This past month, several thousand healthcare strategy professionals met at the Orlando World Center Marriott for the annual SHSMD conference to discuss strategies in healthcare including best practices and emerging trends. Although we couldn’t attend every session, the 3-day conference was a valuable opportunity to hear from our industry colleagues on what’s working and what’s not.

Below we share the four most essential SHSMD conference takeaways and why they are crucial to your practice.

The Importance of the Patient Journey and Digital Media

So much of the patient journey is taking place outside of your office, and in many cases, outside of the care you provide. Patient experience is driven more and more by the data and information readily available to consumers online, coupled with how they are finding information and sharing their healthcare journey via social channels.

For providers, this means the patient journey isn’t just about the care provided, but also about how patients find you, what they did to schedule an appointment and even how they research treatment options to share with friends and family (and don’t forget about how they provide feedback following the visit).

According to a 2016 survey by ROCK Health, 46% of Americans are now considered digital health adopters, having used three or more digital health tools. For your office, this means if you don’t have a digital marketing strategy, the train has left the station and it’s time for you to put the wheels in motion and play catch-up.

Social Media Never Stops Evolving

Just when you think you have a handle on social for your practice – you don’t.

Social media, and the way you are currently using it for your practice is about to completely change.  As patients become more accustomed to everyday digital tools, especially social media, and direct communication channels, they now want (nay, expect) more from their healthcare providers. To date, your social media strategy has been to build a following and to educate patients and potential patients on your brand message.

In the next few years expect social media to evolve into a tool to interact with patients, offering enhanced opportunities for two-way and very transparent communications. As the line blurs between online and offline, this is the next natural progression. Non-healthcare brands are already doing it and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes part of the everyday expectation for your practice to offer it too (HIPAA and PHI guidelines will adjust as needed – trust us).  For you, this means giving serious consideration to who on your team is going to be part of these patient interactions.

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Creating Personal Connections in a Digital World

Not necessarily a new trend, but one discussed in several sessions at SHSMD was the strategy of using closed, or private, groups to build brand affinity and provide patient support. This tactic proves to be a key differentiator in a saturated marketplace while providing high ROI and patient satisfaction boosts.

Most of these groups are being used as online support groups around certain disease states where the patient may seek an additional support network following a diagnosis or surgery. Examples provided were groups specifically started to provide emotional support to gastric bypass patients or liver transplant patients.  

Best practices and pitfalls with the groups included missteps and challenges related to choosing proper moderators and even hospital groups hijacked because clear guidelines were not outlined at the onset. Feedback provided by clinicians, who are often the moderators, was positive overall because patients were provided the support they needed and were more likely to stay engaged and loyal to the hospital system or physician.

Key SHSMD Takeaways

There were plenty of ideas, strategies, and concepts discussed at SHSMD. For us, the key takeaway is that the strategy for how your practice can effectively use social media, or digital marketing in general, is always evolving as more patients adopt the tools and adjust their expectations to live in a digital-first world.

Another recent study, published jointly by Facebook and Deloitte cites C-Suite marketing folks said to be seriously pondering the “gap between perceived digital maturity and actual digital maturity”, meaning that marketing organizations are “doing” digital but not “becoming” digital and are nowhere near “being” digital.

Put simply, this means you can’t just hire somebody to handle your digital strategy for the practice as an aside. Rather, it’s time to evaluate your team, how they are interacting with patients and how the small digital pieces fit into the big picture.