For the healthcare industry, the new normal never arrived. The industry has forever been altered, and the last two years have been a race to adapt and accelerate digital transformations. The post-pandemic recovery has been fraught with provider and staffing shortages. Now, an economic downturn seems unavoidable. So, what does this mean for the healthcare industry, and how should you pivot your marketing strategy? Here are the top healthcare marketing trends to keep in mind for 2023:
Table of Contents
- 1. Economic Uncertainty Impacts Marketing Strategy & Investments
- 2. FTC Ruling, HIPAA Compliance & the Implications for Digital Marketing
- 3. Patient-centric Content Is a Must
- 4. AI-Powered Tech Changing Marketing
- 5. Website User Experience Remains Paramount
- 6. Personalization Will Be the Gold Standard
- 7. Recruitment Marketing Captures Greater Budget Share
- 8. Google Ads Embrace AI
- 9. Organic Search Becomes More Helpful to Healthcare Consumers
- 10. Healthcare’s Digital Transformation Continues
- Conclusion: A Better Web for Healthcare Consumers
1. Economic Uncertainty Impacts Marketing Strategy & Investments
As we continue through 2023, the tumultuous economic climate is beginning to impact some healthcare providers. With uncertainty still in the air, marketers are holding their breath and remain hesitant to change the status quo.
The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank didn’t help things and impacted healthcare as much as it did any space. The future of digital health funding remains in limbo as things settle in the aftermath. While a recent report showed that digital health companies in the US garnered $3.4 billion in the first quarter of 2023, topping activity in the last half of ’22, 2023 is still on track to experience the lowest rates of digital health funding since 2019.
While inflation has cooled, many Americans still feel the burden of increased living costs. High deductibles will continue to impact patient decision-making when it comes to receiving care, reducing some of the protections organizations typically have when consumer spending decreases. If and when we enter a recession, decreasing employment numbers will naturally lead to more uninsured patients. All of this means that consumer sensitivity to costs may increase, with many patients even deferring care.
As a result, some healthcare groups are reining in their marketing budgets. In our conversations with clients and contacts across the industry, we continue to see a good deal of caution when it comes to 2023 planning. While many are still investing in growth, caution demands that they keep a close eye on budget and marketing performance over the next several months.
If you want more from your advertising budget, read our article 6 Easy Google Ads Optimizations to Maximize Your Healthcare Budget.
2. FTC Ruling, HIPAA Compliance & the Implications for Digital Marketing
Recent changes at the regulatory level have triggered industry-wide adjustments with regards to compliance in 2023. What happened? At the end of 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services released a Bulletin clarifying what is considered healthcare information and how it is shared. According to the HHS bulletin:
“Regulated entities are not permitted to use tracking technologies in a manner that would result in impermissible disclosures of PHI to tracking technology vendors or any other violations of the HIPAA Rules.”
As a result, many healthcare marketers are reevaluating their ad strategies and leveraging increased scrutiny to their methodologies. There are safe routes forward, of course. As Rich Briddock, SVP of Strategy & Analytics at Cardinal, put it, “If you want to engage effectively with prospective patients and you can’t use first-party patient lists anymore, one way you can do that is through what we call a full-funnel strategy. Essentially, what that means is you would utilize broad targeted video campaigns at the top of the funnel. Just to let them know about your business and drive some awareness. You might use 15-second to 30-second video clips to just explain the business to those consumers.” From there, ad engagers move through the funnel toward conversion.
3. Patient-centric Content Is a Must
Google rolled out its latest helpful content update in August 2022. It has had a big impact on several industries, including healthcare. While previous updates have focused on useless, dangerous, or spam content, this recent update placed a far stricter requirement on content quality and authenticity, with the goal being to make digital content more relevant and helpful to humans. This is a sitewide update, meaning if one page is spammy, it can impact your site at large.
In the months since the rollout, we’ve already seen an impact on healthcare groups as a result of these new priorities from Google. The good news is that healthcare groups could significantly benefit from this update if they follow Google’s recommendations. But what does this mean exactly in practice?
Healthcare service providers need a robust full-funnel content strategy to answer consumers’ questions at the top (TOF) and middle of the funnel (MOF). To optimize their approach, healthcare groups can do the following:
- Develop content that directly answers the core questions that patients are asking at each stage of the patient journey.
- Build a comfortable UI and prioritize the mobile experience so it’s easy for users to scan and find answers quickly.
- Create thorough content that answers as many relevant questions in one piece as possible.
