The Healthcare Loyalty Crisis

The problem is, there is a loyalty crisis in healthcare. It’s never been as strong as many organizations would have liked – and loyalty has only declined through the pandemic.

According to Klein and Partners’ 2020 Wave IV Omnibus Study (December 2020), only 18% of consumers are unwilling to consider switching providers. This is down from 41% of consumers in Wave II of the study (May 2020). That’s a 56% decrease in loyalty in just the last six months of 2020.

This is a continuation of what we’ve been seeing over the last few years, with the pandemic accelerating the erosion of loyalty.

What’s causing the shift in loyalty?

For years, broader macro-trends have been impacting the healthcare space. There are more players than ever before, from concierge medical practices to Walmart’s rapidly expanding Care Clinics to new telehealth offerings through employers or insurers.

But the emergence of new players and increased choice isn’t the only issue. Health systems also have had a hand in loyalty erosion. Primary care has become more transactional than ever before. In most markets, it’s tough to see your primary care provider (PCP) on short notice. Health systems have been steering their patients increasingly to urgent care instead of their PCP or to a mid-tier provider instead of the PCP. Sometimes, patients are just going to a same-day care option because they can’t get in to see their PCP.

The trouble is that the patient relationship has always been with the PCP. We’ve broken that relationship to a large extent and haven’t been particularly effective in replacing it with a new relationship with the health system.

Pandemic accelerated shifting access options

Over the last 18 months, there were numerous times different services opened and closed, which led to cancellations and rescheduling that was often a suboptimal experience.

Many consumers tried other care delivery alternatives out of necessity, whether at a traditional competitor or a high-convenience alternative like Walgreens or CVS. These other options also became key players for getting vaccines and testing into the community. Consumers tried these options, and for many their experiences were good.

Competition in healthcare is fierce

With such tough, growing competition, how do you compete?

  • Quality: There are some situations where healthcare systems can compete on quality or the availability of specific services, but overall, most services are available from multiple competitors, all with an assumed level of clinical competency.
  • Communication: Electronic health record (EHR) vendors’ patient portals aren’t going to get you there, either, with many health systems in any given market often running the same EHR, some of which make it easier for consumers to share their records between provider organizations.
  • Price: There are a few situations where we can compete on price.  Most services are negotiated with insurers or, in some cases, are regulated by the state.  Consumer-paid services provide some opportunities here, but they seem to be utilized primarily for low-dollar options such as urgent care.
  • Convenience: Easy access to care and consumer experience are the places with the best opportunities for increasing competitiveness. When you can make obtaining services easier and faster, your brand can gain preference.

Addressing the convenience and the consumer experience

There are several strategies for addressing consumer experience.

To date, improving convenience and consumer experience has focused on putting offices closer to consumers, offering better parking, training staff to make the experience better, offering extended hours and improving the availability of appointments.

But what’s next? The new frontier for this experience will take place digitally. What many are referring to as the digital front door:

  • Better information and education
  • Easy tools to find care options
  • Simple and intuitive scheduling experiences
  • Easy online care delivery through telehealth

Learn more about the digital trends driving healthcare in the coming year. Check out our recent webinar on Top Trends in Reimaging the Healthcare Digital Experience. We cover how healthcare organizations use digital to create new competitive differentiation and drive loyalty. Also, check out our latest eBook on building a digital front door and beyond for more tips on supporting consumers in a personal, seamless way that enables self-service.

And the Winner is: Digital Strategy

Where Leaders Outperform: Digital Strategy

This year marks the 11th survey – with the last three being in partnership with eHealthcare Strategy & Trends – that Geonetric has performed an online survey of digital marketing trends that gets healthcare marketers insightful data.

As part of the survey, respondents are asked to rank their performance relative to competitors in 22 functional areas, from digital advertising and social media to web design and user experience. The responses were then scored and organizations significantly outperforming their peers became leaders, those significantly underperforming laggards and those in the middle are average.

Digital strategy was tied as the third top area for digital leaders and was the second-highest area where leaders outperform everyone else, edged out by content marketing with leaders scoring their digital strategy capabilities almost two full points higher on a -2 to +2 scale!

