Children's-logo-color-dallas Many hospitals are sceptical about whether digital marketing can really work for them. Yes, they know people look for information online, but surely that doesn’t mean hospital websites? Over at Slideshare, Stanwell Communications shared a worthy case study.

Extreme makeover
The Children’s Medical Center in Dallas carried out an ‘extreme makeover’ of its website to increase traffic. ‘The Children’s’, as it is known, is a private academic paediatric centre, with more than 350,000 patient visits each year, 483 beds, and over 800 doctors. Recognising that most children are ill sometimes, they wanted to provide information that would be useful to all parents, whether or not their children needed hospital treatment.

As a result, they improved both the visible content and ‘back end’ of the website, to make it easier to navigate. The website is now search engine-friendly, and the content is integrated, with new media, calls to action and in-depth content from specialties. It also provides access to a comprehensive online medical library, with information about over 1,000 common paediatric topics.

The hospital has successfully used both print and social media to drive electronic traffic. The e-newsletter encourages website visits, the hospital brochure promotes the website, and direct mails promoting the website and the online medical library have been sent to thousands of households. The hospital also uses Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

And the campaign has worked. Website traffic has hugely increased, as have the number of Twitter followers and e-newsletter subscribers.

The business of health
Regardless of the funding mechanism, in this age of online consumers, top ‘business to customer’ websites adhere to a number of key principles. They engage consumers by providing detailed, high-quality information in interesting formats; building relationships through interactive exchanges; and encouraging return visits by current and potential customers through the use of promotions, premium services, clubs and other online innovations. These criteria also apply to health systems. And as patient choice becomes more important, it’s even more crucial for hospitals to get better at marketing themselves.

Expertise and experience
So why are hospitals failing to capitalise on their most important marketing tool? The answers include shortage of resources, time, IT expertise, and buy-in from senior management. Useful ‘rules of engagement’ for websites in order to make them more effective include:

  1. Make it useful so people will come back. Address it to the right people, provide information to empower them to make decisions, offer useful tools, and have a good search facility.
  2. Update content often to give your visitors a reason to return. Announce news such as appointments of new doctors and responses to crises such as outbreaks of flu.
  3. Reach out regularly through emails, and use print publications to encourage readers to visit the website for information or give-aways.
  4. Encourage feedback and interaction by having live webchats with staff.
  5. Personalise where possible to create value, for example, a password-protected area with online tools or express check-in.
  6. Include new media such as podcasts, to provide information.

The new normal of constant change
At Children’s, what’s really important is that nobody is resting on their laurels. The team is constantly improving the website to reach out to their customers, by refining the content to make it both more useful and more readable, and using social media better. They have a clear view of the ‘rules of engagement’ and aim to improve in all six areas

This is important. Aspiring hospital digital marketers must recognise the need to keep trying new things, keep customers’ perspective at the forefront of campaign design at all times, and give customers what they want so that they will keep coming back. Hospitals need to grasp the opportunity and reach out to their customers and potential customers with the most important tool at their command: a great website. It can be done, and it should be done.

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