- Focus on evergreen content that follows the fundamentals of SEO. This strategy tends to be algo-proof and provides the best user experience.
Again, while this is a significant change that will continue to impact healthcare entities into 2023, taking the right, patient-centric approach to content should result in gains for the space in the long term. One tool that may serve you well in the years to come? Artificial Intelligence.
4. AI-Powered Tech Changing Marketing
It’s one of the most popular topics of conversation out there right now—chatbots are redefining everything from schoolwork to research and, yes, healthcare marketing. These AI-driven chat interfaces are positioned to have a real impact on marketing efforts moving forward, affecting SEO, patient engagement, and more.
One particularly relevant chatbot is Bard, Google’s response to ChatGPT. Although Bard is still working out its kinks, it seems it will act as a companion to search, not a replacement. Understanding how it will integrate with search is essential to any organization doing SEO or publishing content online.
And how about ChatGPT, the other hugely popular chatbot out there right now? It will be gradually rolling out plugins that will give its system deeper and more recent knowledge. In the long term, this will create a wide array of use cases that could impact the way and ease with which healthcare consumers get information online.
As these technologies grow in quality and impact, marketers are examining initial use cases, including how AI-technology can be used to improve efficiency. While a chatbot’s facility with language is still evolving, it is ready to help with certain workflows at healthcare practices. For example, chatbots can pick up some of the “small” work in day-to-day workflows, including helping patients answer questions or schedule appointments. This, in turn, can allow healthcare teams to focus more on work that humans are well suited for, including generating new ideas and jumpstarting projects.
In terms of generating content, AI-driven language tools will continue to need to human touch. As Jacquelyn Green, Director of SEO, phrases it, “When using AI for writing content, we are outlining it, determining what keywords and headings are in it. We’re doing the strategy and using the tool to create the answers to some of the questions. It’s more than just letting a tool spit out 500 words and then us going in and adding keywords. It’s a lot more of a hands-on strategy.”
5. Website User Experience Remains Paramount
We said it last year, and we’ll say it again—website UX should be at the top of your list of priorities for 2023. Why? Google wants good user experiences , and so do your patients. Google’s requirements and your patients’ needs are closely aligned, too. Both want to find information quickly, and part and parcel of that is: a) getting your site architecture right and b) making sure that your site includes robust, in-depth content that answers patient questions directly.
Always adhere to the Google mantra for content: E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
That means generating original, up-to-date, and highly relevant content. Remember, too, that your IRL interactions have an impact via third-party rating sites. Always be transparent in your content, as well, making sure to disclose how it’s created and from where you are sourcing it.
How can you optimize your website UX? We recently shared our 7 Essential Principles for Optimizing Your Website for Search, which you can use for a deep dive into the topic. The following are just some of the best practices you’ll want to adhere to with your website UX:
- Keep things organized. Neither Google nor your patient wants to spend a lot of time searching for what they need. Keep the menus and structure of your site clean and in order.
- Keep key content discoverable. Clicking 4 or 5 times to get to what you want is almost a perfect formula for encouraging a visitor to drop off. Make sure that all of your recent and relevant content is discoverable and within easy reach.
- Keep your site unique. You want your site visitors to have a differentiated experience when visiting your site. Consider what distinguishes you from competitors and weave this into messaging, voice, tone, etc.
- Keep a site linkable. If you are generating top-grade content, you’ve completed step one. You will also want to evaluate links on your pages and undertake link-building campaigns if you haven’t already.
As we pointed out last year, healthcare organizations need to view a website as the digital face of their organization. As 2023 approaches, organizations should recommit to retooling their sites to focus on patient needs:
Remember that your homepage is your first impression. All messaging and design elements should align with the impression you want to make on patients. Clearly communicate your unique value proposition and provide UX components that funnel your visitors toward conversion.
Create buyer personas and use these to map patient journeys. Unfortunately, there is no way to create a completely customized digital experience for every visitor. What you can do is use data to identify high-volume journeys and optimize your site to ensure they meet patients’ complete needs.
Leverage SEO metrics on your landing pages. Google offers great resources for identifying which pages and keywords are driving the most organic traffic to your site. Use this data to optimize the target URL to cater to the people using that search language, zero in on the intent behind a search, and answer that need with your landing page.
