The Patient Journey: 5 Keys to Healthcare Consumer Conversion

Healthcare marketing has unique challenges. 

You are tasked with marketing a product or service no one wants to need. Seeing a doctor, going to the hospital, taking medication — these are personal, often emotional encounters. To complicate it further, the end users (patients) don’t always access or pay for healthcare directly. They must rely on insurance coverage and referrals to get to the care they need. 

How do you cut through the complicated “sales funnel” and figure out how to effectively reach and convert the actual, eventual consumer who needs your brand? Try mapping out the patient journey. 

Plenty of consultants and companies are ready to help you develop a patient map. But you can also be your own cartographer and create a map from your imagination and the data you have on hand. A map of the patient journey charts the experience of the consumer over time, from initial awareness of a symptom or health concern through treatment and follow-up. It can flip the script to help you understand the decision process from a different perspective. The map can reveal insights for touchpoints all along the patient’s path. Then you can build a relationship of trust with your brand through web content, e-newsletters, blogs, social media, seminars and events. 

As you walk along the patient journey, keep these ideas in mind to create effective interactions on the trip: 

  • A patient is a person first. Get to know her. A person experiences symptoms of illness or injury within the context of a complete life — along with all the hopes, dreams, bills to pay and trash to take out of each day. 

That’s why it helps to create a persona with robust details to picture the patient on her journey. You can start with the risk factors for the condition your product or service treats to create your persona, then flesh out the details.

  • Start with basic factors like gender, age range, ethnicity and lifestyle.
  • Then fill in a life around those. What’s her likely socio-economic status? What’s home life like? Is she caring for both children and parents?
  • What is life like outside the home? Think about work life; what she reads, watches and listens to, leisure activities. Here’s a helpful list to get you started from Hubspot
  • Respect but don’t stereotype the generations.
    We all tend to prejudge members of generations not our own. It’s good to check your assumptions. Think older adults don’t get online? According to Pew Research, 64%of Americans age 65 and over use the Internet. For 50-64 years olds it’s 87%. And while  Millennials may not see the need for a primary care physician, they may be willing to engage online with healthcare brands.
  • Consider Caregivers. Forty million Americans provide unpaid, basic care and support to another adult. This army of sons, daughters, spouses and friends have extra stress and concerns about their loved ones. Their influence and importance is often ignored in healthcare marketing. Consider how can you help them on their caregiving journey. 
  • Shun medical speak. The biggest hurdle in healthcare marketing can be to translate the scientific, technical, scary medical world into useful, relevant and engaging information for the consumer. Here’s a place to start:
    • Talk benefits, not features.  The number of “slices” in a CT scan might be a wonderful feature, but what matters is the clearer images those slices produce, which makes it easier to figure out what’s wrong. Decode the qualities of a healthcare service into what difference it delivers to the patient.
    • Make reading easy. Low health literacy is a big concern since more than half of Americans struggle to understand instructions from health professionals. Even the most educated person may be in a state of crisis when searching for health information. Be part of the solution by applying plain language best practices to your content. Find some useful resources here. 
    • Don’t be “shouldy.” While your content may have all kinds of great facts and recommendations to relay, avoid that paternalistic tone that creeps into consumer healthcare content. Provide understandable information in a clear, readable format — and let adults make up their own minds. That’s what you should do. (See what I mean?)
  • Make it easy to take the next step. At each point on the journey, the patient has different needs. Maybe it’s as simple as making it easy to make an appointment. Or helping connect patients with others on a similar path to share information or learn how other people in the same situation feel. You’ll want to make the next step as clear and easy as possible. Link to patient stories and third-party reviews. Offer multiple ways to contact you. Give options that provide a convenient next step in the journey, not a giant leap. 

Understanding the patient experience and creating content and encounters to meet their needs is not only smart marketing – it’s good healthcare. 

This blog post was written by Karla Webb, operations manager for WriterGirl & Associates, a healthcare content company delivering strategy, writing, editing and training to hospitals and healthcare organizations across the country.  Visit

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