Trend Update: Digital Marketing and CRM for Hospitals

AUG 13

The Emergence of the Empowered Consumer

Over the past few years, health reform and a growing wave of consumerism have required payers and providers to rethink their business models and develop legitimate relationships with patients and members ─ the ultimate consumers of their services.

Historically, consumer experiences in healthcare, including purchasing decisions were at best closed conversations between the payers, providers and the employer; with the consumer noticeably absent.  Today, some notable market changes include:

  • High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP): Individuals face increased deductibles for their healthcare consumption and now have “skin” in the game.  As a result, many have begun to demand improved price visibility and quality metrics to help assist in the decision-making process of where and what care they should be receiving.  With consumers shouldering more of the financial burden, services such as decision support, advocacy and other ancillary services have become a market standard.
  • Insurance Exchanges: With the exponential increase in healthcare costs, employers are beginning to opt into insurance exchange markets to defer the plan design to the employee.  Payers must shift their focus away from strictly selling services to the employer and develop a strategy to reach the consumer.
  • New Reimbursement Models: Whether it be the Readmission Reduction Program, Bundled Payments, Value-Based Purchasing, or the ACO model, providers are not only being held responsible for the quality of care they are providing but must also bear more of the financial risk of consumer decision-making.

These new market forces are requiring payers and providers to approach consumers more similar to retailers, where consumer marketing, brand awareness and brand image are critical to survive.

Hospital Marketing as a Driver of Financial Performance

Financial success for hospitals has been and will continue to be aligned with quality patient care, good clinical outcomes, HIPAA compliance and sound revenue cycle management processes.  Consumer marketing, however, has been an operational afterthought and fallen outside of most key initiatives attempting to impact the bottom of a health system.

Despite having access to millions of personal records rich with potentially valuable marketing information, providers are fettered by HIPAA compliance that makes leveraging such information challenging.  As a result, typical hospital marketing efforts include generic messaging delivered to broad audiences through antiquated delivery mediums such as postcards, billboards, radio spots and print ads.

Fresh approaches to digital marketing for providers are changing the game.  Whether an in-house effort is through a marketing agency, provider-centric campaigns for high margin elective surgeries and other services can now have what are table stakes for any successful CRM initiatives…success metrics.  While many outsourced marketing agencies will provide ROI results and marketing performance on individual campaigns, an ability to integrate EMR data with these efforts holds a key for developing a compelling marketing strategy and gives visibility to all service line marketing efforts.

Social Media Marketing

In our 2012 report on Social Media in Healthcare, we opined that consumers were beginning to migrate toward digital media ─ especially social media.  The trend is now reality, and with the explosive use of Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn, providers are slowly acknowledging this shift and adjusting how they market to current and prospective patients.  Companies like BrightWhistle, Tea Leaves Health and eVariant are just three examples of companies offering unique approaches to social media and digital marketing for hospitals and along with it, the opportunity to influence not only branding, but to conduct highly targeted outreach and lead development efforts as well.

Provider Marketing in the New World

The TripleTree team has been spending a meaningful amount of time understanding how consumer behavior, marketing strategies, consumer perception and decision-making are impacting the financial performance of healthcare providers.  We’re finding that winning strategies incorporate the following:

  • Customized Messages / Targeted Audiences: Despite the challenges that HIPAA regulations present, providers who develop content that is relevant to specific business lines are driving revenue.  It isn’t enough to promote the hospital brand, they must tell a compelling story around a specific service.  In doing so, they must target audiences that will find the message relevant.


  • A Few Key CRM Platform Features:  Once the message has reached the right audience, the ability to capture subsequent activity through identification and timely follow up is crucial to capture demonstrated consumer interest (lead conversion). In addition, marketing campaign ROI metrics are critical for course corrections and continued improvement.


  • Integration with EMR Data:  The ability to integrate EMR data with marketing efforts is a complex and daunting task.  However, coordinating clinical activities with the efforts of ongoing outreach can expand the efficacy of marketing campaigns.  The insights gained here also touch other areas of important care coordination.  Leveraging a hospital-centric approach to a CRM platform reduces readmissions, supports pro-active outreach to ACO populations and sends reminders for preventive care ─ all necessary tools to manage care for a population.

Some pioneering health systems are well down the path in leveraging digital marketing, but most are just now becoming aware of the possibilities.  As regulatory tailwinds continue to push these initiatives, we’ll continue to follow and report on this trend.

Let us know what you think.

Jay Ahlmer
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