6. Personalization Will Be the Gold Standard
This is another trend with staying power in 2023. Personalization continues to be the gold standard. As Salesforce highlighted in a recent report, 92 percent of marketers believe their customers and prospects expect personalized experiences. With expectations that high, it’s not hard to imagine that patients will go elsewhere if they don’t get that bespoke experience.
What steps can you take to leverage personalization in 2023? While healthcare privacy laws always create some constrictions, there are still two approaches you can take to make this happen:
Geo-personalization is an easy way to personalize landing pages so that all the information a user sees is relevant to the location closest to them. People who are on the lookout for a new doctor are typically motivated by one thing— convenience. When you provide a page that is personalized to a patient’s location, they get immediate access to everything they need to convert, including:
- What providers are nearby
- Which providers are accepting new patients
- Services offered at that location
- Specifics on insurance, etc.
The added benefit is that geo-personalization does not violate HIPAA or patient privacy— always a key issue (and delicate balancing act) in healthcare marketing. It also reduces the number of steps to conversion, giving users all the information they need early on in their customer journey. With geo-personalization in the mix, you should see an increase in new patient acquisition. After all, with geo-personalization, you are removing some serious roadblocks to conversion.
Launch and Refine Your Patient Portals and/or Mobile Apps.
It’s one thing to build an email list based on protected personal health information. Once a person logs into a portal or mobile app, however, your options broaden considerably. Within those interfaces, you can display condition- or treatment-specific content or recommend certain services or appointments. You can also give patients direct access to their medical information and physicians. That must be part of the reason that more patients use patient portals than ever before. Personalize the patient experience by building patient portals that give direct access to their medical information and customized content resources.
Let Patients Choose Their Journey.
You don’t need personal health information to adapt content journeys to what specific patients want. For example, if you know that one of your web pages is getting a lot of organic search traffic for the keyword “breast augmentation in san diego,” you can tailor it to that particular journey. What kind of information would a person who used that search term and clicked through to your website need? How can you adapt the page to be a bit more personalized to this particular journey?
7. Recruitment Marketing Captures Greater Budget Share
National staffing shortages continue to have a significant impact on the healthcare industry. According to a survey conducted recently by consulting firm WittKieffer 93% of healthcare executives reported that burnout is having a negative impact on their organizations. With burnout escalating, it’s clear that staffing shortages will continue to plague the healthcare industry in 2023. In this climate, healthcare groups won’t be able to expand their capacity or grow without a strong recruitment pipeline.
Patient experience and quality of care will suffer if you don’t build a culture of collaborative care. Healthcare brands must manage their brand reputation and develop a supportive employee culture if they want recruitment campaigns to work. Remember, providers and affiliated brands are as important as your patients.
Marketing is increasingly being tasked with supporting recruitment efforts and with good causes. Marketing initiatives can make some real headway in support of shaping your brand and communicating your company’s culture and employment perks.
One way in which marketing can impact recruiting is via digital PR. Well-positioned public relations in the digital space is one of the easiest ways to share the best aspects of your employee culture, spreading the word about just how much you value employee achievements, new hires, and programs that support your employees.
Lauren Leone, Cardinal’s SVP of Healthcare Marketing, offered some tips, as guidance.
“First and foremost is getting your messaging strategy right. You should be thinking about your story, your audiences, and the assets for them just as significantly as you think about your patient recruitment. What are the stories I’m trying to tell? What are the value propositions of my organization? What makes me different? How do those translate into your website, your careers section of your website and how do those translate into video or text ads?”
Promoting your charitable giving and philanthropic activities, too, will add another layer of depth to your organization’s culture and make it that much more appealing to potential recruits.
Healthcare organizations in 2023 can also optimize the digital experience to support recruitment efforts. Here are a few ways marketing can help:
- Developing employee-centric recruitment pages on the website
- Conducting running conversion rate optimization testing to improve application rates
- Creating recruitment-specific media campaigns
- Managing reputation on platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed
- Sharing your culture on social platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook
8. Google Ads Embrace AI
Another AI-related issue to keep an eye on? Google’s growing push toward broad match keywords, triggered by the search giant’s increasing use of AI to match search queries to ads.
As Google continues to phase out traditional exact match, keyword match types will have more and more limitations on the types of data signals they can pull from. As a result, advertisers are being pushed to embrace broad match type, which is now the only match type that uses all of the signals available to understand the intent of each query and a target audience.
There are, of course, some serious benefits to broad match, including scalability and Increased efficiency.
