Posted: December 5, 2017

Healthcare marketing is crucial to the success of any organization, from the smallest of family practitioner offices to the largest, cutting-edge hospital facilities and systems. But no matter the size of your organization, to be an effective healthcare marketer, you have to grow your understanding of the consumer experience from end-to-end.

Understanding this all-important matter is often referred to as "mapping the journey" healthcare consumers travel, from awareness to conversion and ultimately to becoming a loyal patient. Gathering data on and directly from patients is a necessary facet of mapping the healthcare consumer journey, along with creating personas for your ideal and actual patient populations. But there are other consumers you need to reach than just patients and potential patients – you also need to plan how best to reach patient stakeholders.

What Is a Patient Stakeholder?
Healthcare stakeholders can take many different forms. However, to differentiate from patients (who are, of course, primary stakeholders considering that your organization has a direct impact on their health), patient stakeholders are usually categorized as those with indirect or secondary contact with clinicians and healthcare practices.

Almost anyone can become a patient stakeholder, but the most common are usually family members. Parents of younger patients, spouses of adults, and adult children or other close relatives of older patients involved in medical care decisions all qualify as patient stakeholders, as does anyone who acts as an official advocate for a specific patient.

Why Patient Stakeholders are Important
Marketers mapping the healthcare consumer journey often neglect to research the experiences of patient stakeholders. But this is a mistake. The indirect impact of inappropriate care can be as serious for the stakeholders as for the patients themselves. Think how a parent feels when making decisions about surgery for a young child, or how an adult child views information on a care plan for an aging parent with dementia.

Being at least one step separated from the examinations, treatments, and therapies that a patient receives, yet still being intimately involved and invested in the standard of care, patient stakeholders are an influential part of any given patient's support system. You need to earn their trust as much as you do the primary patient. Patient stakeholders' unique perspectives should be factored into your strategy, outreach, and service.

Understanding Patient Stakeholders
Collecting experiential patient data prior to launching or modifying a healthcare marketing campaign is, of course, a basic requirement to identify ways any given organization can increase conversions and loyalty. There are a number of well-established methods for collecting this data, most generally based on patient satisfaction surveys.

You can leverage the same style surveys and questionnaires to gather information on patient stakeholders and their experiences, but it's also worthwhile to create personas and consumer journey maps for this group so you can understand their needs and behavior across multiple channels and touch points, to engage them before and after the point of care.

Patient Stakeholder Marketing
Marketing to patient stakeholders concurrently with prospective patients themselves is a natural extension of your usual efforts. Strategies used to engage consumers are also highly effective in engaging patient stakeholders — they're consumers too. You can use similar messaging for awareness and branding campaigns, but you'll want to tweak content and imagery for deeper funnel activities, like getting someone to sign up for a seminar or schedule an appointment. You can point out the warning signs for stroke or cite statistics on heart disease, for example, to engage patient stakeholders to take action on behalf of their loved ones. Or promote seminars on caring for someone with a chronic illness. Just align your goals and calls to action with something relevant to the patient stakeholder's role.

As many patient stakeholders assist prospective patients in selecting and researching care providers, there is a high amount of cross-pollination when it comes to online marketing efforts. However, targeting patient stakeholders directly is never a bad idea, and demonstrating a focus on the patient stakeholder experience will differentiate your service line or organization in a positive manner.
In a sea of choices, any organization that takes the time to demonstrate their aim to accommodate the needs and desires of not just patients, but their stakeholders and advocates as well, will stand out. Ensuring that patient stakeholders are targeted appropriately in your healthcare marketing efforts is the best method for ensuring you have appropriate contact and messaging for their journey from awareness to conversion and beyond.

Want more tips on creating engaging, personalized experiences with healthcare marketing? Read our white paper, co-authored with Greystone — The Healthcare Marketer's Guide to Driving Growth with Personalized Web Content.