The term “healthcare” used to be reserved for working with the professionals: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others with the training to potentially deliver vital treatments and help improve patients’ lives. In quick fashion, several headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic have affected how we define what healthcare really means. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and even Uber and Lyft have carved out their own healthcare divisions with promises to deliver innovative new solutions to support efforts across the country. With billions invested in traditional healthcare marketing channels annually, what does this mean for the way the industry approaches reach and executes campaigns for target audiences?
Vendors are continually looking for a way to gain an edge in the space. The need to reach targets has become more dire in the face of a global health crisis, not only due to the urgency of delivering information about COVID-19, but also due to the lowered share of voice non-COVID brands have access to. In recognition of message fatigue and understanding that patients of all other disease states haven’t stopped suffering over the last two years, vendors are looking to innovation in the space to help keep the paths of communication between pharma brands and target audiences open while remaining both appropriate and effective.
The digitization of healthcare that emerged along with the pandemic served as a start to a unique transformative period, opening doors for digital communication experts, the tech giants, to make an impact. In turn, telehealth and point of care services are becoming more mainstream, such as Microsoft’s developing full suite of virtual health solutions, highlighted in their dedicated “Digital Healthcare Playbook.”  As a result of these shifts, healthcare vendors and agency partners alike are feeling the pressure to adapt or risk falling behind the competition. A partnership between EHR company Cerner and ride-sharing behemoth Uber provides non-emergency transportation to patients and draws a new standard of integration. Most importantly, it serves as a prime example of how vendors can evolve to avoid competing directly with big tech, thriving instead by pursuing a collaborative solution. An almost identical partnership between Epic and Lyft further emphasizes the rapid adoption rate of this form of innovation. In sum, partnerships like this are note only business-savvy, but also help vendors maintain relevance within a growing need for functional integration; reaching the right people at the right time with a seamless user flow is exactly what audiences are looking for today.
Similarly, agencies seek innovative tactics to bring the best solutions to their clients but may be failing to evaluate whether these new opportunities are compatible with the integrated campaign approaches today’s audiences require. For example, voice assistant Amazon Alexa is already being used to flag appropriate individuals for marketing. Despite the multitude of case studies speaking to the relevance of this type of household reach however, agency processes for building campaigns rarely consider the ways in which this type of “big name” tactic can be used holistically with other, more established channels in the way the tech giants are considering applying their capabilities to traditional services like 24/7 telehealth sessions, on-demand healthcare visits, and prescription deliveries. For this reason, agencies should consider pivoting from thinking about new and innovative tactics as isolated opportunities that add star power to their campaigns to leveraging an omnichannel lens to see how these tactics fit into their larger campaigns as a whole.
Without evolving the current, conventional approach toward healthcare marketing, both vendors and agencies risk positioning themselves far behind the curve of adoption as solutions rapidly evolve among major players in the space with equally major resources at their disposal. It’s likely, with a small degree of speculation, that these types of solutions will eventually open the doors for more advanced technology, like blockchain, to play a big role in the industry as well. In any case, as healthcare becomes more integrated in everyday life, pharma as a whole will certainly need to adapt its understanding of when, where, and how to reach target audiences going forward in order to set the stage for a significantly more digitized future.
 “Healthcare & Pharma See Big Uptick In Digital Advertising Spend,” https://insights.digitalmediasolutions.com/articles/pharma-healthcare-digital-advertising, October 2020
 “Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare,” https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/industry/health/microsoft-cloud-for-healthcare
 “An integration that lowers the barrier to care” https://businesses.uber.com/cerner.html?_ga=2.22989371.1264410594.1623422092-1045984492.1623422092
 “Lyft is Integrating with Epic, a Leading Electronic Health Record,” https://www.lyft.com/blog/posts/lyft-for-epic-healthcare-integration-launch
 “User Flows and Their Importance to the Digital Experience,” https://www.tpgi.com/user-flows-and-their-importance-to-the-digital-experience/
 “Healthcare made easy,” https://amazon.care/