How to Find the Right Healthcare Digital Marketing Agency

Professionals at a digital marketing agency talking | Vanguard Communications | Denver, CO | San Jose, CA

Who better than a healthcare digital marketing agency to advise on what to look for and beware of?

Part 1 in a 2-part series on hiring a healthcare marketing firm

To some degree or another, most medical practices employ (or will employ) marketing efforts. That can be the easy decision, with the tougher one being, Who will do the marketing? Essentially, doctors and practice managers have four choices:

  1. Do it yourself.
  2. Assign it to someone already on staff.
  3. Hire a full- or part-time marketer.
  4. Hire a professional digital marketing agency.

If your route is 1, 2 or 3, those are certainly valid choices. In our nearly three decades of experience attracting new patients and growing revenue for medical practices, we know that the most productive answer is #4. But we’re not just saying that because we’re a medical marketing firm. We have “lived” the evidence.

And over the years, we have gained insight into both sides of the matter: providing that professional service and learning what a practice needs in a marketing service.

In this two-part blog series, we offer advice on how to hire a healthcare marketing firm.

The first and most important task at the beginning of the agency search is to determine and prioritize the goals of marketing. Is the priority to grow patient volume and revenue? Or vie with competitors? Is there a need to communicate with existing patients? Is it to build awareness or “a name” for a particular physician?

Vetting guidelines for finding a worthy medical digital marketing agency

For most practices, attracting new patients and growing revenue is the number one goal. Creating channels of communication and promoting doctor expertise are elements of that overarching goal. Finding a marketing firm that can properly execute a strategy and fit with a practice’s personality and budget takes some hunting.

Recommended guidelines for vetting a healthcare marketing firm.

  • Because no worthwhile investment in marketing is a one-and-done attempt, look for an agency that takes a strategic approach.
  • Tactical activity should only begin once the goals are clearly identified and budget and strategy are in place.
  • Look for a comprehensive, integrated digital marketing program. Implementing just one marketing tactic without the support of appropriate others in concert will not produce increased website traffic, which is the key to new appointments.
  • Strive to hire one company to do it all. If unrelated vendors are working on just one or two components at a time, the potential is high for incongruence, duplication of efforts, and differences in quality and style. That’s an inefficient use of money and potentially damaging to your brand’s reputation.

It’s not so different from how patients decide to pick you as their provider. Here are some factors to consider.

  • Credentials and years of experience in the marketing firm’s specialty area.
  • Key signs you can trust the firm to protect your practice’s overall well-being, such as implementing rigorous HIPAA compliance guidelines or developing processes to enhance patient experience.
  • How strongly a firm’s people advocate for certain strategies and tactics – can they support their convictions with objective evidence of success?
  • Asking the right questions such as, How can we measure your effectiveness?
  • The amount of attention and importance the marketing firm places on diving deeply into your culture and building a trusting relationship with open dialog.

While all of the above are important, the final item is vital. Your practice wouldn’t take on a partner who clashes with your culture and doesn’t have your team’s best interests at heart. Nor should it take on a marketing partner similarly deficient. Let’s run down the above items.

The marketing firm should focus on healthcare and understand how medical practices work

If a prospective firm does not have a background in and strong focus on medical practice processes and marketing, keep looking. A stat from The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that from 1997-2016, spending on health services marketing increased 430% while spending on health services increased 90%. This indicates there are plenty of specialists in medical marketing out there.

Some, however, have only recently jumped on the bandwagon in response to the trend. A few have been in it for years – decades even – with an impressive track record. It’s somewhat like choosing a surgeon: you want one who has performed lots of the specific operation you need with lots of good outcomes.

Does the firm offer you a dedicated, multidisciplinary team?

The complexity of healthcare marketing in the 21st century calls for a multidisciplinary team, beginning with knowledgeable leadership about not just how to work in digital media but how to grow a medical business. The people working on your account should have a firm grasp on what the business drivers are for your specialty, what’s important to your patients, and an understanding of the nuances of health and medicine in general.

The top performing firms are not merely technicians but sophisticated business advisors. Ideally, a firm should have people skilled in healthcare writing, online reputation management, social media, media relations, brand development specific to healthcare, patient relations, and a broad knowledge of practice operations and processes. All of these elements feed into successful marketing.

Does the firm use content marketing to attract patient attention?

It is common for medical providers to think that marketing means advertising on TV and radio or in a newspaper or online. While these avenues might make sense for a specialty medical practice as supplemental tactics, they are nearly always a waste of doctors’ money.

This is a critical factor in choosing a digital marketing agency: It must know that content is at the core of sound healthcare marketing.

Just about every ailment, every treatment offers rich content opportunities to attract prospective patients who are already searching the internet for information on symptoms, conditions and treatments. And when their healthcare questions are answered by your website through educational pages, videos or doctor blogs, they are appreciative. They stay on your website to learn more, earning an immediate bias to trust their care to you.

You want a marketing firm with seasoned research and medical writing professionals who craft top-quality, original content in patient-friendly language that attracts search engines. Did you know that Google penalizes websites that publish copy found elsewhere?

Can they actively manage your social media & online reputation management?

How does the potential healthcare marketing firm handle your social media? You should know that in “managing” Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google Reviews and Yelp for online reputation management, some companies really only offer monitoring. They alert you when activity is happening or give you a really fancy dashboard to look at it yourself.

The firm should be posting quality content, such as original, patient-friendly healthcare information without a promotional slant, on your social media channels regularly. Without that kind of content linking people back to your website, and without the ability to interact with patients in real time by responding to comments, it’s not worthwhile.

The healthcare marketing agency should have someone actively posting for you a couple of times a week on each social media platform. These posts should feature specialty areas your practice would like to draw more patients to, or inspirational patient stories social media readers can personally relate to, building affinity for your practice as caring, effective providers.

And as a healthcare practice, you’ll have patients interacting with you on social media. This is also a factor in online reputation management that includes responding to review complaints and such. Any interaction is made “as the practice,” meaning all comments have to be HIPAA compliant. That’s a critical thing, and hard to get from a lot of marketing firms, especially those that automate social media postings.

Do they know HIPAA & medical practice management?

Medical practices need a marketing firm that knows about HIPAA – more than just what the initials stand for. HIPAA-compliant communication requires not only a firm’s awareness of patient health information (PHI) security mandates but a trained and knowledgeable staff that knows how to protect patient privacy and the practice.

This is particularly important if responding to negative online reviews. A patient can post his or her diagnosis, treatment and medications – but the practice cannot respond and provide any PHI details (even confirming, denying or implying that the poster is a patient is a violation). At end of day, even if a patient is ok with it, you could still get in trouble with HIPAA. Such examples of HIPAA noncompliance are a common pitfall that’s been in the news a lot.

Your prospective medical marketing firm should have a thorough understanding of HIPAA and how it relates to the various types of marketing tools and vendors, including business associate obligations.

It’s also a good idea to vet your marketing firm to make sure it can secure your website in HIPAA-compliant fashion.

Appointment requests, forms or general questions have the potential to contain PHI. If it’s not protected, it’s a liability.

A lot of agencies offer the technology for website servicing and hosting, but if they’re not taking the extra step to be HIPAA compliant, then your practice is at risk. Talk to a potential marketing firm about how its team members protect PHI. If they don’t know what PHI is, that is a definite red flag.

Read Part 2 in this series: Good questions to ask a healthcare digital marketing agency

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