By Tali MacKay and Alexander Jutkowitz 

An old adage decrees: “Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re healthy.” This is also an instructive message for anyone vested in the healthcare communications sector. A recent PwC report identified some of the biggest issues facing healthcare for 2014. Among them: social, mobile, and cloud computing; embracing new technologies; and rethinking key roles in the 21st century. Healthcare might not be ‘sick,’ but it could be healthier. [caption id="attachment_1669" align="alignright" width="150"]Tali Mackay Tali Mackay[/caption] From creating compelling stories, to embarking upon fresh and engaging campaigns, to leveraging new information as it becomes available, and acting as a tech leader, healthcare—now more than ever—needs to be exceptionally interesting, relevant, and digital. That means dedicating concrete efforts to tracking and investing in new communications opportunities as they unfold. Here are four of the biggest and most exciting trends that healthcare marketers ought to have stakes in: 1. Create great content. Marketers in the healthcare realm are wise to find and hone a unique, compelling voice that stands out from the monotone echo chamber of run-of-the-mill health-related content. Be useful and interesting. Take a stance. Be a compelling authority. Just because the healthcare realm isn’t traditionally associated with riveting written content doesn’t mean that it oughtn’t be. There are great stories to be told, full of cutting edge technology, scientific breakthroughs, miraculous recovery, and most importantly, pathos. Whether it’s 140-character insights, interactive long-form pieces, or viral-worthy Tumblrs, crafting and publicizing great content isn’t just a wise idea. Leveraging healthcare stories is a must—especially as more patients gain access to information that was once exclusive to the health industry. Treatments, products, cost, and provider quality are just a few of the things now widely available to the public. The real strength lies in the stories we can tell from our unique vantage point.

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2. Get tech. Cloud-based health records. The explosion of big data. Mobile reporting and diagnostics. For the health industry, the technological revolution has nearly too many positives. But healthcare ought to be just as committed to protecting itself against the potential pitfalls that come with innovation. Whether it’s safe-guarding consumer information from hacking attempts and data breaches, or making sure to keep all patient information as private as possible, while allowing for the communication of vital info from healthcare provider to provider—the medical community needs to solve the problem of securing information against even the most vicious potential attacks. The health industry is essentially a tech industry, and it’s time to start acting accordingly. PwC found that 49% of patients would like to interact with their care providers via online chat or web portal—just imagine the results a live tweeting session with a nationally renowned doctor could accrue for a healthcare company or institution. The best bet is to embrace technological innovations while simultaneously securing the healthcare industry against catastrophes in the future, with the same rigor as today’s top tech companies.

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  [caption id="attachment_1312" align="alignleft" width="150"]Alexander Jutkowitz Alexander Jutkowitz[/caption] 3. Understand your data—and use it to your benefit. Big Data is everywhere and the healthcare industry, in particular, has experienced a windfall of information. While it can be easy to get bogged down in the numbers, truly understanding this data can be key to unearthing deeper insights, identifying patient and provider patterns, and learning more about the healthcare industry than ever before. With a working knowledge of data, the healthcare community can enhance productivity, cut down on costs, save lives, and encourage efficient resource use.  It can also help boost the industry’s public image. Employing skilled data scientists and analysts can equip providers with entirely new ways to interact with consumers and patients, while making the overall healthcare experience more convenient, mobile, and relevant. According to PwC, only 27% of physicians are encouraging patients to use mobile health apps. Apps are a great way to connect with consumers, share vital industry information, and put the surfeit of Big Data to good use.

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4. Ultra customizable marketing. The boom in data has supplied a new wealth of information about patients and customers. Aging and non-native speaking demographics, for instance, are growing at a rapid pace. With it, a clearly defined understanding of where more precise and specific healthcare initiatives are needed. The customization of communications programs to mirror the values, languages, and cultural norms of the intended audiences is a huge boon for healthcare marketing. Using this information enables institutions to communicate with their communities comprehensively, directly, and—most importantly of all—authentically. Using the demographic data that’s available, healthcare marketing and communications efforts can craft more effective and resonant messages for those it wishes to engage with.

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In the 21st century, healthcare shouldn’t follow the same formula it has in the past—and neither should its marketing efforts. Thanks to advances in mobile access, data analytics, and new technology, the healthcare industry can convey the truth: that its future isn’t run-of-the-mill, predictable, or outdated. It’s quite the opposite; the things unfolding in the healthcare realm are exciting, interesting, relevant, and yes, a whole lot more digital. It’s time to aim for a healthier, forward-looking approach to truly effective healthcare marketing. Tali MacKay is US practice leader of healthcare & SVP of Hill +Knowlton Strategies; Alexander Jutkowitiz is chief global strategist at H+K and managing partner at its subsidiary Group SJR. Graphics courtesy of Hill + Knowlton, see the full Healthcare Trends Infographic by clicking on the hyperlink.