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Patient Profiles Key to Effective Content

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

Developing patient profiles, also known as buyer personas, may seem like a luxury of time that hospital marketers and medical marketers can ill afford. But developing a good patient profile up front saves you time and money later by creating a clear picture of how and when you can successfully engage a patient.

Let’s take joint replacement. This is a lucrative surgery that most hospital marketers are trying to land. But without developing a patient profile, you won’t know if you are targeting a patient when they first have joint pain or when they are ready to make a decision about joint replacement surgery. You won’t know what information they are seeking and what format they prefer.

Sure, you can make an educated guess, but many experienced marketers have gone wrong making assumptions. Or your educated guess will lead you to developing content that is readily available or not of real value to your target patient.

So you know you need patient profiles, but I bet you’re still saying you just can’t afford the time. In our experience, if a hospital marketer or medical marketer is not already developing patient profiles, they most likely are at the beginning stages of medical content marketing or inbound marketing. That’s good news because it doesn’t take much time to create the initial basic patient profile to get started. (You can always come back later to develop more nuanced profiles as you develop more content and sophisticated automated inbound marketing workflows.)

There are five steps to developing a basic patient profile. Here I give a quick overview; if you’d like more details, including patient questionnaires and recommendations for online patient forums, download our free workbook.

Five Steps to a Good Patient Profile

The most obvious place to start is to talk to your providers. Physicians, nurses, medical assistants, and other caregivers can tell you when they see patients in the care pathway, the most common questions they hear, and the most important factors in making care decisions. But don’t overlook the front office staff and the folks who answer the phones. Oftentimes, they can give you even more insight.

After you’ve talked to your providers, tap into medical device reps and pharmaceutical reps. Their parent organizations invest millions of dollars into medical marketing research and are usually happy to share those insights with you since their goals and your goals to educate patients align. Ask them specific questions about the target patient, particularly the patient’s pathway to care.

Working with a manufacturer of surgical supplies for deep brain stimulation, we learned that patients often get stalled at the neurologist level because many neurologists don’t understand DBS. We also learned that it typically takes a patient two years to decide on this surgery. This research led us to conduct online CME programs and work up a two-year workflow on the client’s website for DBS patients.

Patients Are Key to Patient Profiles

Perhaps because my background and that of all our writers is journalism, reaching out to interview patients seems like the easiest part of building a patient profile. But for most hospital marketers, cold calling patients probably ranks below meeting with the CFO to review your annual marketing budget in terms of fun.

If you relate to this, a few things might bring you comfort:

  1. Patients are amazingly willing – and even want – to share their stories, especially if it’s going to help others in their situation.

  2. One of the easiest ways to interview patients may be your most comfortable – check out education seminars being held by your own clinical team. Because the patients are already on site and thinking about the subject, slipping in a few minutes of questions is nearly painless.

  3. Going in with a script (download one in our free workbook) will help you feel more comfortable. Just be sure not to be so wed to it that you don’t let the patient take you where you need to go.

One question we run into routinely: How many patients should I interview? There is no magic number and more is always better, but if you can get a half dozen really good interviews, you may find you have enough information to develop your initial content marketing program.

Finding patients is usually quite easy. During your meeting with your providers, ask for the names and contact information for patients to interview. If you can’t get patients from a provider, don’t despair. In this age of instant online connections, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to find someone you know or someone they know or someone seven steps from Kevin Bacon who has the condition or treatment you are researching.

With or without direct patient interviews, be sure to check online patient forums. Facebook is a natural, but Google Plus and Quora also can yield useful information.

What to Include in a Patient Profile

Now that you’ve collected information, you need to put it all together. You may want to download a buyer persona template, but you will need to customize it for the healthcare consumer. For instance, we have found that it’s more important to understand a patient’s path from symptom to treatment than it is to know if they are married, have children, or even their profession. Four things we think are mandatory in a good patient profile are:

  • Patient Path

  • What information they used (and where they got it) in making their decision; and whether additional information would have influenced their decision. (For instance, does the surgical patient know that quantity is correlated to quality and do they care?)

  • Who ultimately made the care decision? Was it the PCP (through his or her referral), a family member, or even an insurance network with a limited provider panel?

  • What are the patient’s non-negotiable barriers that might prevent them from seeking care at your facility or medical practice? Distance may be a deal-breaker for daily cardiac rehab (hurting not just your bottom line but also your quality scores).

Patient Profiles Improve ROI

If you need one last shot of inspiration, consider this: Up to 70 percent of marketing has no direct impact on the consumer’s buying decision. That’s because marketers waste time and money creating content that customers deem irrelevant (or that they can find elsewhere). In the case of healthcare consumers, a good patient profile should be able to help you understand where the gap exists between a patient needing care and you providing it. Create content that fills that gap and watch your ROI improve!

Be sure to download our free 5-Step Patient Persona Guide that includes templates, questions, and other resources.


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