6 Special Digital Marketing Challenges for Healthcare Facilities

Several digital marketing challenges for healthcare facilities need addressing. Healthcare facilities face unique digital marketing challenges, including compliance with HIPAA and other privacy regulations, communicating complex medical information clearly, and maintaining a balance between professionalism and approachability. Building trust through patient testimonials and educational content, while ensuring data security and privacy, is crucial. Adapting to the sensitive nature of healthcare topics in online marketing is also essential.

The world of healthcare is constantly evolving, and marketing is more challenging than ever. In an increasingly digital-focused world, there so much the average provider needs to consider and pay attention to: privacy, online reviews, your ability to create a strong brand presence, SEO, and yes, even competing with other providers, too. It’s certainly possible to succeed if you can achieve the right balance.

But trying to find that precarious balance between adhering to healthcare rules and reaching your audience in a way that converts? That isn’t always easy. Special considerations for confidentiality significantly hamper options, as do legal limitations on what you can do or say. Success might begin to feel like an impossibility.

Now, here’s the good news: succeeding in advertising your facility or service online isn’t just possible; it can also be relatively easy. You just have to anticipate challenges like these and ensure you have contingency plans!

Audience Segmentation

Determining your audience segment is much more challenging in healthcare than it is in other more traditional markets (like construction or real estate). Healthcare facilities need to consider ages, genders, geographic locations, patient medical conditions, and specialist needs, too. This factor significantly restricts options and may even make certain marketing techniques inappropriate (like the use of messenger bots on Facebook or SMS texting).

Unfortunately, healthcare marketing challenges can be elusive and difficult to spot, and in many cases, facilities break the rules without even realizing it. Everything seems to be going fine, so they assume it is – until they wind up sued or fined.

This isn’t designed to frighten you off of digital marketing; rather, it’s a cautionary note to go into it with your eyes open. Special challenges around privacy, location, and regulations are always present.

Think about it this way: it’s often easy to create a digital ad for individuals seeking a primary care provider in your local hometown, city, or even state. Fine-tuning the target audience for cardiology or cancer care? That ramps up the difficulty significantly because targeting patients with certain conditions is considered a form of discrimination.

Add to this the lack of ability to pry into someone’s personal history (HIPAA laws always come first) and most healthcare facilities are forced to cast a wider net. Insurance network limitations further limit conversions.

As someone marketing in the healthcare industry, you also need to take customer loyalty into consideration. Educated consumers usually seek out the very best care from top providers in well-known facilities. Your digital marketing techniques need to speak to this segment in the right way; they‘re more likely to stay loyal to your brand as long as you provide quality service. This audience segment is also the most willing to wait for an appointment or even drive a bit further than the average patient.

Healthcare Wants and Needs

There’s no doubt about it: patients rate healthcare facilities on everything from the end result of patient care to the quality of customer service. Even hospital accommodations play a role in how patients rate you. Uncomfortable beds? That’ll end up on Yelp. Nurse took too long? Expect a complaint about that, too.

We’re seeing hospitals, for example, remodel themselves so that almost every patient has a private room and isn’t forced to share. Outpatient facilities must be clean, calm and welcoming, with a quiet, comfortable ambiance and plenty of amenities (like coffee, televisions, and other waiting room perks). These benefits might not have anything to do with saving a life, but they still matter to patients.

In digital advertising, success comes from focusing on patient care and what the facility itself offers that puts it a step above the rest. Patients need to see your facility will connect them with the best doctors in the field (needs) while providing access to the most comfortable, high-tech, and spacious facilities (wants) in the area.

Transparency in Operations

Now, here‘s another problematic side of the coin. Healthcare consumers don’t want to scour the web for reviews of healthcare facilities. What they appreciate more than anything is the ability to visit a facility’s website and see ratings on page — even if they aren’t all 5-star comments. Larger hospital systems get their digital teams to either scrape review feeds from other sites; others incorporate honest patient feedback submission options right on-site. Either approach has its own merits.

Consumers also hate having to wait on hold for an hour just to find out they can’t get book an appointment with a specialist or provider in the near future. This is an evolving caveat that isn’t always easy to overcome, but the slow and steady improvement and accessibility of online booking systems can and will reduce this pain point.

Unfortunately, there are concerns with digital booking systems. There’s the risk of intrusion, hijacking, or even hacking attempts. Cost is also a factor; in fact, it’s so impactful that it’s the number one issue holding facilities back from getting on board with digital booking in the first place. As these systems continue to evolve, costs will come down and they’ll better serve both facilities and patients.

Online Reviews

While transparency is an issue for facilities, especially with regard to reviews, managing online reviews has always been challenging. Dozens of websites allow patients and even their families or friends to read and leave reviews —  good or bad. It isn’t always possible to identify who saw the patient or even who treated them. In some cases, it may even be impossible to identify who the patient even was.

The dangers associated are clear: you can gain a bad reputation or find yourself in a PR nightmare. Disgruntled consumers may review facilities or individual doctors causing confusion for potential visitors who decide to go elsewhere.

Then there is the issue of diversity in marketing channels. Most facilities are present on multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, business website, app, you name it). Marketers need to monitor, cultivate, and handle all of these facets at once, and that can suck up hours or even days of time every week.

Furthermore, some platforms aren’t facility-operated. Doctors may find themselves reviewed on Healthgrades, Vitals, Yelp, Google, RateMDs, and a myriad of other large and lesser-known sites. So, too, can facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics. It takes a lot of planning and implementing a strong review monitoring platform to stay on top of and respond to online reviews constructively.

HIPAA Limitations

America passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996. The goal was to protect patients from fraud and abuse, protect the integrity of medicine, and make patient information more accessible to healthcare providers without risking patient privacy. HIPAA is excellent and so incredibly important, but it does make it difficult to segment campaigns targeted toward specific consumer groups. These regulations also make it exceptionally difficult to interact with patients online without doing a frenzied tap dance around the rules.

Take, for example, re-targeting — the practice in which a website owner shows ads to people who have visited their pages at some point in the past. Healthcare providers can’t use re-targeting because it invariably ends up violating privacy laws (usually by targeting a health condition within future advertisements). Instead, healthcare facilities have to rely on unique impressions and repeat ad views.

Money, Money, Money

Let’s face it: one of the biggest digital marketing challenges in healthcare is a lack of funds. Marketing teams and CEOs rely on old-school marketing methods and are reluctant to expand their online advertising strategies. There’s something to be said about not overspending on digital marketing, but to ignore the digital sphere is a big mistake.

Here‘s the thing; digital marketing doesn’t need to be your only form of marketing, nor should it eat up your entire budget, either. Facilities who enter the online sphere carefully and cautiously could see a huge increase in advertising ROI if they were only willing to expand into new markets with safer, more reliable long-term strategies. Brand awareness is just as important as disease or service-specific marketing. The reluctance to invest often leaves the digital marketing team creating online assets and simply putting them out there, hoping for organic traction. The end result is a campaign that just doesn’t convert as well as you might think.

Healthcare is growing in leaps and bounds. As our population ages, new walk-in clinics, offices, and hospital facilities are popping up regularly to serve patients in newer and more reliable ways. Without a strong digital marketing strategy, most facilities just become static in the online “noise” their competitors create. Success comes from sitting down to create a strong plan with specific goals. The biggest hurdle you’ll ever face is convincing doctors and administrative staff to see the bigger picture.


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SEO virtuoso, CEO @Sachs Marketing Group. Focused on being of service to business owners - helping to better position them in the eyes of their audiences.

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