Recent studies indicate that the average person’s attention span is a mere 8 seconds—down from 12 seconds a decade ago. (I actually answered two emails before finishing that sentence.)

Are you still with me?

With instant access to a wealth of information from numerous sources at our fingertips, we have become hyperconnected. Look around you in any hospital, be it at the coffee bar, in line at the pharmacy, or even during a consult—you’ll find patients who can’t keep their hands off their devices. Some even have to be reminded not to bring them into the surgical suite.

What does this mean for healthcare and healthcare marketing?

Let’s look at some recent research. A Pew Internet study suggests that hyperconnectivity isn’t all bad. The study discovered that among other things, being constantly connected is creating patients with life skills that include:

  • the ability to search for healthcare information online, discern the quality and veracity of the information and then communicate what they’ve found (referred to as digital literacy)
  • synthesizing (being able to bring together details from many sources)
  • the ability to distinguish between the “noise” and the message in the ever-growing sea of information

As a patient-centered industry, we must adjust to our patients’ hyperconnected lives in two ways:

  1. by getting wired
  2. by tailoring our messages and mediums to meet our patients’ desire for instant and relevant information

We must also give up two illusions:

  1. that consumers and patients are two different personas (they’re not)
  2. that patients don’t expect the same level of digital sophistication and connectivity that consumers have (they do)

As healthcare marketers, how can we engage patients living in our “on demand” culture?

Find out what they want

Patients want a personal and authentic connection and experience from their healthcare system. Digitally literate, they want to improve their lives and they expect their healthcare providers to help them do so.

That’s a tall order for healthcare marketers whose budgets are spread thin and the demand for measurable deliverables weighs heavy on their shoulders.

Westchester Medical Center Health Network is an organization that found a way to deliver patient-centered hyperconnectivity while addressing one of the biggest frustrations patients have—how to navigate a complex health system. Literally. By deploying a digital wayfinding and navigation system with indoor and true turn-by-turn maps, patients and caregivers actually know how to get from point A to point B. More than just a wayfinding app, this system is complete with visual clues, recommended parking locations closest to appointment locations and a most beloved feature—it guides patients back to their cars once an appointment is over.

Westchester Medical Center Health has blurred the line between consumer connected Google maps, Waze and Map My Run—and brought it to their patient-centered experience—giving patients a seamless connective experience from their daily life into their healthcare life.

Discover how they want it

It’s not just enough to be connected through technology. Patients want their connection to grab their attention and come to them through media rich in images, video and sound. Healthcare marketers spend a great deal of time creating content that is not being digested at a pace they hoped for. Some of that is due to content that is created to meet a deadline and a 750-word count. It falls flat and let’s be honest, it should. Patients demand the same level of storytelling and personal connection from their healthcare provider as they find on Snapchat or other media. They are sophisticated consumers and they can tell small talk from the real thing.

Patients crave personal and authentic connections with their providers and health systems. But how authentic is too authentic? As in our own life, every health system has challenges to overcome. It takes a brave system to address those issues head-on and challenge their community to do the same. An example of one of our healthcare clients doing this well is CarePoint Health—Bayonne Medical Center. After a major transition in the hospital, we helped the provider create a digital, Facebook and YouTube campaign to reinforce its commitment to the community. This personal and authentic approach was rewarded by patients spending hours digesting it and building a personal relationship with the hospital online. Don’t be afraid to make it real.

How can we persuade patients to look our way?

  • by being nimble and able to adapt the content we produce for various contexts and audiences
  • by creating and communicating quickly, authentically and responsibly
  • by sharing, sharing, sharing—using blogs, videos, photos and social media
  • by keeping up with how quickly and frequently our media world is evolving and developing

We are in an era where patients are always on. They are digital natives who relate their connectedness to their society and value system differently. Ideally, they are integrating their connectedness into their life to make it better. As healthcare marketers, we have the opportunity to interrupt them, grab their attention and use connectivity to create personal, authentic relationships like we’ve never been able to in the past.

We have 8 seconds. We can do it.