Agency Perspective: Digital Strategy Has a Long Way to Go

Despite this strong showing from digital leaders, the industry has a long way to go. When we asked agency or other partner respondents for their thoughts on where healthcare is furthest behind other industries, digital strategy took the top spot. Provider respondents put this more in the middle of the pack at number eight (out of 22). This gap illustrates that although provider organizations think they are doing digital strategy well, agencies, who sometimes have a broader view, disagree.

Top Area for Investment: Digital Strategy

Investment in digital strategy continues. In fact, it’s the #1 hot job in healthcare digital marketing for the coming year. Respondents were asked – if you could hire up to three FTEs in the coming year, what roles would you hire, and in what order? Digital strategy received almost two-thirds more votes than the next hot job, which was content development.

Factors Increasing the Focus on Digital Strategy

In summary, the survey results indicate digital strategy is one of the big differentiators of digital leaders, it’s also identified as an area of weakness within digital in healthcare by agencies and consultants, and it’s a top area where health systems are investing in greater capabilities.

Which begs questions like – what’s driving this increased importance on digital strategy and why are we seeing it right now? Here are the top three reasons digital strategy is so important at this moment in time:

#1: The COVID-19 pandemic

Consumer expectations were already evolving pre-pandemic, and the pandemic accelerated that movement at an incredible pace. Healthcare consumers are working more and more often with brands digitally, and those interactions are creating new expectations in healthcare.
Consumers are more comfortable than ever with self-service – but they expect transparency. A person can see every step in the process when they order an item – when it’s shipped, as it travels, and when it’s out for delivery. You can see if the pizza that you just ordered is in the oven yet. Why can’t a consumer see if their doctor’s office is behind before they leave for their appointment?

#2: The redesigned the healthcare experience

Sure, much of the recently redesigned healthcare experience happened out of necessity with the pandemic rather than inspiration, but it happened and it’s continuing to happen. Health consumers don’t want to hang out in the waiting room waiting for their turn – and healthcare providers don’t want them there either!
Making appointments, changing appointments, filling out the pre-visit paperwork, collecting co-pays, even the visit itself – the last 18 months forced many organizations to rethink all the touchpoints of an encounter and ask:

  • What could patients do from home?
  • Could people wait in their cars when they arrive until we have rooms available?
  • Could they text us to let us know they’re here?
  • Could we have them pay co-pays while they’re waiting?

So many of the operational elements that seemed so set in stone just two short years ago have evolved. The answers arrived at during the heat of the moment weren’t perfect, but organizations can continue to iterate because they’re also not going back to where they started.

#3: Competition is tighter than ever before

Just before the pandemic hit, there was a lot of discussion about healthcare competition from new sources – from startups to retail giants to tech firms. That chatter receded to background noise during the constant crisis communications blitz of the past two years, but that doesn’t mean that they went away or stopped developing and innovating.

Competition from traditional players is heating up as well. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in healthcare are a new normal. A recent Kaufmann Hall report noted 79 M&A deals in 2020, down from 2019’s 92 M&A transactions but still high considering the pandemic. And the pandemic is likely to fuel even more partnerships across healthcare. M&A activity, plus organic growth through new facilities and telehealth outreach, means competitors are entering previously untapped geographic markets.

And through all of this, patient loyalty to individual healthcare brands is at an all-time low as consumers were forced through appointment cancellations, delays, inability to access services, and experimentation with other care options. According to Klein and Partners 2020 Wave IV Omnibus Study (December, 2020), only 18% of consumers are unwilling to consider switching providers. This is down from 41% of consumers in Wave II of the study (May, 2020).

The result is that more consumers are being courted by more healthcare providers than ever before – and consumers are more willing to try something new and different. Increasingly, they’re selecting based on convenience.

The Solution: Digital Strategy

Each of these reasons alone indicates the need to invest in digital strategy. The three converging at the same time mean healthcare marketers are facing a new set of challenges, never seen before – challenges that can only be solved with new thinking.

Health systems can’t just look around at what everyone else is doing and see dozens of examples of exactly what they need to do to compete. They need to develop something new. Moreover, the strategies that they’re developing have more operational implications than ever before. In fact, this year’s survey noted lack of operational support for digital initiatives is now a top barrier for almost all healthcare organizations, not just the cutting-edge leaders as in previous years.

