Despite the proliferation of digital marketing, big data and new ways to measure the effectiveness of just about everything, marketing is still as much an art as a science. If you’re trying to reach healthcare decision makers, it takes a little of both – added together and multiplied by 10.

Why is healthcare so daunting? And how can healthcare startups disrupt a broken system if they can’t get valuable information to the right person at the right time?

Why is it so hard to reach healthcare professionals?

Healthcare professionals are busy.

When I visited several floors of a local hospital to interview bedside nurses, I got exhausted watching them. These angels are hurriedly caring for patients, not checking to see what’s trending on Twitter. These are high-touch individuals who don’t have time to check emails and surf the Net while at work.

Administrative nurses (e.g., CNOs, DONs) are busy, too, even if they don’t interact with patients on a daily basis. Doctors and PAs have tight schedules and may already feel conflicted about the time constraints of EHRs.

All of these folks are not exactly craving more time in front of a screen (a warm bubble bath is likely more appealing).

Healthcare providers purchase by committee.

Most healthcare systems have exhaustive purchase processes, as well as value committees comprised of front-line and shared services (e.g., operations, finance) employees. Getting in tight with an IT director may get you in the door, but in most situations, will only get you half way to the finish line. And if you think you have it figured out at one organization, it’ll be a completely different set of folks/titles somewhere else.

Large healthcare organizations make decisions slowly.

With a great deal of consolidation in the industry, healthcare providers and payers are getting bigger every day. Couple that with the need to keep patients safe, build trust and protect brands, these organizations move S-L-O-W-L-Y. Sales cycles can be lengthy and and frustrating for smaller, more nimble entities who want their voice(s) to be heard.

Healthcare organizations are subject to cyber threats.

For many years running, healthcare sits atop the list of the most hacked industries. According to Infosec Institute, healthcare is especially vulnerable because security systems are usually outdated and patient databases are valuable, containing names, social security numbers, addresses and financial information.

Health systems proactively provide cyber security training to employees to teach them how to avoid the pitfalls of phishing scams. With patient safety, earnings and reputations at risk, employees are paranoid of falling prey to a scam, often choosing to delete outside emails without opening them.

With all these obstacles, how do you break through the clutter and reach someone with a message they might actually want to hear?

Same goes with your target customer – the better you can define the audience you want to attract, the easier it will be to develop a plan that appeals. If you show up with a blender when your wife really wants a necklace for her birthday, it’ll be money down the drain (and a lost opportunity to earn her affection).

Wisely select the tactics you think will be best suited for those customers and prospects — and ensure they help you reach overall business goals. Pick the right occasion to deliver the goods.

Then measure. Tweak and repeat.

 Online advertising

Despite initiatives to fight cyber threats, there are still a variety of ways to catch the eye of a potential prospect online. Digital advertising includes display ads, Google ads, Facebook ads, sponsored tweets, contextual targeting, native advertising and retargeting. And that’s just the start. Media buyers can tailor your ads by geography, collect metrics throughout a campaign, and make adjustments to improve click-throughs to landing pages – where, of course, you can feed them interesting content and capture contact information (if all goes according to plan and you feed them content they want).

Journal advertising and publicity

Medical professionals still read trade journals. In fact, in a recent survey I fielded for a client, they called this out as trusted source of information for best practices, new treatments, technologies and overall useful information about their specialty.

Trade journals could be a great avenue to share information about your brand, run an advertorial that provides product-specific information, or feature the work of your CEO or engineers (through PR efforts).


There are nurse blogs, physician blogs, and even ones for health IT leaders. Narrow the field by knowing what your audience reads – then there are opportunities to advertise, comment or possibly contribute content. It may take some time and effort, but can be a less expensive way to be heard.

And don’t forget about your own blog. Even if readership is low, blogs are a great way to start curating content to target different prospects in their buying journey. If individuals with different expertise across your organization contribute content, you may pique the interest of diverse talent on that value committee. Just be sure to edit posts so they’re interesting and easy-to-digest.

Customer Application Specialists

If your target customer is nurses, then you might consider a Customer Application Specialists (CAS) as your messenger. Nurses prefer to hear about products and services from other nurses, versus salespeople. The CASs share information in a less threatening and more credible way: in-person, at events like lunches or happy hours (and who doesn’t like free food or beverages?).

The investment is not spare change. According to Cam Donovan, recruiter at CP Donovan Recruiting, “Salaries for positions start in six-figures, plus a bonus.”

Opt-in email

Despite the hurdles to reach decision makers via the inbox, email is still a low cost tactic to try. Beware of buying or renting lists from others, however. As Hubspot suggests, if the list were that great, the owner would keep it for themselves.

It’s always better to build your own list from scratch. This can be done by creating gated assets offered to prospects through digital campaigns and website visits. In return for the asset, they’ll offer their email address – for free.

Direct mail

One failsafe way to get around the inbox is to avoid going there in the first place. Direct mail diversifies the marketing approach, enabling companies to cut through the clutter and create high-impact touches that engage prospects and customers. While you have to play by the rules, it is still possible to send creative, eye-catching pieces that professionals can touch and feel. If direct mail solutions integrate with your sales and/or marketing automation software, you’ll be able to customize and tailor your campaign more effectively.


When I suggested fax as a tactical way to reach decision makers, my high tech client looked at me like I had three heads. But the reality is: this industry, at least for now, is still reliant on paper. Which means, of course, that fax is still alive.

Trade shows

Trade shows can be an effective way to market your products and services to health professionals, but it may come at a cost of time and money. A company like Health Catalyst uses a good chunk of its marketing budget to sponsor the Health Analytics Summit, a great venue to build credibility and share educational information.

If you don’t have to organize your own summit, you can attend one instead. There are tradeshows sponsored by bankers (like the JP Morgan healthcare conference) and publications (like Becker’s Hospital Annual Meeting). There are tradeshows for doctors of all specialties, nurses, IT specialists and administrators – check out this laundry list. Know your audience and choose wisely and you may have a unique opportunity to speak to folks who care.

Social media

Social media channels may be a great channel to share news about your products and services. Christina Kettman, author of The Social Media Cookbook and blog, suggests LinkedIn as a great tool for getting company exposure, as it tends to have a more business-like tone than other social media platforms. One of my clients found LinkedIn to be an effective way to reach healthcare personnel in leadership and/or administrative positions.


While everyone is inundated with newsletters, like email, it’s still a cost-effective channel to share information to customers and prospects. If the content is engaging and relevant, it may help move someone along the buyer journey. As you get more sophisticated in segmenting your own database, you can customize newsletters to get more opens and click-throughs.

You might also consider sponsoring a newsletter sent by another organization to which your audience has already subscribed. 


Especially if you are targeting a narrow geographic region with your product or service, it may be worthwhile to consider sponsoring local event(s) or team(s) as a way to build awareness and good will.


Reaching healthcare decision makers part art and part science – on steroids. At times, it may feel more challenging than painting the Mona Lisa and discovering electricity at the same time. But stay with it. Be patient. Don’t lose sight of the big picture, and pay attention to the details. The hard work will pay off, and the budget becomes more efficient in the process.



About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.