| 01/21/2021

The Critical Role of Marketing Automation for CRM in Healthcare Communication

Written by Ed Bennett

As a healthcare marketer, your communications help prospective patients choose their healthcare provider. This is not an easy decision — after all, it’s not like buying a pair of shoes or even buying a car. A lot more thought goes into making a decision that will have a direct impact on the consumer’s health. 

Marketing automation arms healthcare marketers with the tools to be more personable and timely with their communication. Today more than ever, messaging that is tailored to the potential consumer’s needs is essential to effective marketing.

We had the opportunity to talk with Jon Barlow, Healthgrades Senior VP of Professional Services, Hg Fusion, about the vital importance of marketing automation in healthcare communications. His insight into trends, what’s working, and the benefits of partnering with a marketing automation agency may make you rethink your hospital’s communication approach.

How has marketing automation for CRM transformed healthcare communications over recent years?

As tech companies and big-box retailers have entered the healthcare vertical, one thing is true — business as usual for healthcare marketers is no longer going to cut it

With this influx of marketers from other industries bringing what they’ve learned to healthcare, marketing automation, which has been a long-standing practice in other industries, is coming too. Individuals from other industries that are now stepping foot into healthcare are working to leverage their expertise to distribute healthcare systems’ messages more effectively.

Barlow explains, “Marketing automation for CRM is making it possible for marketers to better understand who is coming into healthcare facilities and how they are utilizing services. This information gives healthcare marketers the ability to better identify individuals’ needs and target them based on what they are looking for in a healthcare provider. This has been powerful for marketers as they work to move away from email blasts towards helping a patient navigate their healthcare journey.” 

Along with this influx there has also been a natural maturity of healthcare marketing. Old approaches are not effective and, just like every other industry, healthcare marketers need to adjust: 

“Marketers recognize that people no longer want to be subjected to email blasts. They don’t want to be shouted at and that shouting can come in a variety of push marketing communications. Everyone is looking for the evolution of a more genuine way of communicating. Marketing automation is starting to close those gaps between what marketing has been and what it can be.”

Trends in marketing automation for CRM: what’s coming and what’s going

A big trend is leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to not just understand what patients are searching for, but to predict their behavior. 

Marketing automation for CRM is at the core of effective communication because, while in its infancy, it is being leveraged to gather and analyze data to provide insights to patients before they even realize their medical needs. Healthcare marketers are using this as a tool to reinforce a patient's need to address certain symptoms or schedule an appointment with relevant information. Instead of force-feeding content, marketing automation makes it possible to respond to questions before they are asked to help patients better navigate their health challenges, symptoms, and concerns.

Barlow shares what this means for both hospitals and patients: “As we better understand the context around why a person might be searching certain symptoms or a particular provider, communication can be more relevant in helping them get to the decision that is best for them or helping them get the medical care they need. Health systems are going to have a better overall impact and the consumer is going to have a better patient experience.”

Marketing automation for CRM is also being increasingly used for retention, patient education, and adherence. Barlow explains, “If you have an existing condition, like diabetes that requires guidance with medicine and nutrition, marketing automation is tying the care journey together. It can get a patient in the door to seek treatment but also keep them engaged to ensure their long-term success with whatever disease they’re managing.”

As for trends that are fizzling out, Barlow explains why nothing is really going away in marketing automation:

“Like all technology, things get introduced, get a lot of hype, and people try to figure out how to integrate them into their marketing efforts. But there is a relatively short time period for marketers to figure out how to effectively use something. 

For example, chatbots had a lot of hype a few years ago and didn’t get much success, but you’re starting to see them come back around. Just because something gets introduced and doesn’t get great adoption doesn’t mean it’s fizzling out, it just means they haven’t found the right application for that technology yet.” 

How can a hospital identify a need to invest in marketing automation for CRM?

Marketing automation is essential for effective communication, especially in healthcare. More than any other industry, healthcare consumers expect more genuine, personalized, and human communication. While a cold, data-driven email will be forgiven in most industries, in healthcare your message better be meaningful.

Barlow explains what that means for healthcare marketers wanting to determine their investment needs: 

“You need to determine if you have the resources and expertise to map out, plan, execute, and analyze your communication flow in-house. If the answer is no to any of those pieces, it’s time to look for a strategic partner that can help you.”

What should a hospital look for when hiring an agency for marketing automation?

Barlow identifies the most important factor in finding a marketing agency to help with marketing automation for your customer communications as deep, relevant healthcare experience. “Healthcare experience” can include things like pharma and medical insurance, but these are very different from health systems. 

“An agency with the right experience will save you from having to try to relate what your challenges and the obstacles are. They’ve likely already experienced the very things you're up against. They know what works and what doesn’t, and bring years and years of experience to help your program succeed.” 

Apart from experience, Barlow explains the importance of understanding the experience on the team you’d be working with. You need to assure they also bring the technical and analytical expertise to build out programs and provide insights into what is and isn’t working. That means you should be asking a potential partner if they have technical engineers and analysts on staff. 

For more tips on how to find the right agency for your needs, check out this article that dives into types of marketing agencies and healthcare focus.

What kind of results can a hospital expect to see after working with a marketing automation agency?

An effective strategic partner will help a health system tie together both the consumer’s healthcare journey as well as their organizational objectives. That means they can help you better identify consumer needs and leverage this context to build out a strategy around messaging.  

Aside from creating and executing your strategy, Barlow explains that an agency that specializes in marketing automation for CRM will be able to measure the effectiveness of your program in a more holistic way:

“Understanding the full length of the patient journey means we can measure not just open rates, and click-through-rates of emails, but also if people called, scheduled an appointment, actually came in for the appointment, and beyond. We can tie it all together and measure the effectiveness of a communication plan with one overarching view.”

Ready for more effective and actionable communication strategies for your healthcare organization? You can connect with Healthgrades and other automation marketing agencies to improve your patients’ experience and your organization’s impact on MarTech.Health.


Healthgrades is dedicated to empowering stronger and more meaningful connections between patients and their healthcare providers. Healthgrades combines the ability to motivate the right people to seek treatment, connect them with the right providers and systems, and inspire their long-term loyalty by supporting ongoing engagement and quality care. With our enterprise-wide, intelligent engagement platform, Hg Mercury, we help our health system clients accelerate growth, extend patient lifetime value, and increase patient acquisition and retention. At Healthgrades, better health gets a head start.

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