Here are just a few ways healthcare and medical marketing differ from other industries, starting with one of the biggest ones.
1. Healthcare marketing can come up against major regulations regarding privacy.
Anyone even vaguely connected to the healthcare industry has heard of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). HIPAA strictly protects the safety of patients’ PHI (protected health information), which is essentially any information that can be used to identify a patient. It’s as applicable to the marketing team in a healthcare organization as it is to any of the physicians, and the penalty for violations can be hefty.
As a rule, marketers should be careful not to make any ads or social media posts using patient information of any kind — names, photos, even treatment information that sounds pretty vague — without explicit permission from the patient. Staff should be warned about taking pictures inside the office if PHI might be visible, whether it’s on a computer screen, a whiteboard, or a handwritten note on a desk blotter while a physician is Instagramming their lunch. If you have any questions — any at all — about medical marketing efforts you’re working on, don’t hesitate to call your organization’s HIPAA compliance officer. That’s what they’re there for.
2. The healthcare industry uses a lot of big words.
Of course, plenty of industries use complex technical terms, even in marketing. But healthcare organizations are some of the few B2C advertisers that often find themselves stuck having to use big, scary words to communicate with an audience lacking medical education. It comes down to a balance of accuracy — “transient ischemic attack” — with ease of understanding — “miniature stroke.” You want to make sure your audience has the accurate information they need, but that it’s not presented in such an intimidating way that they flip past your ad or click away from your website. (This can also make a difference with healthcare SEO — search terms can get interesting.)
3. Most healthcare clients are heavily trained in fields other than marketing.
Which is fine — there’s no reason to expect a cardiologist to be great at writing social media copy. That’s why their hospital hired a healthcare marketing agency. But with their extensive training in and focus on their medical specialty, it can be easy for them to forget that most people aren’t fluent in doctor. And they don’t always understand why marketing might be needed to promote what is, to them, clearly a necessity. The back end of healthcare marketing frequently involves coaxing the right kind of highly technical information out of the experts and then translating it into language that is both accessible and meaningful.
4. You have to be very, very careful about making promises.
Of course, it’s never acceptable to make promises to your audience that you can’t follow through on. But in addition to standard truth-in-advertising laws, healthcare marketers have to be conscious of regulations from government authorities ensuring their claims are accurate. When you’re talking about treatments and procedures, beware of hyperbole, avoid loaded words like “best,” don’t vaguely promise cures for incurable conditions, and don’t make any claims that aren’t scientifically substantiated. A provider technically can’t be called a specialist unless they’re certified. Hedged terms like “might prevent” and “can detect” are your friends.
When in doubt, run it by legal. When not in doubt, still run it by legal.
5. In healthcare marketing, the product is health.
In traditional marketing, you’re trying to sell a skateboard. In healthcare marketing, you’re trying to sell arthroscopic knee surgery (maybe that skateboard was a mistake) that’s going to be fairly unpleasant, but will make the patient happier and healthier in the long run. Sometimes, you’re advertising to consumers who are in a sad, scary part of their life, and you have to be able to communicate with them compellingly without taking advantage of them. Trust, transparency and clarity are just as important for the marketing team as they are for the patient’s own care team.
The flip side of that is that in healthcare marketing, the product is health. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’ve made a difference in people’s lives, make a campaign encouraging people to get screened for heart disease, and then watch it actually happen. Has a skateboard ever saved someone from a heart attack? Probably not.
Healthcare marketing is a unique field that carries its own challenges — and its own benefits. Keep the warm feeling from that heart screening campaign in mind when you’re working on a brochure about open-joint arthroplasty. Always think about the people you’re helping, both the patients and the healthcare professionals. And always, always run it by legal.