Top three digital marketing trends from HCIC 2018

We're back from the Healthcare Internet Conference and are sharing the three big trends we saw in healthcare digital marketing. Take a look to ensure that your 2019 strategy is focused on the right things.

We just got back from the 2018 Healthcare Internet Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. In its 22ndyear, HCIC has always focused on healthcare digital marketing. As this world is moving away from MarCom (marketing communications) and towards MarTech (marketing technology), this year’s conference had much more emphasis on digital marketing, marketing automation, artificial intelligence, personalization, and multi-channel marketing.

Coming away from this conference, there are three trends that stuck out from presenters, attendees, sponsors, and mostly through conversations with this industry.

1.Healthcare is no longer different

The expectations that consumers have in their day-to-day lives is changing. Sure, you can look at well-known pioneers like Amazon to see how they’ve shifted public expectations. With over 49% of all internet sales heading to Amazon, they have pioneered shipping expectations (no longer 2-day, but fresh milk delivered to your door within 2-hours).

But, it’s also happening in other industries as well:

If we’re honest, healthcare has always claimed an exception when looking at the digital consumerism changes that have happened in the last 10 years. Other industries have had to change or die (looking at you Toys R Us, Blockbuster, Sears). We’ll say:

“We have a lot more red tape to deal with.”

“Our doctor’s are going to say no.”

“We’re … different.”

It was good to see how the error of our ways was openly talked about by both vendors and practitioners alike. And, not only are we talking about it, but we’re seeing hospitals actively doing this.

NovantHealth.com showed how they made measurable improvement to their patient experience through a focus on digital engagement. As a health system to watch, they are getting consumer-first right.

To stop making excuses for ourselves, we’re going to have to:

  1. Become the consumer advocate for our healthcare organization
  2. Be willing to ignore roles, departments, and reporting structures
  3. Put our own desires aside and start focusing on our patients, staff, doctors, and community stakeholders
  4. Take the time to define a vision of what the ideal experience would be like
  5. Reach for our macro goals (unified data, patient satisfaction, data-driven decisions) instead of focusing on our micro goals (tactics that make this year look good over last)

2. Data unification should be your top priority

No matter how great your vendor partners are, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring your data is unified.

What is unified data?

It’s when all of your data (website, CRM, medical, campaign, etc.) can talk to each other in the same language.

To get this you have to be willing to:

  1. Get rid of your data silos within your company. That means that credentialing, marketing, CRM, real estate, campaign management, or <insert any other department> must be willing to link or combine their data
  2. See your complete consumer journey with your data. It sounds simple, but to do this, it will completely change the way your organization works. Your goals will have to be structured differently and 
  3. Put your patient-first, creating all the digital and non-digital experiences around them. There is no longer a difference between “digital marketing” and “patient experience.” Unified data allows you to merge marketing and what happens inside the four walls of your hospital

To get from today to where you need to be, you’re likely facing a long and difficult digital transformation. But, the good news is that with unified data, your consumer experience is limitless.

All of a sudden the fun and shiny objects you hear about at conferences are not only doable, but they can plug into all of your other efforts. You can connect A to B and measure to see how effective it is, allowing you to own your strategy.

Remember, your strategy should decide what technology you use. This prevents agency or SaaS sales people telling you what technology to use.

3. Your brand must be authentic

Sure, a billboard using a stock photo of a target bariatric patient, awkwardly standing in the sunshine in a field of flowers, drove high-volume five years ago. (It’s okay. We all did it.)

But in today’s world, people crave authenticity.

  • A mom is laying in bed, blaming herself that she didn’t listen to her son sooner, complaining about his legs hurting. And now, he’s facing a long battle with cancer
  • Three grown siblings live out of state and don’t know who the best surgeon will be for their elderly mom’s gallbladder removal
  • A woman living with chronic liver disease is craving friendships with other people, just like her
  • On a Saturday morning, an out-of-town dad is trying to figure out where to go with his son’s likely broken ankle
  • An expecting mom is terrified because her first birth experience was traumatic. She’s looking for understanding, empathy, and other options

How can we use digital to meet these consumers where they are, speak to them in a way that builds trust, and help them get to the right care at the right place?

That is really what authenticity allows us to do. If you trust someone when you’re in a hard place, it takes you from crisis to being able to move forward.

Ann Hadley shared in her keynote address this Plum Organics Parenting Unfiltered example. Why does it work? Because sometimes parenting is holding all three kids at once in a restaurant, with food all over the floor. 

We must be real in everything we do. Show our real patient reviews, both good and bad. Ensure the pictures we use are of our real staff, doctors, and patients. Be willing to talk about our flaws and faults.

It’s how our patients connect with us.


As you look to 2019, these trends become real problems that we as marketers must face.

Any other big takeaways that you got out of the conference? What topics do you think are a must to cover next year? I’d love to hear it.

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