This means all healthcare organizations – from leaders to average to laggards – and working with internal stakeholders to figure out where they go from here. And the only path forward involves strategy development.

Download your copy of the 2021 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey results and see what big takeaways you uncover!

What Makes Healthcare Digital Marketing Leaders Stand Out?

Three leadership trends emerge

Yes, digital leaders spend more and yes, they have bigger teams, but that has always been the case for this group. The bigger insights come from how they use those resources and where are they looking to invest in the future. When analyzing leading organizations in that light, three key trends emerged that illustrate how leaders approach digital differently.

Trend #1 Content is king.

When looking at performance across dozens of different functional areas, content development is an area leaders strongly outperform everyone else. They also excel in content marketing and SEO, both complementary disciplines. Leaders also have more staff dedicated to content creation than any other digital discipline. Leaders also have the most staff dedicated to content development, with almost one full-time-equivalent more than laggards.

Trend #2: Experience and engagement are more important than financial measures of success.

When looking at goals, patient acquisition has traditionally been somewhere in the top five. This year, it jumped to the number one spot for all respondents. This could be due to the timing of survey data collection – many organizations were focusing on recovering volumes from the pandemic shut down.

It’s always been in the top of the pack for leaders, but never in the top two spots. Instead, leaders top goals tend to be consumer focused, specifically consumer awareness, consumer engagement, and consumer experience. Contrast this with average performers, who are under significant pressure to justify every investment through financial metrics – ROI, revenue and profitability. This could be because leaders have made the case and earned the trust in their organization. Now that they don’t have to defend their budget spend with financial metrics, they are free to focus on consumers.



Trends #3: Leaders are ahead on the marketing technology stack.

Perhaps it’s because they have already invested in foundational pieces of their marketing technology (martech) stack, but leaders are significantly outperforming the other segments in areas like CRM, analytics, email marketing, and marketing automation. Although leaders didn’t rate themselves high in these areas, they far outranked the other segments, proving that it’s better to get started even if your start is small.

Where are leaders investing?

When looking at future staffing and where leaders plan to invest, digital advertising and digital strategy stand out. Where average and laggard organizations tend to be investing in martech elements – email, marketing automation, and CRM – leaders have already invested here from a people standpoint as they were an investment focus or in previous surveys. Likely, those positions are full and the teams are becoming more mature.



When looking at non-staff investment, digital advertising is the largest area for growth with a planned increase in spending. Leaders are investing in digital adverting internally, as well as in partnerships, outsourcing, and tools.

Most organizations are tightening belts on budgets across the board, likely to due to the pandemic and shutdowns. This is clear from the unprecedented number of healthcare organizations who are expecting cuts in their marketing and digital budgets for the coming year. However, when we look at leaders, we see very few are decreasing digital marketing budgets, and 45% are actually increasing, perhaps from the belief that these investments will help fill schedules and assist in the organization’s recovery.

A year like no other

Even during a pandemic, leaders have leveraged their impressive digital foundations to find continued success. Investing in content enabled many leaders to quickly spin up COVID-19 content hubs with writers and processes already in place. Projected digital advertising investments make it likely leaders will focus on attracting consumers throughout the rest of 2020 and into 2021 to rebuild volumes. In a year like no other, leaders still find ways to use digital to meet their goals. Be sure to download a copy of the full 2020 Healthcare Digital Marketing Survey Report and see where your organization stands and use the data to help plan for 2021.

The State of ROI in Healthcare Digital Marketing

As marketers work to solidify their seat at the decision-making table and secure the budgets required for modern MarTech stacks, the need to justify those investments and show that they’re performing becomes more and more important. That’s why as we look at top healthcare digital marketing goals for our annual survey of the industry, we take a bit of a deep dive around tracking that ever-elusive ROI. Here’s what we found this year – and how it compares to last year’s results.

How important is ROI really?

As we look at the relative importance of different digital marketing goals overall, ROI (and most other financially-minded goals) falls in the middle of the pack, trailing more patient and consumer-focused goals but still ahead of goals relating to other audiences such as physician engagement, HR recruiting, and fundraising.

