Healthcare is undergoing a transformation unlike any it’s seen before. 

Driven by the perfect storm of technology, legislative changes and patient demands, the healthcare ecosystem of tomorrow will be vastly different from the one we know today.

To help understand the role marketing will play in this evolution of healthcare, I talked to Ritesh Patel the Chief Digital Officer of Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide.

Ritesh will also be speaking at the Healthcare Marketing Summit brought to you by Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide and Econsultancy, which takes place in New York on September 24.

What makes it unique to be a healthcare marketer?

The modern healthcare marketer has to combine the knowledge and skills of marketing, brand building and customer experience, as well as work within a highly regulated environment and navigate the new media landscape that most other marketers in industries like consumer goods take for granted.

This combination of highly regulated promotion with the almost semi-regulated digital world is colliding, and healthcare marketers need to navigate these turbulent waters in their daily lives.

Healthcare has a reputation as a very slow moving and traditional industry, are digital changes exciting or frustrating for healthcare marketers?

I think digital goes in waves. Between 2008 and 2011, the big thing was social and how healthcare could embrace social. Lots of activity, many gatherings, conferences, etc, and what did we do? Not much! So it's both exciting and immensely frustrating.

We still see marketers spending $200,000 on an e-detail for the rep who has two minutes with the doctor, before they will look at other digital channels or multiple channels to connect the brand and the product to the customer.

Some companies embrace and explore digital and drive forward, but the majority are still slow in adopting the digital marketing tools that other industries use as a normal part of their day. 

From the marketer's perspective, what's the single biggest change that consumer digital has brought to the industry?

Patient communities and the empowered patient is the single biggest change. Patients, the people who take the medicines the marketers are promoting, are now more empowered and have more information than they ever did. This is causing all sorts of consternation as gone are the days where you can run a DTC campaign on TV and hope for the best.

TV is merely one channel, albeit diminishing, that patients now have access to, and while that is good to build a brand and raise awareness, it is not enough to engage with the patient in a meaningful, relevant and contextual manner.

Content, social, mobile, video, and most importantly search play a major role in the patient’s world.  

There seems to be more useful data in healthcare than almost any other industry, but it's also bound by more regulation. How do marketers balance lawyers and find a solid middle ground? Are there practical standards and guidelines?

HIPAA was created for a reason, and there is a very safe and manageable way to work with data without violating the HIPAA rules. But this requires a bit of work, with some data experts in the area of managing data and using it for marketing purposes. People are things healthcare marketers do not have ready access to, so the failsafe is to say, “No, I don't want to go near this.”

The highly regulated financial services industry has figured out how to use aggregated data for marketing purposes. So can healthcare. Some practical advice is to do small pilots as opposed to boiling the ocean. Look at targeting customers using content keywords. Twitter cards are great for that. Google Search is great for that. I can't tell you how many times I see content created that is not searchable and findable. 

Further, you could work with companies like Pagesciences who have figured out the cookieless targeting model for content.

Then there is use of aggregated data for just quick overviews of markets. If you know a billion searches for depression are happening in the Dallas area, you can target your content to that market.

I think sometimes marketers get too caught up on the BIG idea when small ones are fine.

Wearables already generate huge amounts of user data, what are the practical applications for marketers in a way that isn't intrusive? What is the future of this data?

Simply, the EHR and how data from all of these wearables will end up there, is what marketers should focus on.

Notifications are the other thing healthcare marketers can take advantage of with the data generated by wearables. The Apple Watch is a perfect example of this. Apple’s Healthkit will soon connect to number of EHR systems. There is a way today that marketers can work with the EHR aggregators for clinical decision support content.

You can do the same with wearable data. But it also depends on the product the marketer is responsible for. Some wearable device data is good for, say, diabetes, while other data is valuable for products where tracking weight, diet, or when exercise is needed.

Then the question becomes: how can you use that data (in an aggregated fashion) to create relevant messaging? But the big value for marketers will be when the wearable data is being tracked to the personal health record. That's where I see a huge opportunity. Otherwise, it's not that big at the moment for many products!

A trend in some sectors is toward a merging of service and marketing, a focus on the customer experience that aims to put customer goals at the center of the value proposition. Is there such a movement in parts of the healthcare sector?

Every pharma company now has the "the patient is at the center of what we do" mantra or "beyond the pill services" pilots. So yes, I would say that the entire healthcare industry is looking at this.

The fundamental thing that they are missing is that they are looking at this as a way to keep patients on-drug. What they need to look at is: how relevant is the drug and my brand in the patient’s life? And then: what can we do to make it better?

I see a few companies thinking that way, while most others are still product-focused. 

Can you point to any effective examples of content marketing in the healthcare industry?

GE Healthcare has probably the best content marketing ecosystem in healthcare today. What they are doing with content marketing is the standard that all healthcare companies should aspire to.

Join Ritesh and many more of the healthcare industry's foremost thoughtleaders by booking your place at our Healthcare Marketing Summit in New York on September 24.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 14 September, 2015 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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