Summary: What do your patients really care about? And what do they think about you? The answers might surprise you. They might also reveal why your marketing campaigns are missing the mark.

Healthcare marketers don’t have a choice: monitoring performance metrics is crucial to success. The numbers matter! What marketers sometimes forget is that there’s also a person behind the metrics they care about most. Real people. Current and future patients. What those patients want, need, feel, get frustrated about—their surprises, disappointments, and desired outcomes—comprises a more qualitative aspect of healthcare marketing called patient insights.

On top of the insights that most marketers already use to optimize, reorganize, or rethink campaigns, patient insights can help them develop better marketing campaigns by taking a step back. By asking, “do I really know what my patients want?” It’s an ongoing effort that can directly inform changes to marketing strategies.

 

Why You Need to Talk To Patients

It seems counterintuitive, but a lot of healthcare practices are hesitant to talk to their patients. They don’t want to bother patients, hurt the relationship, or risk violating privacy standards. Worse, some practices think they already know everything. In these cases, ego gets in the way of an honest conversation about blind spots in the patient experience.

Under the right circumstances, however, most patients want to be forthcoming about their feedback, whether positive or negative. In some cases, they’ve already made their voices heard on reviews sites or social media. The question is, are you providing the right opportunities for patients to share their feelings? More importantly, are you listening?

 

Where to Look for Patient Insights

To find patient insights, take your reporting and analytics hat off for a moment. Don’t overthink it because getting patient insights doesn’t have to be some complicated marketing operation. Again, most people appreciate being informally asked their thoughts and ideas. A conversation with a physician, for example.

Of course, make sure you always follow HIPAA regulations and, where necessary, keep all patient information confidential and secure. With that in mind:

Review Existing Channels to See What People Are Saying

Start by digging into your patient feedback forms (assuming you use them). Pay special attention to negative sentiment, both in how patients rate your services, as well as what they write when asked to elaborate. The same goes for your reviews on social media, Google My Business, and healthcare review sites. What are people saying, especially those who have left negative ratings?

Negative reviews healthcare gmb

Getting negative reviews is unfortunate, but you can learn what your patients think or need in order to improve your healthcare organization.

 

Call logs from your customer service center can be another good source of customer voice, feedback, and sentiment. Even a cursory review of social media comments, posts on your channels, or where your brand is tagged can be revealing. Across the board, you’re looking for common threads, trends, and other insights that might inform improvements to both your patient experience and related marketing campaigns.

RELATED: Ignite Digital Marketing Podcast Ep. 10 – Call Analytics: Listen to Your Patients to Improve Conversions

Conduct Patient Interviews

While the line from patient interviews to healthcare marketing campaigns isn’t always direct, the former can inform the latter. Patient interviews are your opportunity to hear directly from patients, ask productive questions, and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. In some cases, this is the only forum in which patients feel totally comfortable sharing their thoughts.

To conduct better patient interviews, we like three call-outs in particular from EMS World’s tips for conducting patient interviews:

  • Ditch the script and rely more on open-ended questions. This leads to a more natural, conversational flow.
  • Slow it down and give patients time to respond to questions one at a time. Few people feel very thoughtful when they’re feeling rushed.
  • Avoid “doctor speak” and medical jargon, so patients feel comfortable using their own words. Again, patients should feel like they’re in an open and supportive environment.

Bonus: hearing the actual words and terminology that patients use to describe their medical needs can help inform your keyword strategy.

Diversify Your Patient Outreach

Next, take your patient surveys and interviews a step further. Most practices have three distinct opportunities to expand patient outreach:

  • Talk to your long-term patients. For example, “Thanks for your support and loyalty. How can we continue to deliver the best possible care for you moving forward?”
  • Reach out to patients who are leaving or already have. For example, “We’re so sorry to see you go. Do you mind telling us what we could have done better?”
  • Survey your new patients. For example, “How did you find our practice, and why did you choose us?”

The idea here is to get an idea of the needs, concerns, and feedback that patients have at critical points in their journey. We’re guessing that most healthcare marketing campaigns are closely tied to these points in the journey—at least they should be.

 

How to Use Patient Insights in Marketing

There’s a variety of applications for patient insights. Physicians and healthcare professionals themselves often use patient insights to guide treatment plans, clinical trials, and other aspects of medicine. For healthcare marketers with access to patient insights, here are some ideas for putting them to use toward improving your marketing strategy.

Refine Your Positioning & Messaging

Patient insights can shed light on what makes you different as a healthcare brand. What’s your unique selling proposition (USP)? What makes you different from the next provider in your field? And why should someone choose you? Often, your patients will help to answer these questions for you.

For example, we’ve seen the surprise when healthcare marketers find that their brand has a reputation for subpar customer service. They’ve always assumed otherwise. Elsewhere, we’ve seen rural hospitals or regional groups struggle to change a perceived lack of advanced technology and services. Others haven’t been able to identify why they’re losing business to a competitor across town.

Insights like these can be a turning point for healthcare brands struggling to find or refine their positioning and messaging. There’s valuable information in the nuances that matter to real patients. The trick is to invest the time and effort needed to find it. For the brands that do bake these patient insights into their brand positioning, their campaigns are far more effective at engaging prospective patients.

Breathe New Life Into Your Ad Creative

Based on these patient insights, your ad creative might be next in line for an update. Use patient insights to inform design, theme, and copy updates that resonate better with actual patient needs. Use imagery and video that evokes feelings that appeal to their motivations and goals or alleviate any fears and make them feel confident in their choice.

For example:

  • Before/after photos
  • Patient testimonials
  • Provider interviews
  • Procedure/surgery overviews
Patient testimonials as ad copy

Breathe new life into your ad campaigns by using patient testimonials in your copy. 

 

A plastic surgery group, for example, might find that a fear of “going under the knife” is their patients’ top objection to a specific procedure—not price, as they previously assumed. The marketing team might use this information to create messaging, testimonials, and other ad creative that directly addresses—and disarms—these fears. If the marketing team can target these ads to the stage in the funnel where patients feel this fear most, all the better.

Attend to Your Patient Experience

If your digital reputation is suffering or not quite on par with competitors, look to see if you’re missing key patient requirements. Do you know what really matters to your patients? What do they expect when they go into the office? When you deliver exceptional patient experiences, you’ll generate more positive reviews naturally—people will be eager to share with their friends and family. Word of mouth recommendations will increase, too.

Patient experiences and patient reviews are closely intertwined.

GMB healthcare review

When you deliver exceptional patient experiences, you’ll generate more positive reviews.

 

A dentist might look into its negative reviews, for example, and find that many customers are confused about insurance. They can’t get their questions answered by the website! A multi-location healthcare organization might find that customers are having trouble finding the right phone number to call to make appointments. They’re constantly put on hold or transferred! Both of these flashpoints in the patient experience can be addressed by specific marketing activities—the important thing is to know that they exist.

 

Tune In Before Smoke Becomes Fire

Healthcare brands that fail to invest time in patient insights often overlook critical faults in the patient experience. More often than not, these fault lines aren’t acute enough to jump out at a person—at least not without closer scrutiny. Over time, however, these issues can persist and become an undesired part of a brand’s visible digital reputation.

“They have poor customer service.”

“I can never get an appointment.”

“Their bedside manner is rude. It feels like they don’t listen to me.”

The list goes on. And in that regard, it really is a relationship. It’s up to healthcare professionals to nurture this relationship—listen and look for the signs that something is wrong. Usually, this requires nothing more than organizational buy-in for the value of patient insights. That and taking the time to talk to patients and hear them out.

 

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi-location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).