This isn’t equally true in all organizations. When looking at how digital leaders approach those goals compared to the average or laggards (respondents self-select into a segment based on how they view their digital marketing initiatives as compared to tactics), we see that financial measures, including ROI, are top goals for average organizations, falling just after patient acquisition.

It seems that digital leaders have more credibility and are less pressured to demonstrate a return on every digital marketing investment. Lagging organizations often lack the tools and infrastructure to measure, so it’s not an expectation. Organizations in the middle of the pack, digitally speaking, find themselves under the most pressure to deliver measurable ROI on their marketing investments.

How important are each of the following for the future success of your digital marketing efforts? Importance chart

Scale: -2 to +2

Ability to Demonstrate Impact of ROI

It’s one thing to have a goal and quite another to be able to deliver on it.  As we looked at how respondents are able to demonstrate that digital marketing is improving performance on those goals, a different story emerges. Leaders are also far more capable when it comes to demonstrating the impact of digital marketing on most of the listed goals, but not on ROI where those average organizations who are under pressure to deliver ROI are more able to do so.

That said, no goal showed as much year over year improvement as the ability to demonstrate ROI — which more than doubled — from .35 last year to .72 this year.

Scale: -2 to +2

Top Goals vs. Ability to Demonstrate Impact

Next, let’s look at the gap between organizations’ goal importance and their ability to demonstrate how digital marketing has impacted those goals.

In 2019, the financial metrics led this gap by a wide margin. This year is more mixed — profitability still remains elusive despite its importance, but patient satisfaction makes its way into the second position ahead of revenue.

However, ROI has closed the gap significantly and falls to the middle of the pack.

ROI Reporting

Although the ability to demonstrate ROI has improved in the last year, the lack of tools continues to lead the list of reasons why healthcare organizations fail to report this metric. The most interesting result this year, as it was in 2019, was reason #2 – organizations aren’t reporting ROI, in part, because no one is asking.

In fact, this year the percentage of respondents indicating a lack of interest in ROI has grown from 33% to 48%. On top of that, organizations that can measure ROI but it’s just positive has grown to 16% this year from 1.68% last year!

What’s this mean for you?

So it seems a lot of healthcare marketers are getting better at tracking ROI, but many of their executives still aren’t asking for it. It’s like the tree in the forest – if you track and no one’s there to see it, did it really happen?

The risk, of course, is that many marketers may be asked for the first time to justify their investments in a different way in this year of pandemic-induced financial woes and unprecedented budget cuts.  We strongly encourage healthcare marketers to work towards measuring ROI regardless if they’re being asked to do so and share this with stakeholders along with the other marketing metrics – and as marketing will be at the forefront of helping to recoup revenue after a year of shutdowns, you will be at a critical role to do just that.

Learn more in the full report

Be sure to download the full survey results report today and learn more about what success measurements today’s healthcare marketers are working towards and what barriers get in the way. If you need help setting and achieving digital marketing goals for your team, we can help.

Health Consumer Needs During COVID-19: Survey Results and Discussion

Join us as Ben Dillon, Chief Strategy Officer at Geonetric and David Sturtz, Vice President of Business Development at Geonetric, discuss findings from the survey.

In addition, Joy Weller, Manager of Digital Media and Marketing at EvergreenHealth (Kirkland, WA), Christina Peaslee, Executive Director of Marketing Communications and Content Strategy at Cape Cod Healthcare (Hyannis, MA), and Darren Moore, Digital Content and Brand Manager at LMH Health (Lawrence, KS), will be joining us to share how their organizations are tackling COVID-19 communication on the web and what are the next priorities for their teams.

Watch on-demand and learn:

  • What COVID-19 topics consumers want to hear
  • What formats they prefer for engaging with content
  • What information sources health consumers trust
  • How well consumers are navigating changing care options and opportunities around telehealth
  • How this data compares to real-life communication strategies at play at organizations like EvergreenHealth and Cape Cod Healthcare
  • What healthcare marketers are focusing on next

Price Transparency, Consumerism, and Healthcare Marketing

On January 1, 2021, those requirements expand to include a consumer-friendly online presentation for at least 300 shoppable services. These rules force healthcare marketers to take a seat at the transparency table and help translate internal data into consumer-friendly content ready for the web.

