Content Marketing Strategies for Hospitals and Practices

Healthcare marketing has always been on the tail-end of adopting new marketing strategies (content marketing included), but an old-fashioned mentality is not necessarily the culprit. Unlike other industries, healthcare is very highly regulated. Sure, if mistakes are made in other industries, it could hurt the reputation of the company, but if a healthcare marketer makes a mistake, it could result in huge fines that could cripple the hospital’s or practice’s marketing efforts altogether.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how medical organizations are catching up in content marketing and where they can go next.

In a 2012 study, the Content Marketing Institute found that healthcare marketers rely much more on print media than marketers in other industries. They also rely less on digital properties like blogs, case studies, and social media than marketers in other industries.

While healthcare practices should be careful not to violate regulations in their content marketing efforts, they should not let fear of consequences hold them back from creating an effective content marketing strategy. Healthcare needs to focus less on print and more on developing an online presence.

Why? The amount of patients using the internet for health-related research is simply too great to ignore. In 2012, Pew Internet Research found that 72% of internet users searched for health information online. Three years later, that number has likely grown.

If practices can create an effective content marketing strategy, they can attract this critical group of patients. It may be challenging in a highly-regulated industry, but it isn’t impossible. Healthcare organizations who have focused on the online audience have had great success.

Using Content Marketing to Attract Patients Online

If patients are conducting health-related research online, there is clearly a market for content there. But with all of the information available online, how can a healthcare provider get their attention?

Let’s take a look at what successful healthcare organizations are doing.

Build a foundation of well-written, unique, informative content.

Patients are already searching for information online, but they can have trouble finding credible content. Hospitals, small practices, and individual doctors can be that a reliable source online in the same way that they are in face-to-face interactions. The key is creating original content that is well-written and thorough enough to answer patients’ questions.

The Cleveland Clinic has done a great job of providing useful information and creating a powerful content marketing example with its Health Hub. On this site, the Clinic provides content that answers common questions on topics ranging from health and wellness to medical innovation. It also offers content that dispels common myths and gives prevention tips. All of the content is reviewed and approved by medical experts before it gets added to the site, assuring readers that the information is indeed credible.

The Cleveland Clinic's HealthHub
The Cleveland Clinic’s HealthHub

One of the clear lessons for health organization wishing to create a content marketing hub is to structure review processes like the ones Health Hub uses to protect the organization from potential regulatory issues.

The Boston Children’s Hospital also offers a plethora of in-depth health content, with information on research and innovations as well as information on how to care for children with illnesses.

The Research + Innovation section of the Boston Children's Hospital website
The Research + Innovation section of the Boston Children’s Hospital website

Create “contagious content.”

“Contagious content” is content that is easily shareable via social media. Content shared via print mediums like brochures and magazines can be shared with others, but not nearly at the same rate as content online. Print media like brochures can be helpful in informing the patients sitting in your office, but they aren’t likely to reach many patients outside of your office the way that online content can. Many white papers and reports are available online, but most people don’t have the time to sit down and read them.

For this reason, some healthcare organizations are breaking their content down into easily-shareable infographics, Slideshares, and studies. The Mayo Clinic is a clear leader in creating healthcare content for a variety of audiences. Not only is the content easy to share and view on social media, but because the Mayo Clinic has established that it is a trustworthy brand, patients can rest assured that the Clinic is sharing legitimate information. In fact, a study of Mayo Clinic’s strategy found that 95% of patients promote the brand and content for that very reason. This level of trustworthiness increases the chances that patients will continue to share the content.

Cater to the mobile audience.

The 2012 Pew Internet Research study also found 52% of smartphone owners have looked up medical information on their phones, and 19% have downloaded an app to help them track and/or manage their health. This type of mobile usage does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon; if anything, those numbers are only increasing over time. This is why it is so important to appeal to the mobile audience with your content.

Having a mobile-friendly website is a critical first step, but some healthcare groups are going beyond a mobile site and creating apps to help out their patients. The Boston Children’s Hospital has done a particularly great job with their mobile app. The app was designed to make hospital visits easier on patients, including directions to the hospital, general information, directions on navigating the hospital, and tools for routine tasks like booking an appointment. The hospital also has several patients come in from out of state, so the app also includes information on nearby restaurants and hotels, as well as local entertainment venues for patients’ siblings.

Boston Childrens App
Hospital navigation directions on the Boston Children’s Hospital app

Get active on social media.

Contagious content is important, but to really connect with patients, you need to have an active presence on social media. Social media is a great place to share your contagious content, but beyond that, it gives you a chance to offer support to patients and allow other patients to connect with each other for support.

The MD Anderson Cancer Center has done very well in this regard. They use their Facebook page to share patient success stories, and are very responsive to patient comments, providing encouragement and information to help.

Look beyond articles for your content.

