Hospitals & Facilities

The future of hospital marketing

Nontraditional media, artificial intelligence, and personalization define the future of hospital marketing.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

Healthcare systems are notoriously slow to change (hence fax machines still being used)—and hospital marketing is no exception.

Many hospitals continue to use traditional marketing tactics like billboards and newspapers. But with advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), and the rapid changes the healthcare industry underwent during Covid-19, hospital marketing has started to innovate and adapt to the new advertising landscape.

The future of hospital marketing may target more nontraditional media outlets like TikTok and Netflix, have a personalized approach to messaging, and use AI to target intended audiences, experts told Healthcare Brew.

“When we think about the future of healthcare, the brands that are going to be really successful are the ones that are going to be able to tie in the science—whether that’s AI or telehealth, maybe it’s innovation—and humanity,” Michael Baron, SVP and group creative director of full-service marketing agency Mower, said.

The pandemic’s lasting effects

During the pandemic, some hospital marketers used a strategy not very common in the marketing world: telling people not to use their product unless absolutely necessary.

The goal then was to avoid patient overflow to hospitals, but as patient volumes have since stabilized, health systems need to “re-attract” those patients, according to Paul Jaglowski, cofounder and chief strategy officer at patient experience management company Feedtrail.

Hospital marketers are now focusing on messaging that’s designed to ease consumer fears and let them know it’s safe to seek treatment, said Erin DeRuggiero, chief digital officer at advertising company Swoop.

“The marketing really needs to adjust and to flex, to speak to the fact that people might be more reticent to come in because some people are still fearing that primary care interaction, or preventative care interaction, because it’s been delayed so long,” she said.

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Change the channel

While many hospitals have been forced to make some changes in the wake of the pandemic, not all hospital marketers are leaning into modern media channels just yet. Some still prioritize getting spokespeople featured in traditional news outlets like newspapers and local TV stations, according to Paul Berthiaume, SVP of marketing agency Matter’s health group, which has worked on campaigns for Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston as well as CVS Health.

In the next decade, though, Berthiaume said hospital marketers will have to evolve their strategies—perhaps prioritize earned media over paid—and even get involved with more emerging digital platforms like TikTok.

That can be harder than it sounds. Baron’s agency, Mower, has worked with clients like Buffalo Medical Group and Catholic Health, which are both in New York state, and he said marketers in medicine tend to treat new channels “with kid gloves” because they’re extra cautious when it comes to patient privacy.

“I don’t know [whether] they’re as willing to just jump into new channels as maybe some other progressive markets are,” Baron said.

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Some systems are dabbling in channels where patient privacy is less of a factor. Northwell Health, for instance, has embraced content marketing, Ramon Soto, chief marketing and communications officer, said. Earlier this year, for example, Netflix released a docuseries called Emergency NYC that featured healthcare professionals from the health system, which is the largest in New York.

“[Content marketing is] such an important aspect of how we go to market and how we tell our story,” Soto said.

Getting personal

In addition to exploring new channels, hospital marketers are moving toward a more personalized approach—i.e., tailoring messaging to individual patients rather than creating broad messages. “There’s too much mass marketing where you’re saying stuff to everybody, but healthcare is very, very personal,” Soto said.

Jaglowski said he believes the future of healthcare marketing will center on this strategy. People with “entirely different medical backgrounds […] have different expectations,” Jaglowski said.

“Building out personas of different patients, or different patient cohorts, and marketing to them in different ways is going to be key,” he said.

To personalize messages, marketers need a lot of data. Thankfully, hospital marketers have plenty of it within electronic health records—the hard part is just figuring out how to properly analyze that data and turn it into communications, Soto said. Plus, there are also HIPAA and data privacy laws to take into consideration.

“You’ve got to analyze all these individuals, you’ve got to pick out these clinical moments that trigger outreach. How do you do that on a mass basis?” he asked. “This is where new tools like AI are going to come into their own realm.”

AI in the ER?

AI has other applications in healthcare marketing, including simple tasks like writing content, reformatting images, and targeting potential patients with ads, Reid Carr, CEO and executive creative director of full-service marketing and ad agency Red Door Interactive said. Red Door works with the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California.

On the content front, AI can potentially help customize communications “based on a patient’s diagnosis or the historical responses they’ve left within a platform or to a survey,” Jaglowski said.

Healthcare marketers may have more hoops to jump through than other marketers if they want to use AI, Carr said, because content made that way will likely be subject to a more “rigorous process” to ensure it isn’t faulty. But the tech is already being used in various ways, including to make diagnoses and discover drugs.

“I think it’s going to have its place,” he said. “In just healthcare, obviously, there’s just a lot more care that people have to take in to make sure it’s accurate because it’s a lot more important in those cases.”

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.