As Evan Ilgenfritz, Director of Paid Media Strategy, put it,
“Essentially, what’s happening is broad match now has increased functionality that the other match types do not. This is a big one because right now, broad match can leverage a variety of things such as previous user search history… Ultimately, this means we’re evolving our own understanding of the importance of broad match, and Cardinal, in particular, is now testing and looking forward to the future for what this improved broad match could offer.”
9. Organic Search Becomes More Helpful to Healthcare Consumers
Google has gone through some recent updates as well, as it continues to work on improving accessibility to helpful healthcare information. High-level goals in these updates include making it easier to find Medicaid re-enrollment information, implementing AI technology to verify provider details, and connecting individuals with crisis support hotlines through search.
As a result, “helpful content” is more important than ever when it comes to your SEO strategy. That’s why your healthcare content must be comprehensive and answer as many patient questions as possible.
Google also made some changes recently to how it identifies and filters out spam. Search’s most recent SEO algorithm update focuses on low-quality spam links. What does that mean for your marketing efforts? If you’re not focused on building top-tier backlinks right now for SEO, you will get left behind in the SERPS.
Finally, Apple Maps’ business listings are about to get more detailed. Taking a page from the Google playbook, Apple is developing its own listings platform visible on Apple Maps, Siri, and iPhone messages. With Google Business Profiles also introducing several new features, it is more important than ever for healthcare organizations to manage their profiles directly on Google, create compelling posts, and address FAQs from patients.
10. Healthcare’s Digital Transformation Continues
It seems like ‘digital transformation’ has been the main topic of conversation for a while now in multiple industries— except for healthcare, that is. Let’s be honest; healthcare is an industry that has lagged behind in terms of digital advancements. Whether this stems from concerns around patient privacy or entrenched analog workflows, technological adoption in healthcare has historically been low compared to other sectors.
Consider this takeaway on the status of marketing technology from our recent healthcare marketing survey:
“… 47% still do not use a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. The same was true last year (46% did not use a CRM then). The complexities of integrating CRMs with EHRs and across multiple locations can be daunting, and it looks like many organizations still aren’t ready for the challenge.”
A one percent increase year-over-year could be described as a snail’s pace, but momentum is increasing, and it isn’t a moment too soon. Digital is not only the key to improving operational efficiency and producing outsized returns for investors but also the key to improving the quality of patient care and access.
Private equity investment and consolidation are fueling technology adoption. To improve efficiency and reduce redundancy, healthcare groups are investing in marketing and patient experience/access technologies, including:
- Centralized call centers
- Online appointment booking
- Centralized CRMs
- Live chat and chatbots
- Call tracking
- Review generation technology
These technologies can have a real impact on operations. Online booking via a website, for one, is one of the biggest ways that you can streamline operations. Administrative staff will be free from the phones for the first time, allowing them to focus on more critical goals and tasks.
For multi-location brands, centralized call centers provide an easier way to answer routine patient questions about insurance, hours of operation, etc. And, yes, the CRM referenced above can do a lot for operations, making it easier for stakeholders to access patient information, share information between patients and send reminder information as needed. An added bonus? The right CRM improves efficiency and allows a marketing team to personalize patient experiences and improve patient retention.
Speaking of patients, healthcare consumers expect a digital experience, and that will continue in 2023. They are looking for transparent, proactive communication that helps them do what they need to do and do it quickly. According to a 2019 Patient Access Journey Report from Kyruus, 40 percent of people switched providers just to get an appointment sooner, while 46 percent of patients at urgent care cited “speed of access” as a trigger in their choice of care. With these numbers, it’s clear that digital transformation will continue to be essential in 2023.
Fortunately, the unbundling of EPIC is also making it easier for organizations to implement transformative technologies. Historically, EPIC implementation has meant a commitment of years, making it a lengthy and cost-prohibitive endeavor. With the increasing number of vendors targeting the EHR market and unbundling EPIC, healthcare groups can now more readily adopt technology that improves patient experience, access, and clinical workflow.
Conclusion: A Better Web for Healthcare Consumers
With healthcare slowly but surely engaging in digital transformation as we continue through 2023, marketers should remain focused on the creation of an enhanced patient experience online and on mobile. Patients will feel empowered with more information available to make more informed choices, increasing loyalty and reducing instances of care aversion.
A commitment to prioritize patients is inherent in all of the 2023 healthcare marketing trends listed above. Healthcare marketers who pursue patient-centric marketing strategies and build empathetic patient experiences will outperform their competitors in an evolving and (still) unstable economic environment.