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Does Your Health Care Content Hold the Cure for Customers in Crisis?


In 2015, I arrived in Cleveland for Content Marketing World in good health and good spirits, full of energy and excitement about the week to come. A few hours later that enthusiasm turned to panic, as my focus completely shifted to a sudden, sharp pain that woke me in the middle of the night in my hotel room.

Within 12 hours, I personally learned some lessons about the role health care content marketing can and should play in the lives of consumers. If your health-related organization is looking to improve your content marketing prognosis, here are some ideas based on my experience of tracking down vital information in a situation I never anticipated.

My journey of diagnostic discovery

While I’m typically calm and relatively capable of handling a crisis at home, I quickly discovered that managing medical care while alone, in pain, and in unfamiliar surroundings requires a lot more presence of mind – and a vastly different set of informational needs and insights.

Every step I took on my accelerated user journey was focused on obtaining relevant, reliable, and highly personalized information to use immediately – you might say I was DTC (down to convert) on any prescriptive (RX or OTC) solution that would address my immediate (literal) pain points, STAT.

My #healthcare #content journey focused on relevancy, reliability & personalized info. @joderama Click To Tweet

Two disclaimers

First: While the following story is true, I omit a few of the more personal details (I’m sure you understand).

Second: My experience is filtered through a lens of privilege – i.e., someone who has decent health insurance. Though health industry brands have myriad opportunities to provide much-needed content to those who aren’t as lucky, those ideas won’t factor in here.

My content checkup

Based on my family health history, I had a suspicion about the pain I was dealing with; so I sought treatment based on those semi-informed assumptions.

My first step was to find answers to a few logistical questions:

  • Do I need to call an ambulance immediately? Can it wait until I can get there on my own?
  • Where is the closest hospital? How can I get there?
  • Will my California-based medical insurance cover out-of-state providers? If not, how much will treatment cost?
  • What if there’s no quick fix and I need ongoing treatment? Will I be cleared to fly home?

Let’s take a closer look at how content factored in to what transpired over the next 12 hours: 

Urgency of care

Questions: Do I need to call an ambulance immediately? Can it wait until I can get there on my own?

This is one of the most common questions patients (and their caregivers) have. In many cases the obvious answer applies: Never take chances with your health or delay treatment.

But with rising medical costs and a lot of uncertainty in the health care marketplace, more people are faced with the decision of whether a condition is truly serious enough to seek emergency medical care.

Cost management isn’t just a concern for patients: According to the Deloitte 2018 Global Health Care Outlook, improving financial performance and operating margins is a top issue for health care companies. It is critical for health care businesses to play an active role in helping patients recognize what constitutes an emergency, fully understand their options, and make the most informed (and cost-effective) choices whenever possible.

Curative content: In the middle of the night and over 2,000 miles from home, consulting my primary care physician wasn’t an option. What was an option was to consult the registered nurse helpline my health insurance company (and many others) offers as a benefit.

Helplines, chatbots, telehealth systems (like Call-a-Doc), and other smart medical services that can be accessed anywhere, at any time are becoming standard in the managed health care world. They are ideal for the type of go/no-go decision I needed to make. For example, the Mayo Clinic and Isabel Healthcare are among a number of health-related organizations that include consumer-friendly online symptom checkers in their website content.

Helplines, chatbots, telehealth systems are ideal content sources for prospective patients, says @Joderama. Click To Tweet

Developing interactive content tools like these can help prospective patients pinpoint a likely cause of their medical concern and move more quickly toward taking appropriate interventional action.

isabel symptom checker

As the Deloitte report points out, health care businesses that provide such amenities would be wise to highlight them if they want to preserve and grow their existing customer relationships. And what better way to do that than to leverage content like blog posts, newsletter articles, or even videos to promote the valuable (and cost-effective) role these services can play, especially for patients in the thick of an uncertain medical situation or who live in locations where immediate medical attention may be hard to come by?

Access to care

Questions: Where’s the closest hospital? How can I get there?

In my hometown, I know exactly which hospitals and urgent care facilities to visit and how to get there. But in this case, having neither a car nor detailed knowledge of the city (or my bearings at 4 a.m.), I had to do some digging.

Fortunately, a quick check on my health insurer’s mobile app let me know that not only was one of the highest-ranked hospitals in the country – Cleveland Clinic – just a few miles away, it was (thankfully) in-network for my plan. Question asked and easily answered by a sound mobile content strategy.

Curative content: However, there was still the matter of getting to the hospital and navigating Cleveland Clinic’s sprawling campus to find the right building. One of my awesome co-workers stepped up to help me in this regard (thanks again, Mo!).

But it occurred to me that health care content marketers have a real opportunity to address this kind of practical need for others who may not have prior experience (or a kind friend) to guide them.

