best practices

digital marketing and communications guidelines for providers

best practices

check out these six recommendations for healthcare providers to effectively reach patients

digital marketing and communications guidelines for providers

In our last article, we described why health systems and healthcare service providers should be central in leading digital communication efforts during this pandemic:

“Second only to the CDC and major governmental agencies, healthcare providers are uniquely positioned to be the most trusted and accurate source of information for their constituents. They SHOULD be providing regular, prescriptive communication regarding prevention, symptoms, treatment, and best courses of action to keep the community-at-large safe, but, also, their staff and providers.”

Given this supposition, we wanted to further provide our thoughts on how health systems should apply best practices as they further enable digital marketing technologies to inform, educate, and engage their communities in personal and public health.

In general, these guidelines do not diverge from the considerations one normally weighs when communicating with patients. In fact, rather than necessitate new approaches, the ability to communicate across multiple modern mediums magnifies the need to adhere to marketing principles that place patients at the center of “customer” engagement strategies. The principles outlined in this article, which all happen to start with the letter ‘C”, serve as helpful reminders for health system marketing, communications, and executive teams as they seek to strengthen their relationships with individuals, their families, and the community they serve to achieve improved healthcare outcomes — during the pandemic and after.

1. Clear & Concise

With information changing so rapidly in the current situation, it is tempting to want to provide as much detail as possible to patients. And, to be fair, there are a lot of legitimate reasons for erring towards more than less, particularly when there are operational nuances that may make it difficult to communicate concisely. Yet, it is more important than ever that the information that health systems provide patients is clear, digestible, and contains a clear call to action. Remember that recipients will spend, on average, 13.1 seconds reading an email. Make the most of that time by ensuring the purpose of communications clear, with concise and actionable takeaways to recipients (the same applies to subject lines, pre-headers and SMS messages).

2. Consistent & Conversational

It goes without saying that healthcare systems are organizationally complex, relying on varied teams across myriad departments to coordinate patient care, communications, and marketing. These messages can come from different teams at different times during a patient’s journey. This complexity means patients may receive messages from several stakeholders, often on different platforms (i.e. portal, automated appointment reminder system, contact center), using differing branding and tone. While there are certainly legitimate organizational and technical hurdles as to why decentralized strategies for communicating with patients are still commonplace, ultimately the vast majority of patients find this confusing.

Your communications, marketing, and PR strategy should convey a consistent and coordinated patient journey, both in content and in tone. A patient-centric approach to communications means taking a complete view of their experience across the system and adapting communication strategies to better support a unified patient journey… from the moment a patient visits your website for the first time onward. By adhering to design guidelines and using a consistent voice to speak with your patients, you can begin to develop an ongoing conversation with them. We will expand upon the strategy of leveraging patient journeys to drive strategy in a future post.

3. Cadence

How often should health systems communicate with their constituents ? It’s a difficult question that has become even more difficult as their patient populations become more and more active on digital channels. We’ve already seen many marketers, across industries, maligned for communicating too much, too little, or in a way that was seen as ineffective. Health systems, while uniquely positioned to communicate directly with their patients and their communities, are no less exposed (perhaps even more so) to such judgements.

Using traditional engagement and deliverability benchmarks like open rate, unsubscribe rate and spam complaints should always be part of the toolbox to determine overall engagement. However, setting expectations via content and audience segmentation can also help establish trust between sender and recipient. Particularly, for organizations that may be mailing large portions of their contact list (for the first time in many cases), it may be the perfect opportunity to reintroduce non-engaged patients to your program, when they should expect communications, and some compelling reasons for staying engaged.

4. Call to Action

As always, teams should have a clear idea of what action they want individuals to take as a result of receiving their email, SMS, or advertisement. It should be visually clear what that thing is and direct in terms of what is asking them to do. CTAs should be kept above the fold unless prior communications provide compelling evidence otherwise. For example, if you are sending a communication with the goal of getting new patients to establish a relationship with a primary care physician within the system, make it clear what you are asking patients to do in the subject line and then provide them with clear next steps and a button to click (or number to call) that can be understood and acted upon in a matter of seconds.

5. CAN-SPAM Compliant

How does one determine whether or not a communication is transactional or commercial? Oracle’s Chad White offers the following good advice: “If you’re even a little bit unsure whether an email is transactional or not, it’s not. Consumers have a very narrow definition of transactional emails and their definition is the only one that truly matters.” Even when information is critical, patients should still have the ability to decide when and how to engage with your system. Outside of the legal and deliverability implications of sending commercial communications under a transactional guise, giving your subscribers the ability to unsubscribe from SMS and email is one of the most important components of building and maintaining a trusting relationship between sender and recipient. And as always, include that physical address in your email footer.

6. Confident

It can be a bit nerve-wracking, no matter how many times you have done it, to schedule an email or SMS send, especially when it is going out to hundreds of thousands or millions of prospective and existing patients. It is even more nerve-wracking when that “send” communicates mission-critical information in a time of crisis. But, it’s also an incredible opportunity to rise to the occasion, and for communications and marketing teams to leverage their expertise to positively affect outcomes and experience. Teams should be confident that, as the trusted source of information for their patients, they are empowered to communicate directly with them, in all circumstances.

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