- At Wake Forest Baptist Health, improving patient engagement and outreach starts with taking a personalized, digital approach to hospital marketing.
As consumerism become a central focus in the healthcare industry, and patients increasing use their financial leverage to become choosier about their care, hospitals need to interact with their prospective customers in a meaningful, modern way.
“We have had to move out of the mass media as the strongest way to reach folks just because their communication habits and behaviors have completely changed over the past couple of years,” Jeff House, Assistant Vice President of Marketing at Wake Forest Baptist, told PatientEngagementHIT.com.
Changing patient expectations prompted the hospital to adopt digital media and customer relationship management (CRM) strategies. Instead of newspaper ads or billboards, Wake Forest began reaching their patients through targeted Facebook and social media posts, Google advertising, and pay-per-click strategies. These strategies all work to drive relevant traffic to Wake Forest Baptist online campaigns.
This transition did not come without its challenges, however. Although House and his marketing team were privy to emerging digital marketing techniques, it was a difficult sell to other organization leaders.
“Internally, our staff and our internal stakeholders were trained to understand radio, television, billboards, print - those types of marketing tactics,” House recalled. “But the transformation was a brand new concept to them.”
Hospital staff and executives had difficulty grasping the idea of social media marketing and pay-per-click. These are relatively new hospital marketing techniques when compared to more traditional outreach methods, House said, and their importance isn’t immediately accessible for stakeholders.
However, hospital leaders were eventually able to see the payoff. Internet-based patient outreach strategies generate considerable data, House said, and the marketing team could present this data to organizational stakeholders to demonstrate campaign success or to create better patient-centered outreach.
“We can now bring [hospital executives] the data on a daily or weekly basis,” House explained.
“We can educate them on consumer behavior. We can educate them on which marketing tactics were working and which ones were not based on the various goals.”
Analyzing this data made all of the difference in improving patient outreach and education, House explained. Prior to implementing internet-based outreach, he had limited knowledge of consumer digital behavior. Since adopting a CRM platform, however, the team has gleaned important insights regarding patient needs and digital engagement trends.
In the end, House has learned how to leverage different hospital marketing techniques.
“We’ve tested eleven different programs so far and we now can understand which products are better suited to a digital platform, and which products are a better blend between some traditional and some digital,” he explained.
Those differences are based on the type of product or campaign and the type of consumer viewing the message.
Reshaping their patient outreach strategies also helped improve consumer relationships on two fronts. In addition to supporting patient retention, House and his team wanted their efforts to improve communication to support patient education techniques.
“Our main goals in the marketing department and in our communications are really to educate consumers,” he explained.
“There’s a real mission at this organization to improve the healthcare of our market and of our patients and a big part of that comes from simply educating them about the diseases, the disorders, the conditions, the symptoms, the signs, as well as the options they have available to them.”
This level of patient education may support shared decision-making. When patients better understand their diseases and all of their treatment options, they can take part in their care decisions with providers.
Additionally, the team learned to target their outreach to patients who express explicit interest. The team does not take a “big brother” approach or direct their outreach to one specific individual. Instead, they work to connect with patients who respond to previous messages.
“To me, it’s a much better engagement with them because we are pushing information out, we are letting those that are raising a hand react, and we are then engaging them with information, self-assessments, and various calls to action to help them better understand their health needs and our services,” he said.
Truly listening to patients when they react to outreach campaigns has grown to be the core of House’s mission.
“CRM is not about what we want to tell them. It’s about what they want to hear,” House asserted. “I think you get respect and you get trust when you value that approach with consumers now digitally.”
Healthcare organizations looking to improve their patient outreach and marketing techniques should expect to go through several iterations, House said. A thorough understanding of the patient is the driving force behind digital marketing strategies, and that is a constantly evolving process.
“Be ready for a state of constant learning. There isn’t a week that goes by where we don’t develop a new insight into our customer wants and needs, our customer perceptions, our customer behaviors,” House concluded. “You never stop learning with a program like this.”
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