Attend this session and learn how trends like industry consumerism and transparency are impacting legislation. Review what the current and proposed regulations call for, as well as why healthcare marketers should aim to go beyond compliance and find ways to help consumers make decisions about their care. Discover how organizations can use pricing strategically as well as position your system’s offerings beyond price alone.

Join us for this free webinar and learn:

  • The background of the price transparency movement and how we got to where we are today
  • What rules and regulations you need to be aware of, including dates and compliance requirements
  • How to approach pricing strategically at your organization
  • The differences between price transparency and cost estimation tools and how to use both to deliver value to your patients and potential patients
  • What healthcare marketers should aim for with transparency initiatives to help consumers make educated decisions about their care

What Healthcare Marketers Need to Know about Price Transparency Changes

“We believe the American people have a right to know the price of services before they go to visit the doctor.” – President Donald Trump

In January 2019, CMS rules requiring hospitals to share a file with chargemaster data for their services went into effect. This data is, at best, useless to consumers and, at worst, harmful as consumers may make important care decisions based on vastly overestimated or underestimated costs.

This was always framed by the administration as only the first step in its push for healthcare price transparency, so it should come as no surprise that an additional set of rules was finalized in the fall which goes into effect January 1, 2021.

Before we dive into what these new rules say, it’s important to note that there have already been legal challenges to the price transparency rule and it is likely there will be changes implemented before it goes into effect.

As of today, there are actually two new rules coming into play – one rule for hospitals and another for health plans.

Requirements for hospitals

Here are the highlights of the plan for hospitals:

  • Expand the “Standard charges for items and services” file from the existing rules. Remember the machine-readable file of “standard charges” that you posted in January? This rule maintains that file but expands the definition of “standard charges” to include:
    • Gross charges (as found in the hospital’s chargemaster)
    • Payer-specific negotiated charges
    • Discounted cash prices
    • De-identified minimum and maximum negotiated charges

  • In addition to the expanded definition of “standard charges”, CMS has created some other definitions to clarify some elements of the transparency rules:
    • Hospital – An institution that is licensed as a hospital by the state or locality. This means these rules apply to specialty hospitals such as cancer hospitals or children’s’ hospitals but not federally owned or operated facilities such as those run by Indian Health Services, VA hospitals, or Department of Defense facilities (these facilities also don’t negotiate prices.)
    • Items and services – “All items and services (including individual items and services and service packages) provided by a hospital to a patient in connection with an inpatient admission or an outpatient department visit for which the hospital has established a charge.”

      Basically, the list of “standard charges” must include all of the pieces for which the hospital has established charges, but not the pieces which it does not control such as third-party ambulance services or non-employed providers.

  • Provide a consumer-friendly online presentation for at least 300 shoppable services. CMS defines shoppable services as “a service that can be scheduled by a health care consumer in advance, and has further explained that shoppable services are typically those that are routinely provided in non-urgent situations that do not require immediate action or attention to the patient, thus allowing patients to price shop and schedule such services at times that are convenient for them.” For each service, the following data should be available:
    • Payer-specific negotiated charges
    • Discounted cash prices
    • De-identified minimum negotiated charges
    • De-identified maximum negotiated charges
    • 70 of the shoppable services are dictated by CMS. The remainder is selected by the hospital. If the hospital provides less than 300 shoppable services, then list all appropriate services that they do provide. If the hospital doesn’t offer all of the CMS selected services, then add more hospital selected options to get as close to 300 as possible.

Unlike the previous rule, CMS has added the additional requirements that these files and tools are displayed prominently, are easily accessible, and are presented without barriers such as paywalls or registrations.

The new rule also adds a mechanism for monitoring and enforcement. While monitoring will follow complaints to CMS, there is now a penalty for failing to publish this information with fines as high as $300 per day.

Requirements for health plans

A second proposed rule also adds price transparency for health plans, the highlights include:

  • Health plans must disclose negotiated rates for in-network providers and allowed amounts paid for out of network providers on a public website
  • In addition, health plans will need to offer a transparency tool to provide members with personalized out-of-pocket cost information for all covered services in advance. “This requirement would empower consumers to shop and compare costs between specific providers before receiving care…” according to CMS.

