The healthcare industry makes up a significant portion of the American economy—nearly a fifth overall. However, it’s inherently different than many of the other industries that comprise our economy, resulting in unique challenges.
Healthcare issues can be complicated from regulatory and educational standpoints. For many people, they’re also deeply personal or political. Despite these challenges, everyone uses healthcare—in one form or another—during their lifetime.
In this way, healthcare is different than any other business, but the various arms of the healthcare industry require marketing just like anything else. As a content marketer, here are three barriers in healthcare marketing and how to overcome them.
The Healthcare Landscape
Before we examine the challenges you’ll face as a content marketer, let’s take stock of the industry.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ 2017-2026 Projections of National Health Expenditures report, healthcare spending is expected to rise 5.3 percent in 2018. This is driven, “partly by growth in personal healthcare prices.”
The report estimated healthcare spending increased by 4.6 percent in 2017 due to growth in Medicare spending, growth in prices for healthcare goods and services and increases in premiums for Marketplace insurance.
Furthermore, it’s projected that healthcare spending will increase by 5.5 percent annually until 2026. If these projections prove accurate, healthcare spending will account for 19.7 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That would equate to $5.7 trillion.
This is good news for those pursuing careers in the industry. With an aging Baby Boomer population, the industry continues to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects healthcare occupations to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026. This increase is expected to total about 2.4 million new jobs.
Profits in the healthcare industry are booming, as well. According to 2018 second quarter filings, publicly-traded healthcare companies have amassed $47 billion in profits. Additionally, a report from eMarketer found that healthcare companies will spend $2.84 billion in 2018 on digital marketing. That number is expected to increase to $3.14 billion in 2019.
That’s a lot of information to absorb, but it points toward two undeniable realities: the healthcare industry is growing tremendously, and it’s ready to spend money to reach a growing market. As time goes on, this will mean increased competition for people’s attention—whether you’re advertising a registered nursing position in your hospital or a private insurance plan.
Therefore, if you want to reach these people, you must be familiar with the obstacles inherent in healthcare marketing to be effective and to stand out among a crowded field. Here’s what you need to take into account:
Complex Subject Matters
This is probably the most obvious obstacle for content marketers when it comes to the healthcare industry. You need to be an expert on healthcare yourself to feel confident writing about it.
No matter the healthcare-related subject, you’re bound to run into difficulty. Many consumers themselves don’t understand their private health insurance policies. According to a report by the Health Disparities Institute at the University of Connecticut, they struggle to understand basic health insurance terms such as “premium,” “deductible” and “copay.”
While this is frustrating for consumers, it presents an excellent opportunity for content marketers. When consumers are looking for answers, they want quality, informative content that answers their question but also engages them.
So how do you provide that?
It starts with hiring. If you’re in the healthcare business or your agency represents clients in that vertical—or plans to—you need to staff team members that know the ins and outs of marketing and healthcare. You need to hire hybrids.
Typically, when we talk about hybrids, it’s in reference to someone who can, say, write copy and shoot video. However, in this case, we’re talking about someone who has technical expertise in medicine and marketing. It could be someone who formerly worked as a registered nurse and made a career change, someone who was a medical technical writer or someone who worked at a non-profit healthcare organization.
Following the principles of brand journalism, you could also hire a former healthcare journalist. Reporters specialize in all kinds of subjects including business, law, sports and, yes, healthcare. These people have spent years covering one subject—immersed in the everyday minutia. If anyone understands healthcare and how to deliver a complex message to a broad audience, it’s a journalist.
Either way, someone who understands these complexities deeply will be able to communicate more clearly with consumers and make a formerly unapproachable issue approachable.
Regulation and Compliance
The healthcare industry is subject to numerous regulations—for good reason. A hospital is not the place where you want people “winging it.” By extension, healthcare marketing is also subject to numerous regulations in many forms.
Healthcare marketing is especially susceptible to truth-in-advertising laws, which makes claims about “cures” or “guaranteed results” very precarious. Meanwhile, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) limits how doctors and hospitals can use patient information for marketing.
The FDA also has requirements for marketing pharmaceuticals, such as listing the known risks and side effects of a drug. Although, the United States and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising that include product claims.
Social media platforms like Facebook have their own policies, as well. For instance one of Facebook’s ads guidelines reads:
“Ads must not request health information, including physical health, mental health, medical treatments, medical conditions or disabilities without our prior permission.”
When trying to navigate this minefield, many marketers freeze. They become so concerned about compliance that they fall back on very safe, but exceptionally dull, messaging. It seems like an impossible situation, but that’s not necessarily true.
If you or your client is in the healthcare space, you more than likely have a legal department. While lawyers are often seen as adversaries of the creative department, it’s to your benefit to work with them rather than against them.
Work with them to see what absolutely will not fly and where you have a little more creative freedom. If you need to submit your content for review each month, keep a running list of changes to streamline content creation in the future.
This is another reason to hire healthcare journalists or others with medical experience. They’re already familiar with these regulations and know how to account for them during the creative process.
Transparency and Trust
Unfortunately, over the last few years, trust in the healthcare industry has eroded among consumers. According to Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer, the healthcare sector declined in trust in 17 of 28 markets around the world.
The report states, “…We saw some particularly large decreases in trust among the informed public in markets such as the U.S., Canada, France and Germany.” Revive Health’s 11th Annual ReviveHealth Trust Index showed similar results. The report indicates trust is at an all-time low. And it’s not just concerning consumers, healthcare systems and health plans don’t trust each other, either.
“Consumers’ lack of trust should come as no surprise given the complexity of the healthcare system and how little healthcare’s central players trust each other,” said Brandon Edwards CEO of ReviveHealth.
Other research shows that consumer skepticism is leading to a rise in non-traditional and DIY care alternatives.
That’s a difficult environment to reach consumers, but quality storytelling is one way healthcare marketers can help restore trust. By using your platform to share real healthcare experiences from real consumers, you humanize your brand.
The Blue Room series from Bupa, an international healthcare group, is an excellent example of this. They incorporate real patient stories and video to bring the brand narrative to life and build trust in seeking out future services.
Another way to establish trust is to be active in managing your brand. Publish ratings and reviews on your website, so that potential customers can hear from others in their position.
Not only that, you must be active in addressing criticisms and negative reviews or interactions on third-party review sites and on social media. Looking the other way and pretending those things don’t exist won’t make them go away. It’s far better for your business, in the long run, to address these things head on.
The healthcare industry is complex for everyone involved, and it presents special challenges to marketers. By taking the proper steps to address them, you’ll hurdle these obstacles with no problem.