Sometimes if the market is saturated, the message can get lost in more traditional forms of content marketing like blogging and social media. In those cases, it might be helpful to take a less-traditional route to distribute their content.

Video is a good place to start. YouTube makes it very easy to create a channel and upload videos. YouTube videos can easily be shared on social media, creating another opportunity for “contagious” content. According to Pew Research Center, video can be a very effective medium–a 2013 study found that 47% of internet users shared photos and videos they found online. A number of healthcare organizations, including the Cleveland Clinic, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Spectrum Health, and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children have all found great success from video-based marketing. With its HealthBeat blog, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center offers up useful and informative content in its “Medical Mondays” video series, combining short videos and written summaries, a strategy that would work quite well for smaller healthcare organizations as well.

If you’re willing to try something even less traditional, radio and podcasts could create a unique opportunity to market to your patients. PodMed, a podcast by Johns Hopkins Medicine, has been running for almost 10 years. The wider availability of distribution channels in recent years has created somewhat of a revival for podcasts, and the competition is not as great as it is with other mediums.

In a similar strategy, NYU Langone Medical Center created a broadcast station on Sirius Satellite Radio called Doctor Radio. Show topics focus on a number of health-related issues, and patients can call in, email, or tweet their questions so that the doctors can answer during one of the shows. Doctor Radio is also active on Facebook and Twitter, allowing patients other ways of getting their questions answered. Obviously, it might not be feasible for every medical organization to go this route, but it might be possible to get a regular segment on a local radio or news station.

Looking Ahead to Future Strategies

Content marketing is constantly evolving, and so should your marketing strategy. You need to stay up to date on the most current methods of content marketing in healthcare, but if you want to stay ahead of the curve, you should also be looking ahead to the future.

These are some of the content strategies that experts say will dominate in the not-so-distant future.

Answers in Search Vs. Long-Form Content

Google has expanded its Knowledge Graph  in recent years, providing users instant answers to common questions. In the past year, the Knowledge Graph extended into healthcare, following a partnership with Mayo Clinic referred to by many as “Dr. Google.” When patients perform searches for most health conditions, Google displays information about the condition right at the top of search results, so users often don’t need to click through to a website to get the information they are looking for.

This is an example of what you might see in the Knowledge Graph if you searched for "arthritis" on Google.
This is an example of what you might see in the Knowledge Graph if you searched for “arthritis” on Google.

While that is certainly helpful in keeping patients informed, it also decreases the likelihood of a user clicking through to read your content. This is where long-form content comes in. Google’s Knowledge Graph provides a quick overview of a particular topic, but it won’t give you any in-depth information. This is why you can benefit from writing really in-depth content about a particular condition or treatment method. Some users will want to know more than the basic overview, and you can grab their attention with a long-form, in-depth article on the subject.

Greater Focus on Images and Videos

The market for written content is already quite saturated, so a shift to more visual mediums like images and video could help you stand out. Internet speeds and wireless connections continue to improve, increasing the demand for more “instant,” visual content. Infographics in particular can work very well in healthcare, and they can be produced fairly quickly on a regular basis. Visual content also makes more of an impact on social media–videos and infographics stand out more than text-only posts.

Quality Over Quantity

Because the content market is so saturated, large quantities of content won’t get you very far if the quality isn’t there. The trend is shifting toward high-quality content. In other words, it’s better to take more time to produce high-quality, in-depth, original content than it is to put out tons of low-quality content just for the sake of publishing.

New Publishing Options

Facebook’s new Instant Articles feature allows you to publish your content directly to the Facebook platform. This allows for much quicker article viewing for people using the mobile app. It harnesses the same technology that allows videos and photos to load quickly in their mobile app. When you publish new content, Instant Articles automatically loads it onto the platform via an RSS feed. Ultimately, it provides a better experience for the mobile user–when someone shares your articles, other Facebook users can click on it and have the article load instantly. Google is working on a similar version of this technology, so it’s definitely a content marketing trend to look out for. As of this writing, Facebook’s statement on Instant Articles is, “Facebook is currently testing Instant Articles with a small set of publishers. The Instant Articles program will expand to more publishers in the future.”

More Focus on Wellness

As a healthcare practice, it makes sense to focus a lot of your content on treatment and recovery. That type of content is certainly valuable to a number of people, but if you really want to widen your reach, you will need to focus more on wellness and prevention.

If a person doesn’t have a particular condition, they won’t be as interested in hearing about treatment for said condition. However, that same person would probably be interested in learning about how he or she could avoid it. While wellness information might not result in more appointments right away, it does help to further establish you as an authority on that particular topic, which adds more value to your practice in the eyes of patients.


Content marketing in healthcare is constantly evolving, and medical organizations of all sizes have a chance to stand out in their community with useful information for patients. The key to creating a message that resonates is finding the medium that works best for each audience.