Friday, January 20, 2017

Digital Marketing to Healthcare Consumers

Working in the healthcare industry, specifically insurance, I initially did not see how digital marketing to consumers could be integrated given a few factors: the high level of regulation, the fact that doctors and payers are the ultimate gatekeepers for care, and the patient's payment structure (e.g. copays). However, the changing landscape makes digital channels a potential force in marketing to consumers.

Most importantly, the change in insurance plans to high deductible plans has forced consumerism onto patients (often unwillingly). Rather than paying a simple copay, patients much deal with higher upfront costs in deductibles and coinsurance. Because of this sticker shock, patients are much more price sensitive to healthcare treatment and would likely be more receptive to marketing of services that promote quality and low cost. Patients are much more likely to be researching care before receiving it, rather than simply trusting their family physician as was the case in the past. Sites like WebMD (while questionble in their own right) offer easy platforms to target patients with certain conditions. Ultimately though, it will be up to the insurance companies on whether they will cover the product/service being marketed, so healthcare companies must consider all parties (consumers/payers/providers) when marketing their products.

That being said, HIPAA presents a challenge because of the privacy laws around medical records. Just as Target got in trouble for marketing to a pregnant teen before her family knew she was pregnant, healthcare marketing could create issues if targeting members in digital channels that are not websites related to a certain condition. Consumers likely would not take kindly to prescription medication ads popping up for a potentially sensitive condition while they are shopping for shoes. It will be interesting to see how marketing methods, and the regulators, evolve in this area.

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