vision and strategy: Where do you want your program or organization to be in three to five years? How can marketing help realize this vision? Make a list of all the tools at your disposal and determine what options will work best for your product, marketplace and expected budget. Among other tools, consider:

  • Networking/sales—Go where your market is; develop presentations.
  • Direct marketing—Use letters, fliers, brochures, postcards.
  • Advertising—Consider print, broadcast, outdoor, special publications such as chamber of commerce directories and sports programs.
  • Training programs—Increase awareness of your services by offering training to your customers.
  • Free media—Write articles for news media; make your organization known as the expert.
  • Public relations—Consider sponsorships that “fit” with your service; hold events, tours, open houses.
  • Website/emerging media—It’s not just for young professionals anymore; fast-growing segments of the elderly and minority populations are using the Internet to gather information on their health care options.

4. Build support and enthusiasm: Locate your champions in the organization. Find the experts who will help support your marketing efforts through speaking engagements, newspaper interviews, and quotes for newsletters and media releases.

5. Segment your market: Consider target audiences and think outside the box. Look inward first, as your employees can be some of your best customers—and your best marketers. Know where your business comes from: Is it driven by physician referrals or do patients refer directly? Make a list of target audiences and identify the best ways to reach them.

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For years, healthcare marketings have been promoting “5-star” rated services and persuading patients to lead healthier lifestyles—without being able to show these tactics work. That’s because we’ve been measuring the wrong things.

That is, until now. These days, access to highly effective marketing and communications tools are at our fingertips in the form of social media, websites, and search engines to create dynamic, measurable ways to engage your community and drive bottom-line results.

Are we measuring the right things?
Traditional marketing communications have been notoriously difficult to measure. Sure, we’re able to measure response rates to direct mail or TV/print ads. We’re also able to count how many people sign up for health events or lectures. By using a customer relationship management (CRM) database, we can measure downstream revenue.

Over the years, we’ve taken credit for influencing outcome by tying together these loosely connected measurements. But sometimes these results took months, if not years, to calculate. And were we really measuring success?

Health care reform, which is forcing us to radically re-think what hospitals provide, also puts pressure on hospital marketers to measure patient engagement and bottom-line revenue. Daunting? Yes, but you’re in luck because everything online is measurable.

Social media is about engagement
With the growing popularity of online social networks, hospitals realize that social media can help build an engaged audience. To do this, hospital marketers must change how we use these tools to communicate. This requires shifting from promotion (“us” marketing) to sharing health information on topics and conditions relevant to customers (“we” marketing).

After making this fundamental shift in social media communications strategy, my hospital (Inova Health System) increased social media followers by more than 400 percent in under a year. More importantly, we were able to measure engagement by using Facebook Insights and Klout.

Engagement leads to action
Increased engagement with your hospital brand via social media means you can begin offering ways for customers to learn from and engage more directly:

  • Ask them sign up for an eNewsletter where you communicate regularly on topics of their interest. Then, measure their engagement through open-rates and click-through rates.
  • Create links to your website so customers can download health information or other content. Services such as http://bit.ly allow you to track how many times people click on your links and when they get to your website, as well as how long they stay there.
  • Promote a health event or seminar and use online registration forms. Collecting names and other relevant information makes it possible to compare that data with your CRM database and cross-promote other ways to sustain engagement.


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In the past few years, technology has transformed the way we communicate, interact and consume both products and services, affecting markets from travel to fashion. The healthcare industry is no exception, and as the average consumer expects more convenience, increased online communication and technical apps and gadgets, innovators are working to streamline and improve the customer experience through creative online means.

Here, we’ve compiled just a few of the ways that companies are integrating digital communications and online tools into healthcare to improve communication with patients and to create a more transparent, customer-friendly experience.

1. Online Communities and e-Patients

While pharmaceutical companies, startups, patient communities and providers began joining the social media world around 2010, many have now matured and broadened their scope. PatientsLikeMe, for instance, has expanded to over 1,000 conditions, CureTogether has gained the attention of major press outlets and 23andMe is defining personal genomics.

Additionally, both PatientsLikeMe and 23andMe have published results in medical journals, bringing further validation to social networks and social media as legitimate avenues for medicine.

2. Online Services Aimed at Easy Patient Experience

Many complaints about healthcare experiences involve long wait times and issues with finding the perfect fit in a doctor. Companies like ZocDoc are helping users take control of their own care by providing easy access to specialists in the area with information on insurance accepted and languages spoken. Meanwhile, innovator InQuicker seeks to put an end to excessive emergency room waits by providing the ability to “check in” online. After certifying that injuries aren’t life-threatening, patients are texted as their “appointment” approaches.

3. Mobile Apps

As smartphones have become pervasive, so have health apps that often have a social media component, whether that is the ability for a scale to post your weight to Twitter or the ability to transmit a diabetic blood sugar reading to a community. By and large, many people have taken their health quests online, and apps help monitor the body, motivate health and keep disease treatment under control. The Quantified Self movement, which is focused on this app-based monitoring, has expanded to 60 groups around the world and 400 tools.


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