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The Five Biggest Healthcare Marketing Challenges For 2024 (And How To Effectively Overcome Them)

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January 18, 2024

The healthcare industry is continually evolving, and with those changes come new challenges for those of us involved in healthcare marketing. From shifting privacy guidelines to a boiling political climate, healthcare marketers find themselves at the crossroads of change that affects how we do business. In this piece, we will reveal the five biggest healthcare marketing challenges for 2024. Don't worry, we will also give you guidance on how to effectively navigate these healthcare marketing challenges.

#1. Reaching Target Audiences Amid Increasing Privacy Protections

While it's not a new issue, privacy and the need to comply with privacy regulations continues to impact nearly every aspect of healthcare marketing, particularly for those organizations that seek to connect with patients and prospective patients.

As digital advertising has become the go-to tactic for healthcare marketers, the issue of privacy has become a bigger obstacle to reaching target audiences. Specifically, the platforms we rely on as healthcare marketers, e.g., Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc., have rightfully instituted more and more policies to protect their users' privacy.

Gone are the days of launching a Facebook campaign that targets users interested in weight loss, cancer prevention, or heart disease. These media outlets have flatly eliminated the ability for healthcare organizations to target their users based on healthcare-related characteristics.

While we can no longer rely on audience segmentation the way we once did, we still have many resources to find and reach prospective patients based on relevant information. For example, we can still purchase mailing lists for nearly every ailment. Yes, that implies using direct mail as a viable marketing tactic even now as we push more than one-quarter of the way through the 21st century.

#2. Protecting Patient Privacy

As described above, healthcare marketers face challenges targeting the audiences they want to reach. On the other side of the privacy coin, we must protect our patients', members', and customers' privacy.

Regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) impose strict guidelines on how we use protected health information or PHI. Navigating this terrain requires a healthcare advertising agency or healthcare marketing firm that can effectively monitor privacy rules, especially in the digital realm.

Of course, healthcare organizations on the provider and payor side of the industry have an obligation to protect their customers' PHI. In addition, those of us in healthcare marketing have to balance how we use first-party data leveraging its value without compromising privacy. Access to first-party data comes with the responsibility of ensuring regulatory compliance. But how?

First and foremost, healthcare marketers need to understand and embrace the fact that PHI can be used to advance healthcare education toward the goal of improving patients' health. So use your first-party data frequently, but be certain your messages focus squarely on health improvement.

In addition, implement data governance practices that prioritize security. This includes taking advantage of software that hashes PHI when interfacing with third parties, including platforms like Google and Meta.

#3. A More Fragmented Media Landscape

At our Miami ad agency, we can air a television commercial that reaches the precise audience we want to reach, irrespective of what they're watching? It's just one of the many new media option we have at our disposal.

However, while we have more media options to more precisely target our audiences, more media options translate into more fragmentation. And more fragmentation can reduce the impact of limited financial resources.

Yes, we have more media choices than ever before, and many of those options can deliver extraordinary ROI. However, at the end of the day, the new, fragmented media landscape often requires sacrificing one media type for another.

In practice, the use of OTT, streaming audio, and programmatic advertising oftentimes requires additional, incremental marketing investments because clients or our leadership teams continue to demand we include traditional media outlets in our marketing programs.

Unless healthcare organizations are willing to dig deeper in their pockets to fund multi-channel marketing programs, we have an obligation to understand the shifting media landscape and advocate for the media types that will most effectively and most efficiently meet their goals, even if that means sacrificing media types that were once the mainstay of successful healthcare marketing programs.

#4. Fewer Independent Providers With Referral Autonomy

2021 was a watershed moment in the provider universe. For the first time, the percentage of doctors working in physician-owned practices fell below 50%. That means more than half of all doctors were working at organizations with non-physician owners, i.e., hospitals, private equity firms, and corporate enterprises. In 2024, we will have even more doctors working in closed network environments, which makes our job in healthcare marketing more challenging.

Providers are less able to refer patients to specialists outside of their networks. In fact, they're often penalized for sending patients to doctors or hospitals owned by competitors. Among hospital executives, it's known as "leakage," and hospital and health system administrators rank it among their biggest problems.

Fortunately, even when corporate behemoths demand providers refer to doctors who work for the same system, healthcare marketers can make a compelling case to influence the decision-making process, especially when clinical circumstances require referrals to specialized providers.

To make the case, healthcare marketing experts need to craft powerful, clinically relevant messages. And we need to disseminate those messages using verified accurate contact information, including email, which has been shown to be the preferred method by which doctors wish to receive information.

In addition, we have hundreds of thousands of new decision-makers who can affect referral patterns: nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs). These extenders are increasingly responsible for patient referrals, and, like doctors, we can reach them with verified contact information, including email.

#5. An Uncertain Political Climate

Few people would argue the current political climate is highly divided and polarized. As a result, even basic delivery of healthcare has become a source of controversy. From vaccination protocols to coverage for women's health services, healthcare issues are often at the center of diverging viewpoints. As a result, those of us involved in healthcare public relations can find ourselves walking a tightrope to prevent politics from obscuring the objectives we're required to achieve usually as part of our jobs.

Certainly, in recent years, we have seen politics push its way into healthcare marketing more forcefully than at any time in recent memory. In 2024, as the general election draws closer with each day, we can expect the heat of politics to grow hotter and hotter.

Regardless of the uncertain political climate, healthcare marketing professionals must remain focused on our roles as communicators. We owe our allegiance to clear language, compliance with regulations, accuracy in messaging, and, of course, effectiveness. If we stay true to these convictions, we can avoid the divisiveness of the times.

Riding The Wave

In the face of these challenges, healthcare marketers must adopt a forward-thinking and adaptive approach. Staying informed, embracing digital transformation, and prioritizing compliance with evolving regulations will be key to navigating the complexities of healthcare marketing in 2024. By addressing these challenges head-on, healthcare marketers can position themselves to overcome current obstacles and thrive in an ever-changing industry.

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