Compliance is only a beginning – using price strategically

The first piece of this puzzle is being in compliance, that’s only a minimum bar for what your organization can and should do through this process.

The esoteric and highly variable nature of reimbursements for healthcare services has taken away one of the key tools of marketers and strategists within our industry. Remember back to Marketing 101 – what’s the last of the 4 Ps of marketing? Price!

Understanding your organization’s prices and sharing that information with consumers may be a little scary, but it opens the potential for you to begin using pricing strategically.

This begins by rationalizing prices for services within your healthcare enterprise. As you get the information assembled to meet the new compliance requirements, you’re likely to find that the same services have very different costs from location to location. These variations have been the norm in healthcare but can you justify the variation in a consumer’s out of pocket costs when that information is publicly available?

Your organization will need to take the time to sort through its pricing information to ask, possibly for the first time, what the costs for a service really ought to be and, if those costs will vary for site to site, how will that be explained or justified?

From there, we now have the opportunity to think about how price can be used to influence consumer behavior. Do we bundle a set of services together to give consumers greater predictability? Do we offer discounts or waive deductibles to steer patients to underutilized surgical suite times or less busy outpatient surgery locations? Price transparency opens the door to increase your competitiveness in ways that weren’t previously possible.

Does this accomplish what health consumers really need?

As an industry, we’ve been pushing our patients to act like health consumers. Co-pays and deductibles have soared in an attempt to force health consumers to be more active in healthcare decision making. Consumers have responded and, after years of talking about the rise of health consumerism, are now directing billions of healthcare dollars.

The challenge that we face now is that consumers are often poorly equipped to make these important decisions. Information on the price of services is an important piece of the puzzle but, ultimately, if we only give consumers information on the price of services, they’ll make decisions based only on price. Which doesn’t necessarily benefit the patient or the organization.

I’ve long viewed transparency in healthcare as a three-legged stool – price, quality, and experience. This is the next stage or price rationalization.

  • Are you pricing services appropriately given your quality metrics relative to competitors?
  • Is the experience that you deliver for your patients up to snuff given your price?
  • What changes do you make if your three-legged stool is out of balance?

Healthcare has made great strides over the years in quality transparency through the publication of a variety of quality metrics and reports as well as in the area of experiential transparency in the publication of patient satisfaction survey information such as HCAHPS and CG-CAHPS.

What health consumers need is all of this data pulled together to support the care decisions that they need to make. Need a knee replacement? Wouldn’t it be great to understand the quality, price, and experience tradeoffs of one doctor or surgical center versus another? Maybe you’re willing to pay more to be pampered? On the other hand, maybe you’re willing to deal with an unpleasant doctor if the price is right?

But for that core question – does this give consumers what they need for price transparency? The answer is still no. This is a big step forward albeit one that’s likely to change and evolve before going into force next year. At the end of the day, this step on the road to price transparency still fails to get to what consumers really want – their expected out of pocket costs.

Additional resources on price transparency rules:

Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2020

Over the last few years, healthcare marketers have worked hard to “level up” their efforts with a greater focus on strategy and planning. These efforts will pay off in 2020, as many organizations will embark on broader digital transformation efforts.

Watch this webinar and see how digital healthcare marketing is playing a leading role in digital transformation, particularly around:

  • Access to care: Access to care has always been a popular phrase, but 2020 will see real investments made in centralizing access. It’s essential for healthcare organizations to make it easier for patients to engage with them, regardless of if they come to a clinic, chat with a bot, or call from their couch. It’s all about convenience, from helping rural patients connect with specialists to redirecting patients to the proper care setting.
  • User experience: Just doing something is no longer enough. The online experiences you design, develop, and implement have to deliver. 2020 will see more cohesive experiences both online and offline, bigger intersections between content strategies and the web and greater use of research to guide teams.
  • Findability: Healthcare marketers are already battling an increase in no-click searches. Add in the changes on the horizon in Google My Business and Google’s Map Pack, and 2020 will be the year healthcare marketers stop optimizing their websites for Google and instead optimize Google for their websites.

Healthcare Marketers’ Biggest Barriers to Digital Marketing Success

Over the last few years of administering the Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey, digging into what challenges healthcare marketers face has proven to be an important piece in understanding the state of digital marketing.