As I arranged my ride, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Cleveland Clinic has this contingency well covered: There’s a section of its main website that caters to the informational needs of out-of-town visitors – and it’s accessible from the home page.

This strategic content marketing does double duty. It goes the extra mile to distinguish the brand from competing facilities while delivering real-life value that can put prospective patients’ minds at ease.

Helpful content goes the extra mile to distinguish one #healthcare brand from competing facilities. @joderama Click To Tweet


It’s worth noting that Cleveland Clinic is at the top of its game when it comes to using content to support consumers through all sorts of health care-related situations – something that anyone familiar with the work of its content marketing director (and 2016 Content Marketer of the Year), Amanda Todorovich, should be well familiar with.

For example, its Health Essentials blog is the most-visited hospital blog in the country and serves as a shining example of how marketers in this industry can deliver a valuable, trustworthy content experience.

The cost of care

Question: Will my California-based medical insurance cover out-of-state providers? If not, how much will it cost?

As I mentioned, my insurer’s mobile app revealed that Cleveland Clinic was both in-network and in my general vicinity. And, fortunately, it wasn’t the only medical center conveniently available. Had I been traveling in a city with fewer medical facilities, a town in a more remote or rural location, or even in another country, my options for pursuing a path to affordable care may have been limited.

Curative content: While in-network coverage meant my costs for emergency treatment would not be exorbitant, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my health insurance company features an interactive treatment cost calculator on my account dashboard.

With a few clicks, I could see regional pricing estimates for inpatient and outpatient medical services that I might need (such as physician consultations, diagnostic imaging, and lab tests) and could explore suggested options for cutting costs.

Using an interactive cost calculator, I could see pricing estimates for medical services, says @joderama Click To Tweet

cost calculator

Ongoing care

Question: What if there’s no quick fix and I need ongoing treatment? Will I be cleared to fly home?

As it turned out, my diagnostic suspicions were right on the money, and treatment was effectively carried out to completion by the skilled emergency room staff. But my health care journey wasn’t over. As the meds started to work their magic, the doctor informed me of the small possibility of recurrence and suggested I follow up with a specialist once I got back home.  

Curative content: A patient journey complicated by the need for ongoing care presents health care industry marketers with a distinct set of informational challenges – and plenty of opportunities to address them through content.

For example, patients with chronic conditions are highly subject to dropping on and off a provider’s radar, making long-term compliance and retention-driven content a critical point of distinction for many health-related organizations – including pharmaceutical manufacturers, nursing care facilities, diagnostic labs, medical researchers, and even condition-specific support groups.

Once again, Cleveland Clinic rose to the content occasion: My discharge paperwork included a URL and a personal access code to connect to its Patient Portal and MyChart system. This invaluable content tool gave me direct access (online or through the mobile app) to relevant portions of my electronic medical record (including lab results, diagnostic images, prescribed medications, and physician notes and recommendations). This enabled me to easily share information with my health care providers at home and take better control of any follow-up care I might need.


Yet, people who suffer from more serious or complicated health issues may not have it so easy. Take, for example, people who contend with common age-related health issues like osteoporosis and arthritis, or even more devastating diagnoses like Alzheimer’s disease.

Complex medical journeys like these don’t always follow a set and structured path or lead to a cure, but these consumers still need information and support. Content initiatives like Pfizer’s GetOld are designed to do just that: provide helpful advice on relevant issues, keep the audience informed on the medical research and treatment advances, and connect them with the emotional support they need to keep fighting the good fight in the face of uncertainty.


Visions of a healthier future

As you’ve likely guessed, I’m satisfied with the outcome of my medical story – and my content experience. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room for improvement in the way businesses in this industry connect with their audiences and serve their needs through content.

Consider this encouraging example that focuses not on treating diseases and disorders, but on facilitating happier and healthier new beginnings:

Sweden’s Gjensidige Insurance recently partnered with a regional hospital to film a woman going through the process of childbirth. Using 360-degree video, they created a realistic VR experience that expectant moms (and their partners) can watch in advance, helping to demystify a natural process that’s historically been shrouded in a cloud of anxiety-inducing mystery (or, sometimes, a sedation-induced fog).

The insurance company anticipates that the effort (shot from a respectful angle that lets viewers stand in alongside the mom) may help expectant parents feel more comfortable and prepared. For those who aren’t squeamish or overly sensitive, you can watch the video here.

Remember the adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure? If your health care brand isn’t producing content that supports consumers through all types of wellness journeys – especially the unique or unexpected – perhaps it’s time to schedule a checkup on your editorial (health) plan.

Get the inside scoop from the health care provider on how to attack health-related content marketing. Come to Content Marketing World 2018 and participate in the Cleveland Clinic Health Summit (and you’ll hear from 2016 Content Marketer of the Year, Amanda Todorovich, who directs content marketing at Cleveland Clinic).   

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute