How to Perfectly Match Content to Patient Life-Cycles

Let’s face it.

Healthcare organizations (HCO’s) have a ton of content although not all of it is made publicly available for patient consumption and education.

As healthcare marketers start to think about their content strategy, the question becomes how to leverage all that content for lead nurturing, engagement, and eventually encouraging new patients to make and keep appointments.

The answer is as simple as for any other industry. Match specific content to the relevant stage of a patient’s life cycle.

For the purpose of content marketing a patient’s life-cycle has four to five stages.

#1. Awareness

This is when a person first becomes aware that they have an illness. Awareness comes about either through self-diagnosis (e.g. checking your symptoms on WebMD) or through medical testing (e.g. taking a plasma glucose test for Type 2 diabetes)

#2. Consultation

If an illness is serious enough, a person will consult their primary care doctor to confirm their diagnosis and start on a treatment plan.

#3. Treatment or patient care

An illness may require a patient to be admitted to a hospital for a period of time. Other times medical treatment does not require an overnight stay in a hospital. However outpatient care is still administered either from a medical office or an outpatient center.

#4. Hospital discharge

If a patient had been admitted, discharge is the point at which he or she leaves the hospital and returns home or is transferred to another facility. At this point medical follow-up is still necessary to ensure a successful recovery.

#5. Aftercare

This is the road to recovery where a patient’s care is usually returned to their regular primary care physician who treated them prior to hospitalization. (Caution: This is the point where transfer of information and hence communication could be jeopardized between the hospital doctor and the primary doctor).

Create content for each stage

Now that you know the different stages of a patient’s life cycle the objective is to create content that resonates with them at exactly the point where they are. For example, a patient who has just discovered that she has breast cancer does not need to join an online support group for ‘cancer survivors’ – she’s not there yet.

So let’s see what kind of content resonates with patients at each stage of the patient life-cycle.

1. Awareness

The first thing a patient will do at this stage is search for relevant information about the illness or possible treatments. HCO’s should focus on two things. Search and educational content (blogs).

I recently interviewed several nurses for a client project that I’m currently working on. One of things that kept coming up was their observation that more and more patients are starting their healthcare information search on Google (as opposed to a particular health website). Make sure that your content is highly optimized using these tips. Patients at this stage will also need:

  • A  health blog
  • Health information tabs on the navigation bar of your homepage (by topic, by key word, and so on)
  • Newsletters and free guides to help them discover new resources and tips
  • The ability to search on your site via a search box

Take a look at how Cleveland Clinic does it:

2. Consultation

At this stage a person will either schedule an appointment with their own doctor or search for a doctor online or offline. If you’re a hospital marketer then you will have a ‘Find a doctor’ tab on your website. It may look  something like this:

In terms of content patients at this stage may also need:

  • Easy-to-read  physician blog posts and resources.
  • Printable FAQ’s or ‘Questions to Ask Your Doctor’ – patients may want to print out this information and bring it to their doctor’s appointment.
  • Video patient testimonials – to hear other patients’ stories , learn and be encouraged from their experiences.
  • In-person educational events for both patients and caregivers (where therapeutic patient education is provided)
  • A mobile app with a brief index of topics to provide quick information
  • A Facebook or Twitter page for curated content and to provide a more approachable environment for discussions.

3. Treatment

At this stage a patient is preparing for treatment which could be a scary experience if surgery, chemotheraphy or other ‘risky’ treatment methods are involved. Patients will need to a lot of empathy, support and encouragement. Here are some content types that could be useful:

  • An online patient forum for idea-sharing and communication between patients and  physicians
  • A social media community for informal interaction with others affected or impacted by the same condition.
  • Podcasts, talk-radio shows, and videos to help uplift and encourage patients.

4. Discharge and Aftercare

When a patient leaves hospital they may feel tired or groggy and will just want to rest. This is where content could be focused more on the care-giver than the patient. A care giver could benefit from the following forms of content:

  • Printable guides and resources to help care for the patient
  • Online support such as Tweet chats, Google Communities or weekly Google Hangouts for supporting and encouraging caregivers.
  • A playlist (on HCO’s website, Spotify or other platform) of relaxing music to listen to, or videos to watch.
  • Newsletters to keep both patient and caregiver informed about new trends, topics and technology.
  • A blog with resources and tips about caring for a loved one

Quick Wrap up

Providing relevant content to patients means that healthcare content marketers should adopt a highly patient-centric perspective in terms of ‘what would I want to know at this stage?’ 

The answers might vary depending on demographics, culture, digital capabilities and so on. However you can send out a survey to find out what kind of content resonates with patients during their journey to wellness. Alternatively you could also interview patient-facing staff such as nurses, call-center reps , social workers and others who spend more time than anyone else interacting with patients.

Over to you: What did I miss? What other content types is your HCO using to target patients at different stages of the patient life-cycle?

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