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Digital marketing empowers patients, shapes health care

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Last month’s two-day Digital Marketing in Healthcare Summit in Philadelphia featured a strong lineup of speakers and panelists.

Here are the top takeaways:

< Marketing is becoming part of the entire health care experience.

Patients now have many digital touchpoints in their journeys, and marketing is being integrated into more of those touchpoints.

A question about the role of marketing posed to an elite panel brought a surprising reply: “Marketing is moving into the clinical space,” said Mahek Shah, a medical doctor and senior project leader at Harvard Business School.

He further explained that the marketing principle of “putting the customized messaging up front every step of the way” to add value and understanding is a key goal in improving the patient and health care provider experience.

< Technology will increasingly disrupt existing methods and help contain costs in health care.

Change is accelerating, said Robin Farmanfarmaian, vice president, Invicta Medical of California. Disruptive health care technologies include:

  • Advanced, connected medical monitoring owned or rented by the patient.
  • Virtual patient visits.
  • Consumer-managed intravenous infusions.
  • Primary care in home.
  • Inexpensive genetic sequencing that drives precision medicine.
  • Artificial intelligence software as part of the medical team.
  • Predictive analytics powered by patient and insurance data.
  • Power of the informed crowd, including sites such as patientslikeme.com.

< Consumer (patient) expectations for digital contacts with their health care providers have significantly increased.

“Expectations for what they want, and where they want it, and the quality of the interface are not limited by sector,” said Emily Kagan, associate vice president of digital strategy for Northwell Health on Long Island.

In other words, patients who have good experiences with sites such as Amazon or Facebook expect the same level of utility and ease of use from their health care sites and apps. But health care has seldom been able to deliver, partly because of the siloed and locked-down nature of patient information.

Kagan cited Northwell Health website’s Find a Doctor feature as an example of meeting high expectations for service.

< Brian Cohen, digital platform lead at Pfizer in the Philadelphia region, said marketing is most effective when it is useful to today’s well-informed patient.

That’s why Pfizer now puts a lot of emphasis on its digital Careflow strategy. Careflow helps patients understand, evaluate, choose a facility and manage health.

Careflow fuels an omni-channel marketing strategy with four patient themes:

< See me and support me as a patient.

< Help me be an informed partner in care.

< Be a meaningful source of information.

< Be responsive.

As an example, Cohen related that among the 100-plus smartphone apps that Pfizer offers, 10 are the most heavily used. These popular apps have one thing in common: They are very lightly branded and full of useful information and tools for the patient.


Overall, conference attendees were optimistic about the prospects of digitization dramatically improving care and treatment, as well as transforming marketing into something more useful and meaningful to patients and health care providers.


Fred Zahradnik is president and owner of NetCrafter Solutions (www.netcraftersolutions.com) of Macungie, which provides digital marketing services. He can be reached at fred@netcrafter.net.

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