Monday, March 6, 2017

Can Health Care Providers Use Digital Approaches for Growth and Engagement?

By Vicki Amalfitano
Vice President for Marketing and Planning 
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Health care has been at the top of the national political agenda for over two decades. Hospitals in particular are in the cross-hairs of the debates over cost, quality and efficiency. At the same time, health care is one of the country’s most heavily regulated industries. Can such an industry one that relies heavily on bricks and mortar plus a large and diverse professional staff that provides the most personal of all services and  must adhere to the strictest privacy standards use digital approaches to grow and engage its target markets?  It can because of the industry’s long standing involvement in advanced technology and data management.

Secure Patient Portals

Today’s electronic health record system provide secure portals for patients to view their data (aka personal health information), communicate with their physicians and office staff on questions, appointments, prescriptions and referrals.  Health care providers can push information on a patient’s health care risks, conditions and treatment, making patients apart of their health care team. Portals have led to enhanced patient engagement and retention by hospitals and health systems.

Distance Health

Telehealth is a term that encompasses a wide range of business-building technologies for hospitals and their physicians. Large teaching and referral hospitals routinely provide remote consultations to more remote and smaller organizations. Telestroke services, as one example, provide consultations to other electronic data based on images and other clinical information on patients presenting with complex stroke symptoms, and can facilitate transfers of patients as needed.  Online second opinion services assist physicians and patients who upload diagnostic information for remote sub-specialist review at leading hospitals and which often results in referrals. Virtual visits are being quickly adopted for a variety of more routine patient-physician interactions, and even virtual urgent care visits are available in more advanced programs, creating access, efficiency and new clinical volume.


Effective healthcare provider websites should be the digital experience for all constituents. Patients and families should be able to research their health issues, find a specialist, make an appointment, pay their bills, schedule educational events, and find all the information they need to navigate the system in a logical manner. Physicians should be able to also find a consulting specialist and refer a patient digitally, register for continuing medical education programs and apply for training programs. Everyone should be able to locate clinical trial and enrollment information.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Education

Information and education is a core service of health care organizations.  Leading programs now offer patients the ability to avoid trips to the hospital or doctor’s office for information sessions. They can attend surgery preparation classes, childbirth education and a variety of prevention and wellness programs online with an expert, where Q&A takes place seamlessly, or on demand at their convenience.  Online testing modules facilitate confirmation that the patient is informed and ready for the planned intervention. Increasingly, physician continuing medical education can take place on an organization’s website, increasing engagement between the medical community and the health care provider.

Content Marketing: Digital and Social Media

Content marketing across social media and all digital platforms suits healthcare organizations because of the plethora of content they develop and curate everyday on topics of great personal interest to consumers and the biomedical community. Social media platforms and digital marketing encourage all audiences to engage with the healthcare brand. Personalization and automation technologies bring the audience from the top of the funnel through opting in for more interaction and ultimately connection.

As these examples indicate, even highly regulated and bureaucratic organizations like large health care providers are capitalizing on digital technologies in their direct to consumer (DTC)  and business to business (B2B) marketing to engage, grow and retain their customer bases.

Vicki Amalfitano has been a strategic marketing leader in complex health care systems for over 20 years.  Her interests include building brand and business for health care providers and academic enterprises, to strengthen their ability to advance medicine and science. She is currently responsible for market planning and execution at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a major teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, and is an instructor in strategic marketing management at the Harvard School of Public Health.