Traditionally, “lack of time” and “lack of budget” have always been at or near the top of the barriers list.

In last year’s survey, we encountered a surprise: “unable to measure effectiveness or ROI” emerged at the top of the list and remained near the top again this year, slipping to the number two spot. This had always been high on the list in the years when we posed this question to agency/vendor respondents, but it usually placed low for the health system’s concerns. The increased priority for calculating return on investment (ROI) was a recognition that while resources, in the form of time (staff) and budget, are barriers the failure to make the case for those resources is an important underlying cause of those previously mentioned challenges.

Online transaction and offline operations

The surprise factor this year was that “unable to support online transactions with offline operations” found its way to #4 on the list of top barriers, just behind resources and the aforementioned ability to measure ROI.

Last year we saw this begin to emerge as a concern, but only from respondents who self-identified as outperforming their competitors across numerous digital strategy areas.

Leading digital healthcare organizations are reaching the points where new online capabilities are a catalyst to create changes not only in marketing but also in the way in which healthcare services are accessed, delivered, and funded. The changes that are made possible through digital transformation require internal process changes or, at the very least, cooperation from other parts of the enterprise.

Now we’re seeing operational challenges emerge across many more organizations in our survey, even those who do not see themselves as digital leaders.

This is likely because average and laggard organizations have invested in the last few years in their martech stacks, which inevitably leads to operational questions.

Types of operational challenges

Digital transformation forces clarity around processes, which often leads to lots of internal conversations about how to handle incoming requests.

Some of the most common ways we see healthcare organizations run into process challenges is from web transactions. For example:

Appointment setting: This is often one of the first digital-to-operational challenges organizations face, and it’s often because internal processes haven’t been standardized. Scheduling is often decentralized with individual clinics or practices following different processes from one another let alone standardizing with hospitals! Many organizations still push online visitors to use the phone to schedule an appointment, which goes against the way many site visitors want to interact with the organization and could impact the user experience. As online appointment options expand, particularly with real-time appointment scheduling, this is an area that will continue to be a headache for many until they standardize their processes.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM): For the last few years, we’ve seen organizations indicate on the survey that they are investing in CRM technology and CRM team skillsets. CRM implementations make it possible to get a complete overall view of a consumer and how they engage your organization through in-patient, outpatient, and non-clinical touchpoints. Integrating CRM with your website creates the opportunity to build a better understanding of a customer’s interests in your organization and can open the door to deliver more personalization experiences both online and offline. Creating this consolidated view of your customers and using that data to create meaningful experiences opens up numerous operational challenges from I.T. to call center to the bedside.  Though not easy to accomplish, this type of transformation can pay big dividends in improved patient acquisition, satisfaction, and retention.

Delivering on marketing ROI: Being able to track the financial impact of attracting new patients is the holy grail of digital marketing. Many aspire to do it but have trouble delivering. Despite growing CRM adoption by healthcare systems, most organizations still struggle with tying financial results to marketing efforts. Equally problematic are marketing strategies that make new patient attribution difficult, a shortage of online patient conversion opportunities, an inability to track health consumers across marketing engagement channels to becoming a patient, and identify where the conversion funnel could be improved.

As organizations think strategically about moving the offline processes to the web, healthcare marketers will need to be proactive in building relationships with operations, finance, and I.T. to avoid pitfalls as your digital systems push those boundaries.

Download the survey and learn more insights

The 2019 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey is full of additional insights around how healthcare marketers are using digital tactics to engage and convert today’s health consumers. Download the free survey report today and learn where your organization and gain understanding into how your peers and competitors are planning, budgeting, and staffing for the coming year.

Staffing Outlook for Healthcare Digital Marketing Teams

Each time we produce our Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey results, one of the most popular topics is around staffing. As we’re putting the finishing touches on the eBook, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a sneak peek at some of the trends in teams and staffing we’re uncovering.

Last year we reported on healthcare digital marketing’s “Top Jobs” – the top areas where healthcare systems were looking to add staff to support their digital marketing operations. This year, we looked at staffing a little more broadly, since staffing is only one indicator of where an organization is investing.

This year, we looked at the areas of growing investment for both staff and other investment including tools and outsourced support.

