It’s safe to say that no industry has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic more than the healthcare industry. Which means that for healthcare marketers, this year has been a series of challenges, with all signs pointing to its continuation in 2021.

Yes, the hope is that the vaccine will be released, the pandemic will wind down, and we’ll be able to return to semi-normal life at some point next year, but the change in consumer behavior and the way people engage with healthcare brands may be long-lasting.

Healthcare marketing has changed a lot in 2020. Here's how and what it means for your 2021 healthcare marketing strategy.

As we look ahead to 2021, let’s first pause and look back at 2020 and the ways this year has impacted patients and healthcare brands, plus we’ll outline what these changes mean for your 2021 healthcare marketing strategy.

1. Patients Increasingly Relied on Virtual Appointments & Telehealth

As shutdowns and stay-at-home orders hit communities across the country, healthcare providers and health systems struggled to make the switch to accommodate virtual appointments. Offices that had never offered this service were forced to adapt quickly and learn the ins-and-outs of the technology while navigating the insurance side of telehealth.

Telehealth was already expected to grow by as much as 65% in 2020, but the pandemic accelerated that growth – in March there was a 154% increase in telehealth visits compared to March 2019.

The use of telehealth and virtual visits increased exponentially in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.


What this means for your 2021 healthcare marketing: If your healthcare system or physician isn’t considering providing telehealth services once the pandemic ends, they may want to reconsider. By offering a hybrid of in-office and virtual visits, healthcare providers can better cater to consumers, and as we all know, the best healthcare marketing strategy is one that puts consumers at the center.

2. Health & Safety Concerns Became Priority #1 for Physicians

Once offices started to begin safely seeing patients in-person, the need to communicate health and safety protocols became priority number one. Most – if not all – healthcare facilities have been adhering to similar protocols prior to the pandemic: regular disinfection, waiting rooms spaced out for patients, etc. But, people were looking for reassurance that they would be safe if they had to visit any type of healthcare facility during this time.

This meant that healthcare brands had to put a renewed focus on how they were communicating their safety protocols to patients – including updating information on their websites, creating videos of their teams disinfecting the facilities, and sharing testimonials of patients who visited and felt safe.

Communicating how you're keeping patients safe will continue to be important to your 2021 healthcare marketing.

This healthcare system shared a video that outlined their safety protocols to help patients feel safe about visiting their facilities.

What this means for your 2021 healthcare marketing: This renewed focus on how healthcare facilities are adhering to health and safety processes isn’t going to stop any time soon. Patients want to feel safe and secure when visiting their healthcare providers, so communicating these protocols regularly and reminding patients what you’re doing to ensure their safety is going to continue to be a focus of your healthcare marketing strategy.

This can be done through website updates, social media posts, and your content marketing strategy. It might also be a focus of your paid search advertising and display ads to keep top-of-mind for patients and prospective patients.

3. Preventative & Maintenance Appointments Fell by the Wayside

As the pandemic raged on, many people began neglecting their regular healthcare appointments. Some preventive care measures like mammograms declined as much as 80% at the onset of the pandemic.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there has been a decline in patients seeking preventive care.

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Collectively, there has been about a 30% decline in preventive care and screening, which healthcare officials warn could place patients in danger long term.

And, while some patients have started returning to their regular healthcare visits, it’s a slow process that will likely continue into 2021.

What this means for your 2021 healthcare marketing: Education and communication remain imperative in getting patients to resume their regular checkups and appointments. By letting people know what your healthcare facility is doing to keep patients safe, offering a mix of virtual and in-person appointments when applicable, and educating about the importance of regular maintenance and preventive care visits in 2021, you can start coaxing more patients back to your facilities.

It’s also important to make sure you’re educating consumers in the right places. One study found that 90% of people prefer premium news and publishing sites when consuming content related to COVID-19 online.

4. Storytelling Remained Important, But the Types of Stories Shifted

Humanizing your healthcare brand through storytelling has been a pillar of effective healthcare marketing strategies over the last few years, and that trend has certainly continued throughout 2020. What’s changed, however, is the type of stories that resonate with consumers. Consumers want stories that are much more tailored to what’s going on right now.

“People want to feel confident that the procedures and protocols you’ve put in place to protect patients and providers from the coronavirus are effective,” said Jenelle Brooker, Director of Client Strategy for LOCALiQ. “You can tell stories about a patient’s experience visiting the doctor for the first time, the ease of using telehealth, or a recovery story from someone who’s had COVID-19.”

Storytelling is still an important part of a successful healthcare marketing strategy in 2021.

Johns Hopkins has a whole page on their website dedicated to telling COVID-19 patient stories.

What this means for your 2021 healthcare marketing: As healthcare professionals continue fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic, these types of stories will still be an important part of your marketing strategy. Think about highlighting your healthcare brand’s success rate with containing the virus, how many patients you’ve safely seen or treated in this time, and first-person accounts of those who have worked with your healthcare providers and felt safe.

5. Healthcare Misinformation Ran Rampant

During this pandemic, news and information traveled fast and furious, and it was difficult for people to discern fact from fiction. This greatly impacted the healthcare industry, where encouraging your patients to wear a mask in public could be seen as a political statement.

Some experts even dubbed this the “Misinformation Pandemic” because it is “highly contagious, destructive…and causes confusion, and in some cases, death,” according to the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

In addition to fighting the actual pandemic, healthcare marketers and healthcare brands were tasked with educating the public on what was real and what was fiction when it comes to this virus.

Healthcare providers and healthcare marketers have been tasked with educating the public on the realities of covid-19 due to misinformation.

This healthcare system has a regular series on Facebook where physicians answer questions about COVID-19 to keep patients and community members informed.

What this means for your 2021 healthcare marketing: As the pandemic continues, we’ve learned more about the virus and its nature, but it’s going to continue to be imperative for healthcare brands to share relevant, accurate information to help people understand the realities of the pandemic. Regular education, updates from your physicians, and resharing updates from reputable sources should be a key part of your 2021 healthcare content and social media marketing strategy.

6. There Was a Renewed Focus on Mental Health & Wellness

Prior to the pandemic, a shift toward mental health and wellness was growing, and many healthcare brands were prioritizing their service line offerings to provide valuable resources to patients. The challenges of the pandemic – including social distancing from friends and loved ones and the economic downturn has only increased the call for mental health care in the US.

One poll notes that Americans’ mental health is at a new low amid the pandemic, and another survey found that over 40% of respondents reported an adverse mental health condition during the pandemic.

There's been a shift toward more focus on mental health and wellness as many people have been experience heightened anxiety during the pandemic.

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What this means for your 2021 healthcare marketing strategy: Your healthcare brand likely already has a service line dedicated to mental health and wellness, so in 2021, it’s time to make that a priority for your healthcare marketing. Make sure to create content that supports patients’ mental health struggles, look at how you can offer virtual wellness workshops, and share videos or resources from your mental health professionals.

By adjusting your healthcare marketing strategy to serve your patients’ needs right now, you can help them feel supported and safe, which can build trust and an emotional connection with your brand.

Healthcare Marketing in 2021

Healthcare marketing will continue to evolve as consumer behavior and our current health crisis evolves. By analyzing the ways that consumers have adjusted in 2020, you can create a healthcare marketing strategy for 2021 that continues connecting with patients, builds emotional connections with your community, and positions your healthcare brand as a trusted resource.

For help creating the right healthcare marketing strategy for your brand, reach out to one of our healthcare marketing experts today.

Download this healthcare marketing planning guide to make your 2021 healthcare marketing a success.