Six healthcare marketing trends for 2018

Here are six healthcare impact trends that will challenge marketers in the upcoming year.

Healthcare’s confluence of unknowns and erratic overtures coming out of Washington has stalled many healthcare biggest stakeholders-payer, provider, and pharma. Success in transformative, threatened markets requires companies to continually reassess strategic direction: anticipate and absorb change, generate situational-driven strategic insights, and act with deliberate speed. Healthcare leaders need to step back, ask tough questions, and manage through a new set of obstacles to capture opportunity.

For healthcare marketers it’s a time to rethink basic assumptions, challenge institutional bias, breakdown silos, and force debate around longstanding approaches to marketing. Tomorrow’s marketers will be healthcare orchestra leaders. They will help set strategic pillars, sequence strategic execution, and lead go-to-market implementation that is results-driven and measurable.

Following are six healthcare impact trends that will challenge marketers in the upcoming year.

  • Payersproviders blurring the lines. Its healthcare’s Wild West as health insurers become providers and health providers become payers. With spending for hospital care and total private health insurance expenditures each topping $1 trillion, paying for and delivering health services is truly in a transition. Health insurers, are venturing into primary care centered delivery models, value or outcomes-based payment schemes, retail-type customer experiences, and innovative frameworks fostering prevention and wellness. Equally as robust is the trend of hospitals getting into the insurance business in an effort to take control of the complete patient lifecycle. We’re even seeing payer-provider collaboration and joint ventures get traction around value-based care, direct primary care, digital patient communities, and chronic or behavioral care management.

    For healthcare marketers this is often unchartered territory. Insurers are used to looking at customers as members; hospitals look at them as patients. The marketing continuum of awareness to acquisition to experience to loyalty is very different for both sets of these customers. Each takes a diverse mix of brand, direct and content marketing, as well as customized customer experiences. For hospitals tackling the ‘business of insurance’, selling and retaining health plan members is very different from traditional hospital-patient marketing. Similarly, as insurers acquire or launch provider organizations, whether retail primary care, urgent-care clinics, or hospital service centers, marketing challenges such as service-line marketing, physician engagement, and community-based branding require new approaches.

  • Navigating an out-of-pocket ecosystem. At a time when one-in-three Americans say healthcare is the biggest financial burden they face, high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) have gone mainstream. HDHPs are approaching half of all employer-based coverage and almost all individual policies. This shifting financial burden creates an out-of-pocket ecosystem forcing consumers to take a close look at their healthcare budgets. It’s the fuel of the healthcare consumerism movement. Once consumers find themselves in control of spending health dollars out of their own wallets, you get their attention. However, buying healthcare services-from insurance to prescription drugs to routine check-ups to MRIs-in a ways similar to other consumer goods isn’t easy given health literacy disparities and inconsistent access to consumer-centric resources, plus…“Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated."

    For healthcare marketers this means recognizing that retailization of healthcare is here to stay. In fact, 2017 may go down as the year of the ‘Amazonification of Healthcare’. Marketers cannot underestimate healthcare consumers’ willingness to comparison shop if it means they can save money. Shopping for healthcare may not be the same path-to-purchase as other necessities, but for most Americans it’s one of the most important buying decisions they make. They compare products and services, ask friends, read and publish reviews, price check, and quickly cast aside brand loyalty for a better deal. Being a smart healthcare shopper able to make confident, value-based choices isn’t easy. That’s where marketers can play a critical role: create reliable, understandable information and decision support tools to help consumers navigate healthcare’s massive maze of bureaucracy with confidence.


  • Healthcare consumerism, a dilemma of health inertia. We live in a nation where 190 million people have at least one chronic condition. These patients account for $3 out of every $4 spent on medical care. Still, most people believe they are significantly healthier than they are, lessening their interest in taking action to improve their health. Millions of dollars and countless hours are spent each year to try to get healthcare consumers to do what’s good for them. It’s a long, slow slog that sees only modest behavior change. It’s the dilemma of ‘health inertia’…getting people to face personal health challenges, adhere to a plan of action, and stay motivated to proactively deal with their health. Preferred healthcare brands are those that forge emotional relationships with consumers to motivate better health decisions…they’re brands that understand that nothing is more personal than someone’s health.

    For healthcare marketers this means knowing what’s important to people, what truly matters to them and why they do what they do. Changing behavior takes moving away from company-centric educational-based efforts overloaded with clinical messaging about conditions and treatment options. Cognitive research shows that consumers’ perceptions and emotions have the greatest influence on their actions. To affect behavior change, marketers need to shift their orientation from education to inspiration, from features and functions to gut-level appeals that move people to act and engage. It’s about connecting across the customer lifecycle around personal, relevant motivations and deep, sometimes even unconscious desires, like freedom, happiness, personal goals, or the ability to be a better parent or partner.


  • Social engagement is king and content is queen. Social media cuts across every customer segment and every aspect of the customer relationship. every minute there are 452,000 tweets sent, 120 new LinkedIn accounts created, 46,200 Instagram posts, and 900,000 Facebook logins with more than 50% on a mobile device, according to Business Insider. Healthcare companies are creating social communities to connect, collaborate and communicate with consumers. Patients are bonding with their network of providers, insurers are servicing their members, and population health management programs are deploying social apps for measuring, monitoring and tracking conditions. Inspiration is coming from healthy reward programs, community competitions, and gamification. And, patient-to-patient dialogue has never been greater through crowdsourced social health networks such as The Mighty, PatientsLikeMe, and CureTogether.

  • For healthcare marketers social media is a critical tool to extend reach and enhance engagement. More than 65% of chief marketing officers say they use social media to drive business and build their digital brand. Done well it boosts awareness, generates new business leads, and builds more intimate, connected customer relationships. Purpose-driven healthcare social media comes down to a brand’s respect for the importance of content. Today’s perpetually connected consumers are impatient. Their most valued brands engage with them in an evocative, relevant dialogue. They look for social media content that is shareable, fresh, unique, and above all, worth reading. Its compelling healthcare content that attracts their interest and holds their attention around a personalized, interactive value exchange.

  • Value is in the eye of the beholder. Truth be told, value-based care is a trend that has appeared in previous years, however as momentum continues to build, it needs to be highlighted once again. Pay-for-performance reimbursement-from basic risk sharing to accountable care organizations to bundled payments-are rapidly moving healthcare toward outcomes-based financing system. Incentives and disincentives based on quality of care and patient clinical results are the new normal. That said, moving from volume to value-based payment alone is not enough to bend healthcare’s cost curve. Payers and providers must add to the mix solutions to address social determinants of health, those circumstances that people are born into and live in that impact them as patients. While it complicates pay-for-performance, it’s critical to achieve the right balance between reimbursement schemes and social forces such as poverty, guns, violence, trauma, racism, and inadequate education.

  • For healthcare marketers the challenge is bringing key stakeholders along for the ride. Moving from traditional fee-for-service to value-based payment means answering the question “what’s in it for me?” Not only for patients, but equally as important are the providers of care responsible for living within the guardrails of high-performance, consumer-centric healthcare built on new models of financing, care delivery, and patient engagement, and measured on cost and quality of clinical outcomes. Marketers must use successes to demonstrate the value in value-based care, and use any failures as lessons learned.

  • Innovation disruptively disrupting market disruptors. Innovation is sweeping across the healthcare landscape. Over the last six years there has been more than $18 billion invested in healthcare technology ventures with 2017 going down as the largest year ever for digital health funding. These companies, labeled HealthTech, MedTech, or FinTech, are seeking to reduce health expenditures, improve quality of life, introduce infrastructure efficiencies, increase individual productivity and extend life expectancy. Both startups and established companies alike are seeking to leverage technology to empower patients. Consumers are adopting and using technology to take ownership of their health, so it’s easier to self-diagnose a condition or symptom, change a health habit or behavior to reach a goal, enable compliance with a course of treatment, and interact with their community of care providers.

  • For healthcare marketers, innovation isn’t just a substitute for brand narrative or value proposition, it’s a means to an end. Simply stating ’we are an innovative company’ won’t cut it. The storyline has to read…we are an innovative company that delivers value to our customers, improves health outcomes and does it in a way that changes healthcare delivery. Entrepreneurs and risk-takers are making stunning advances in cancer, Alzheimer’s, population health, and wellness. And, they’re the agile innovators breaking down barriers with wearables, blockchain, artificial intelligence/AI, Internet of Things, and precision medicine. If storytelling is the new marketing, marketers will have a treasure trove of material to draw from in this era of digital health technology.

Healthcare marketers have seen sweeping changes over the last few years. Gone are days where ‘product, price, place, and promotion’ is the ultimate marketing framework. As healthcare marketers face full-blown marketplace transformation, there’s a new priority: the need for marketing to have a power seat at the c-suite business strategy table. Why? 72% of CEOs believe the next three years will be more critical to their industry than the last 50 years-and the question is how many are ready, according to KPMG. Marketing can no longer take a functional or tactical focus, it has to expand its influence and integrate with leadership’s vision-driven corporate business strategy.


Lindsay R. Resnick, MHA, is executive vice president of Wunderman Health. He is a frequent blogger, author and speaker on trends in healthcare, insurance, marketing and business strategy. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @ResnickLR