Top Growth Areas

The first observation, and no real surprise here, healthcare digital marketing teams are increasing their net investment in every area. The single top growth area by a wide margin is digital advertising, followed by digital strategy, video production, content marketing, and content development. Areas with the least planned investment growth are mobile app development, project management, and web hosting.

Those of you who follow our digital survey each year know we break respondents into self-reported segments: leaders (those ahead of competitors in certain areas), average (those keeping up with competitors), and laggards (those falling behind.) When looking at those areas of investment across these segments, patterns of growth are similar with a few notable exceptions:

  • Leaders are more aggressively growing their capabilities for CRM and analytics
  • Laggards are investing in core areas such as digital strategy and project management
View full-size image.

The question that emerges is: do these investment priorities make sense given the other data we’ve collected? Or, from another perspective, how are healthcare organizations prioritizing their top areas for growth?

Investment vs. performance, plus outside perspective

To explore this further, we look at several other questions from the survey—providers’ self-reported performance in each of these areas along with the rankings of where healthcare is behind other industries from the perspective of providers themselves and of their vendor and agency partners.

Note: For this post, I’m using only the rank order of each of these items for comparison. For more detailed information, download the entire report when it’s available.

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There are a number of areas where the data across these questions line up very cleanly.

Take general website management, for example. It’s one of the areas where healthcare organizations feel that they’re performing well (#2 on their list), it falls fairly low on the list of areas where healthcare is falling behind other industries (#14 for providers and #9 for vendors) and is a lower priority for new hiring (#16 overall).

But not all of the investment priorities for the coming year line up in that way. Let’s take a closer look to see what’s going on for those areas.

Areas that are booming or lagging

To start, there are two functions that are booming: digital advertising and content development.

Digital advertising is a space where healthcare organizations rank their performance highly relative to competitors (#3), don’t see themselves falling behind other industries (#12), and even their vendor partners see them holding up fairly well (#8). Despite all of this, digital advertising is the top area of increased hiring and investment for the coming year!

Content development is a similar scenario. Despite already being competitive, it is high on the list of new investment priorities.

The bottom line is that health systems are doubling down in digital advertising and content development because these are areas that are giving them great lift right now – and probably for slightly different reasons.

Organic reach is shrinking across the board – from social media to search engines. It’s an increasingly a pay-to-play world and healthcare organizations are using paid advertising more than ever.

Great content is the tide that lift all ships. When you have great content and a process that allows you to develop more great content over time, all of the other tactics that you’re implementing with digital become that much easier and that much more effective.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have some lagging spaces: user experience (UX), development, analytics, business listing management, and mobile app development. Even with the perceived shortcomings in these areas, health systems are just less likely to be able to prioritize growing investment in these areas amongst all of the other areas requiring new resources.

Where should you invest

At the end of the day, your growth priorities are mostly about where your organization is today and where you’re in need of expanding capabilities. The insights here aren’t telling you where to invest but they do give us an indication of where your competitors will likely be getting better in the coming year and where they’re seeing outsized value in the investments that they’re making today.

Prepare to see healthcare organizations growing digital advertising, investing in strategy, upping their game in the content realm – particularly in terms of video – and pushing ahead in CRM although still not as fast as their agency partners think that they should be.

Within that, however, we see our booming spaces. Healthcare marketers are doing well in online advertising and content. There’s already significant investment here in both staff and dollar terms.  And, despite that, your competitors are doubling down in these areas. Not investing because they’re behind but because they’re seeing so much value for the investments that they’re making. It’s hard to go wrong growing your capabilities in these areas.

And that’s one strategy.

But there’s another way to go. Look at the lagging spaces. These areas seem ripe for investment, but respondents aren’t looking to fill those gaps for whatever reason. Maybe the payoff is less direct?  Maybe they think that mediocre is good enough? Maybe they’re still searching for worthwhile use cases for mobile apps?

Or maybe they’re missing the opportunity? Investing in areas like analytics or business listings could just be your opportunity to leapfrog the competition or maintain your lead.

It’s our hope that this information along with many other insights in our upcoming webinar and our survey report can help you invest strategically rather than in response to the latest trend or the squeaky wheel in your organization.