When consumers think of healthcare, unfortunately what probably comes to mind more often than not is: lack of access, frustration, long waits for test results, and a general vagueness and ambiguity about one’s own healthcare information. For an industry that is so vital and deals in a subject of paramount importance in every consumer’s life, that’s a shame. It’s even more of a shame when you consider how unnecessary that obfuscated information flow is. The technology exists to make communication and personalization more feasible than ever. Healthcare providers and institutions should be in a rush to embrace it, not just because it introduces internal efficiencies that affect bottom lines, but because it’s simply the proper way to treat their customers.
Healthcare policies tend to be so over-regulated and complicated, they create a dust storm of confusion that envelopes any patient forced to wander into it. Imagine having to deal with the added anxiety of a convoluted red tape system on top of the medical issue that brought you into it. Doctors are actually weighted down with a growing patient load, complicated ever further by the paperwork and policies they have to take on in addition to their hands-on patient care role. Even pharmacists are pressed for time and can’t adequately answer questions in a way that would give the consumer the comfort and confidence they seek. Bottom line: healthcare is viewed by a majority of consumers as anything but “personal.”
The technologies are already here and available to begin a much-needed process of rectifying this anti-personalization of healthcare. It’s hard not to notice that there’s an increased focus on healthcare of late: Obamacare, the Supreme Court decision, the election season bringing healthcare issues again into the spotlight. The embracing of technologies by healthcare businesses in order to engage with today’s health consumer in positive and effective ways should be a significant part of that dialogue.
The digital world, led by social media, stands ready to help drive these changes for the good. All healthcare and wellness marketers stand to benefit, if they embrace it. Old habits and practices die hard in healthcare. Introduce something that clearly works and represents an improvement in the ability to deliver quality healthcare, and the entire healthcare industry could be changed forever. As for consumers, they already stand more than ready and willing to accept a better way, something that will increase communication and personalization.
I was there during the early days of WebMD. It represented the first real platform that opened empowering healthcare knowledge and access to consumers. WebMD transformed healthcare communications, as informed consumers came to doctor appointments armed with a better understanding of their conditions, possible treatments, and ready with relevant, intelligent questions. It was a platform that tore down the wall between healthcare industry experts and the general public. Today, social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ not only offer up these same empowering characteristics, they bring so much more to the table.
Social is providing an avenue for consumers’ voices to be heard and responded to. They’re leveraging social as a means to demand change and seek information that gives them more of a hand in their own healthcare, helping cut through a system that has gotten a reputation for keeping patients at arm’s length. To the contrary, smart brand marketers in all verticals are turning to the social web to get closer to their customers than ever before, earning their trust, a component that is extra critical in any healthcare setting.
Across the healthcare ecosystem, brands are experimenting with social. Some larger brands, such as hospitals and large corporations, are ahead of the game. But you don’t have to be a big company to represent a “brand.” An individual doctor or pharmacist with their own practice represents a “brand,” and one that can be fostered and built by interacting with patients via social. The payoff is significant.
Given all this, what should healthcare brands put into practice as soon as they feasibly can?
Set it Up
If you have not taken the time to set up and establish a presence on at least Facebook and Twitter, get it done. It’s free.
Engage with Patients
Social creates a two-way, real-time communication pipeline. Healthcare brands can engage consumers and deliver satisfaction as never before. Yes, moderating and responding to customer communications takes time, but also creates incredible time efficiencies. Small questions get answered before they turn into larger, time-consuming health issues. When you’re engaging and communicating, trust and loyalty go sky high.
Don’t Sell, Service
Consumers have grown hyper aware of, and largely immune to, heavy-handed marketing. If you approach your relationship with them on the social networks as a service instead of as a “pitch,” you will get financial returns on that approach driven by the brand awareness and loyalty consumers will assign to you, simply because you seemed to care.
Grow Your Brand & Business
In a highly competitive space where your competition may have more resources, a better facility, a better location, etc., you have the ability to not only level the playing field, but emerge the winner by using social to build your personal connections to customers and potential customers.
Exchange, Learn from Peers
Social media, particularly Twitter, is a great way to stay on top of industry news, information and trends. This is especially true for healthcare pros such as doctors who often find themselves pressed for time. Over 1,300 influential doctors are registered with TwitterDoctors. You may also want to stay on top of social media trends and best practices for ideas on how to better maximize your social assets.
Social media offers up tremendous opportunities for healthcare businesses to turn the often combative, antagonistic feeling patients and customers have developed with that industry into positive, productive relationships and experiences. Let’s get those social connections put in place so responsive, two-way dialogue can start being the best medicine.