In order to truly provide a positive healthcare experience, a hospital or health system’s relationship with a patient must extend beyond the point of care to not only every stage of a particular visit, but also to the overall patient/hospital relationship.

Think about it like going on a first date—if everything goes well, you expect to hear from the other person to plan the next date. Along the way, there will be touchpoints—perhaps they’ll call you, or in today’s digital world, text you about a topic or event that sparks a connection.

In healthcare, hospitals and health systems are trying to form similar connections or touchpoints. These interactions will enable organizations to better understand the person behind the patient and keep them engaged and proactive in their own care, resulting in additional visits for alternative services, or in some cases, fewer visits as a result of staying healthier by utilizing preventive services.

There is a lot of discussion about personalized medicine that is focused on clinical care, but hospitals and health systems need to personalize the overall patient journey across their organization, which includes how the patient is communicated to and with, that is inclusive of both clinical and non-clinical interactions.

To personalize the engagement with patients and enhance their healthcare experiences, hospitals and health systems are turning to digital technologies used by marketers that have proven successful for years in industries like retail, hospitality or finance—customer relationship management (CRM) solutions.

CRM solutions are used to improve patient relationships by identifying the best patients to target for specific marketing outreach by the hospital or health system, and then by tracking correlated responses to the marketing activities by individual patients. These responses by patients could include registering for a seminar offered by the hospital, requesting more information or calling to schedule an appointment with a provider.

See also: Consumers are ready to use healthcare technology

In healthcare, the goal of the marketing department is to acquire, retain and engage patients in their healthcare. To accomplish these objectives, healthcare marketers must take a step back and ensure the tactics they’re using will enable them to get results.

In today’s tech-savvy culture, traditional marketing initiatives like postal mail and billboards are no longer effective, as consumers are searching for their health information via digital marketing channels. For healthcare organizations to transform their marketing departments, they need to shift their processes, tools and tactics to digital marketing to engage with patients in the way that most patients want to interact.

Additionally, digital marketing tactics can be tracked and analyzed, so health system marketers know quickly and concretely which digital marketing tactics work well and can adjust their limited budgets accordingly.

When transforming a hospital’s or health system’s traditional marketing strategy to a digital one, there are several factors to take into account:

  • Understand the organization’s need and readiness for CRM.
  • Identify any existing CRM services and how they’re being utilized.
  • Think about the marketing department as a revenue generator (versus traditional cost center) and then imagine how you can restructure current operations to reflect that.
  • Develop a strategy around marketing campaigns, set a goal and then track results that show ROI.
  • Engage other departments in the organization to showcase findings and create collaboration across the care continuum to strive for initiatives like population health.

As consumers have more options and visibility into their health through online searches, apps and wearables, the need has never been greater for hospitals and health systems to transform their marketing departments.

Unlike traditional marketing that has been difficult to measure, once healthcare marketers have gone digital, the data that digital tools like CRM provide makes it possible to see where consumers are going for information, and which information is the most relevant. For example, if a hospital marketing department develops an email campaign that is targeting recipients for a wellness seminar, the links included in the email are trackable and can provide organizations with a better sense of what is working and what isn’t.

See also: Why consumers will expect price transparency

A major driver behind the greater focus on customer service in healthcare is a result of the increase in competition. Consumers are able to go online and find treatment options that are more convenient or better meet their needs. Healthcare marketers must remember that at the end of the day, their focus is on targeting the right patients with the right messages, because if they don’t, competitive systems and hospitals will.

Further, surveys like HCAHPS, which are taken directly by patients, reveal personal experiences they’ve had with a healthcare organization, what they liked, disliked and so on. A report by Deloitte found that hospitals with excellent ratings on CMS’ HCAHPS patient satisfaction survey had a net profit margin of 4.7 percent on average, compared with just 1.8 percent for hospitals with low ratings during the period from 2008 to 2014. What these findings point out is the direct correlation between positive patient experience and profit margins.

An April 2016 Health Data Management article points out that “patients do not live in a clinical environment; they need to manage their health while they work, play or care for family members. CRM systems can complement the information available in clinical systems.” CRM tools work to target the right patients with the information most important to them, which in turn, enables hospitals and health systems to build strong relationships with patients.

For the healthcare industry to drive innovation, the marketing department must play an essential role when it comes to patient engagement. Hospitals and health systems today need to recognize the opportunities digital marketing tools such as CRM can offer, and once they do, take the appropriate steps to transform their marketing departments. With the right tools, hospitals and health systems can better engage with patients, beyond the point of care, to provide a unique and personalized healthcare experience.

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