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What Does Healthcare Relationship Marketing Look Like in the Future?


There are always medical breakthroughs on the horizon that will change the way diseases are treated. And while there always will be dramatic changes in medical treatments and technologies, there's a dramatic evolution in how the healthcare industry relates to its consumers. One area in healthcare that is changing, but will be even more striking in the near future, is relationship marketing. 

As technologies related to the medicines and procedures themselves change, so must the marketing that supports them. Trends are emerging and show us the future of relationship marketing in healthcare. While some of these trends might not come to pass, we do know for sure that one trend will continue: Healthcare marketing must improve patient health. Consumers, physicians, payers, legislators, and the general public will reject anything else. 

Healthcare Information 24/7

Consumers will demand immediate access to healthcare information. The information that consumers will have access to and will use to make decisions will continue to increase in volume and availability. A simple search on Google can yield reliable disease-state information and treatment options. Consumers now can get reports about the effectiveness of a particular hospital to check not only the mortality rates of a particular procedure but also the cost. 

This type of information will only increase in use, consumers no longer need to be at home to find it. The growing use of mobile apps will make it easy for consumers to find out anything they want—anytime they want it. The popularity of the iPhone shows us where consumers will someday get most of their information. Healthcare companies must embrace this fundamental change by allowing easy access to information for consumers wherever they are. 

Consumers As “Physicians”

As in many other industries, consumers will generate more and more of the available content. With the staggering increase in bloggers, user-generated media (such as YouTube), and social networking, end users are creating and controlling more and more of the content available online. This will begin to extend to healthcare to a greater degree during the next five years. For healthcare companies, this represents both an opportunity and a threat. 

The opportunity is that, with wide networks and vocal brand advocates, your message can be spread quickly for little expense. However, the negative side is particularly dangerous in healthcare. Like other industries, for every positive mention of a brand, there is likely also a negative one. In the case of healthcare, incorrect negative information puts patient health at risk—something every company must be vigilant about monitoring to protect their brand and the lives of their customers.

Internet = Trusted Source

The Internet will become the primary site and, potentially, the most trusted source of healthcare information for the vast majority of consumers. All other forms of media already fall behind the Internet as the source of healthcare information for most Americans. This is true across all age ranges and demographics. Savvy baby boomers will only accelerate this change. Friends and family have trusted sources, but they never will be as comprehensive as the Internet for the sheer volume of information. With more social networking and peer-sharing opportunities on the Internet, many consumers will turn to their online “family” for information. 

Likely, physicians will remain the most trusted source for information, but it is likely that most patients will go online before or after talking with a physician to “double-check” the information they received. Healthcare companies must be aware of this change and quickly move to become a trusted, objective, and valuable source of information online.

It’s Their Data, Not Yours

Advances in technology and consumer adoption will allow consumers to track and control all of their healthcare data in one place, making it available anywhere at any time. Throughout the country, hospitals and individuals are slowly adopting technologies, such as electronic medical records, that have existed for a number of years. However, in these cases, physicians, hospitals, and managed care companies continue to “own” the data. This includes data regarding past test results, physician notes, medication history, and allergies, for example. 

In the future, consumers will have more control over this data. Additionally, in emergencies, all of their data is immediately available. This is something that’s been promised by the healthcare system for many years, but consumers have grown tired of waiting and are simply doing this on their own. Healthcare companies must embrace this change and make it simple for consumers to track the usage of their products or services. It will be critical to prioritize integration instead of yet another system for them to use.

Healthy Social Networking

Finding a world of people they can relate to online, patients will begin to form more formal and informal networks seeking the advice of their peers instead of their physicians. Because of the sheer number of people utilizing the Internet, it is possible to find people who share the same experiences as you. This even becomes true for those with the rarest conditions. Patients will use these networks to share treatment ideas, provide moral support, recommend physicians, advocate for causes, and demand action from the medical community. 

Using the power of numbers, patients now will be able to pressure healthcare companies on a much larger scale. A number of companies are flourishing, even those that, for example, only cover a handful of less common conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. Once these sites begin to cover common conditions such as cancer and heart disease, their usage will explode. Healthcare companies must respond to these networks appropriately and see them as partners or they will face negative repercussions, ranging from bad press to boycotts. 

Constant Contact, Constant Care

Health-monitoring technologies will put doctors and patients in constant contact. Some technologies to monitor patients’ health, now in early development and still largely cumbersome and not embraced by the public, will become more widespread. These include vital-sign monitoring to check on patients after surgical procedures, drug compliance programs, and constant health status updates via the Internet. All of this data once captured and interpreted will allow doctors and patients to become more closely connected. An office visit will no longer be necessary to see if a new blood pressure medication, for example, is working. The doctor simply can access the patient’s information online and adjust the medication instantly via a message to the pharmacy. 

Patients will become more accepting of these technologies and will have a greater willingness to share this personal information (and reject any security risks) in exchange for a higher standard of care from their doctors. Healthcare companies that help enable and even sponsor the deployment of these technologies will form lasting bonds with consumers and early adopters, gaining a big competitive advantage and increasing barriers to entry for others later on.


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