ATD Blog

Communicating Healthcare in a Mobile-First World

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The art of communication has changed and continues to change dramatically as new technologies become available and more widely used. As healthcare communicators, we are asked to provide counsel on a range of digital tactics in the age of Google and Facebook—from email and social media campaigns to video storytelling to online advertising. These strategies may seem the province of marketers, but as we navigate the ever-shifting landscape of U.S. healthcare, we find our communications toolbox expanding to address this new reality: information finds people as much as people find information.

I’ll say that again: information finds people as much as people find information.

That’s because technology in the form of faster processing speeds and smaller devices has dramatically changed the way consumers across every industry, including healthcare, access information and connect with the physical and digital world.

Consumer Engagement

Currently, the answer to just about any question we may have about our health is a Google search away. And the digital footprint we leave in the wake of our search (data generated by our web-browsing—think cookies) enables marketers to target the right content at the right time for the right user. McKinsey & Company described this influence as a “consumer decision journey.” Most people have come to accept the way ads follow us around the Internet. How the jeans we clicked on but didn’t buy keep popping up here and there, even though we left them behind hours (sometimes days) ago.   

Amid this backdrop, it’s no wonder the healthcare industry continues to invest in the development of online information resources, mobile apps, and personal health devices. As Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers notes: “These tools are designed to increase ‘consumer engagement’ —to help individuals take action to improve their health, make informed decisions, and engage effectively and efficiently with the healthcare system.”

Deloitte survey authors Dr. Harry Greenspun and Gregory Scott highlighted three findings that caught my attention:

  • Fifty-two (52) percent of consumers report searching online for health or care-related information.
  • Use of social media, patient portals, and performance scorecards is growing. One-quarter of consumers said they looked at a scorecard or report card to compare the performance of doctors, hospitals, or health plans compared to 19 percent in 2013.
  • Among Millennials who needed medical care, scorecard use grew from 31 percent to 49 percent.

We should gain inspiration from these trends, while recognizing both the opportunities and challenges they signal for the healthcare sector.

Value Is the Buzzword


My agency works with clients who are making a positive difference in the world—whether they are educating patients about better treatment options, introducing new medicines, sharing important research findings or shattering myths about who gets sick and why. Clients range from healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups to accrediting organizations and professional associations representing physicians, dentists, and allied health professionals.

What each client has in common is the need to communicate value. In other words, the health outcome or healthcare benefit achieved for every dollar spent or every policy advanced. We help shape their reputation as thought leaders and providers of choice who are transforming healthcare for the better and delivering innovative solutions.

“Value” is the buzzword of the moment. Spurred by the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. healthcare industry is shifting from a fee-for-service model in which providers are paid by the number of visits and tests they order to a value-based model that incentivizes providers to deliver coordinated care that is cost-effective, keeps people healthy, and improves the health of those living with chronic conditions.

This shift requires our clients to develop compelling new messages and content. It also asks them to deliver these messages and content in highly targeted ways to various audiences: patients, caregivers, payers, policymakers, media, advocacy organizations, and even their own employees or members.

In turn, our clients ask us, as communications strategists, to demonstrate the value of public relations in a complex, mobile-first world. According to Gary Grates, principal of the W2O Group of marketing and communications firms, “People are tied to platforms, apps, and outlets as a means of filtering information and content that most interests them.”

Bypass the Filter

Breaking through today’s fragmented media landscape requires increasingly sophisticated techniques. For instance, audience segmentation tools on platforms such as the Google Display Network allow providers to identify, target, and reach people who may fit a specific psychographic profile or belong to a population that has traditionally been hard to reach or underserved. Consider pharmacy store apps that send customers reminders as they shop. The message may be a personalized coupon for smoking cessation kits based on their historical data and product reviews.


Case in point: Our agency currently runs a digital campaign on behalf of an AIDS organization that encourages Mexican men in Chicago living with HIV to seek treatment if they are not in care. The campaign delivers culturally specific visuals and messages through websites, Facebook, Instagram, and hookup/dating apps. Because the majority of the campaign’s audience uses mobile devices, a click-to-call phone number appears in the ads. When men choose this option, their call is directly routed to a counselor who can connect them to care.

The campaign is continuously reviewed to ensure it drives quality traffic to a central website and prompts action—a phone call or email to the counselor to request care. This assessment of real-time metrics enables my firm to switch or alter creative (visuals or messages) to optimize what works and avoid wasting resources on what doesn’t. What have we learned? Timely and relevant content helps you bypass the filter.

This echoes the Deloitte survey conclusion that healthcare “organizations that figure out how to address their customers’ needs for better informational and digital support may strengthen satisfaction and retention through increased engagement, while also enhancing the value of the services and products they deliver. The trick, however, may be coming up with a set of strategies that will work across the consumer segments that are present in the market—one strategy will not fit all.”

That’s the beauty of the digital world: everything can be tailored.

For a deeper dive into this topic, Join me November 13-15 at the ATD 2016 Healthcare Executive Summit.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post was originally published in O’Dwyer’s.

About the Author

Johnathon Briggs is a senior vice president at Public Communications Inc. (PCI), a Chicago-based marketing communications firm. He taps his knowledge of public health and digital marketing to help clients engage, educate and influence their audiences. From health awareness campaigns to corporate communications, Johnathon leads the development of programs for clients in the healthcare, public health, and nonprofit sectors. He is also responsible for developing, managing and marketing the digital offerings of PCI (content strategy, social media, email marketing, paid promotion, analytics). His media expertise and in-depth understanding of public relations helps him create and communicate messages for diverse audiences ranging from consumers, employees, board members and elected officials, with placements in local and national outlets. Before joining Public Communications Inc. Johnathon served as the chief officer of external relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, one of the nation’s leading AIDS service organizations. Johnathon is certified in Digital Marketing Foundations, and as a practitioner of content and mobile marketing by Market Motive, an industry leader in digital marketing training. He also draws on his 11-year career as a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as he conducts media training workshops for clients. A graduate of Stanford University, Johnathon holds a Master of Public Health degree from DePaul University where he studied text messaging as a tool for behavior change.

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