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According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, almost 40% of adults in the U.S. are currently caring for an adult or child with significant health issues. These unpaid “caregivers” may come from a wide range of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, but they face similar challenges when it comes to making decisions that can significantly affect the health and wellbeing of their patients as well as their own lives.
While traditional healthcare marketing efforts have been focused primarily on educating and influencing patients, new research shows that family caregivers are often just as influential (if not more so) than patients when it comes to making choices about health providers, products and services. With a rapidly aging population contributing to an increase in caregivers, it’s vitally important for healthcare marketers to understand the behaviors, needs and interests of this audience.
Understanding how caregivers research, evaluate and make decisions for both their patients and themselves can lead to more effective ways of getting our messages out and improving brand recognition within this influential but underserved audience.
Caregivers Search for Health Information Online
One of the most interesting findings of the Pew study is that caregivers are more likely than the general population to search for health information online. Eighty-four percent of caregivers with internet access say they went online within the past year to research health topics such as medical procedures, health insurance and drug safety. And of those caregivers, 80% used a search engine.
Although the importance of maintaining a robust web presence is not new for marketers, regardless of industry, the Pew data underscores the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) when it comes to increasing exposure and driving qualified traffic. Organizations that rank highly in organic search have a greater chance of attracting information seeking users and then converting them into prospects, leads and then customers.
Juggernauts like WebMD and Wikipedia may get the lion’s share of these health-related queries, but there are many opportunities for smart organizations to improve their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) that relate directly to the products and services they offer. Through proper keyword research, active link-building, and the creation of useful, useable, authoritative content using their subject matter expertise, healthcare organizations can improve brand exposure and increase qualified upper-funnel traffic to their websites.
Caregivers Use Social Media
Caregivers often look to search engines to help them find medical information, but they’re also relying on social media, online groups and discussion forums to connect with other caregivers, get and give support, and exchange recommendations and tips on common challenges. In fact, social media use among adults ages 50-64 (the prime caregiving years) increased more than 400% from 2008 to 2012 (source).
And while Twitter and Facebook may be appropriate for sharing and getting support and recommendations from friends and family, caregivers may not always feel comfortable sharing personal health information on these semi-public platforms. A number of sites such as CareZone have recently launched that merge the community aspects of social media with tools for helping caregivers communicate in private groups and manage the care of a loved one.
Healthcare organizations have multiple opportunities to connect with caregivers through these social channels. Whether it’s advertising on social media or communities geared towards caregivers, creating and distributing relevant, engaging content through these same channels, or even building their own in-house tools and support networks for caregivers, the power of social sharing and engagement to build trust and generate interest can’t be ignored.
In addition to normal day-to-day care, a 2012 study by the AARP Public Policy Institute found that almost half of all caregivers are also in charge of performing complex medical or nursing tasks, such as managing multiple medications, providing wound care, dealing with special diets, and even operating specialized medical equipment. Unfortunately, those caregivers also reported that they’ve received little support or training from health professionals on how to perform these tasks, causing them added stress and worry about making a mistake.
Because of this unmet need, healthcare organizations have a great opportunity to target caregivers with additional training resources and content to help them learn how to manage these tasks effectively and reduce their stress. Whether it’s an application to help caregivers manage multiple medications, a detailed how-to guide for operating a complex piece of medical equipment, or sponsored real-world training classes aimed specifically at in-home caregivers, any way that you as an organization can make life easier for them and help them provide better care is an opportunity to create a positive association with your brand and products.
Caregivers Need Help Caring for Themselves
One of the biggest challenges facing caregivers is that they often spend so much time taking care of their patients that they have little time to take care of themselves. In addition to the stress associated with caring for (and worrying about) a loved one, they also often end up neglecting their own health and wellbeing due to the demands of caregiving. Things like getting enough exercise and sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and giving themselves time to re-charge end up taking a back seat to the day-to-day care of their patient. Add onto that the financial worries and time constraints of caregivers who also need to work full- or-part time jobs and you have a recipe for severe stress and burnout.
While caregivers may be reluctant to actively seek out personal help and respite, that doesn’t mean that health organizations can’t offer these types of services and information in order to address their needs. This might take the form of counseling programs aimed at helping caregivers navigate their own care, respite services that run in parallel with patient care or even pamphlets and online resources that show caregivers how to provide better care for their patients by proactively taking care of their own health and wellbeing. The idea that a healthcare organization cares about their health as well as their patient’s health is a powerful message and one that can help build trust and credibility.
When it comes to marketing to the growing caregiver population, the most important thing is to have empathy for their situation and to understand the significant role they play in their patient’s ongoing care and success. By understanding the daily challenges and decisions that affect the lives of caregivers (and their patients), you’ll start to identify how your organization can address those needs in ways that strengthen your brand and increase your exposure among this influential audience.
And since there’s a good chance that you might be called on to provide caregiving services to a friend or loved one at some point in your life, keep in mind how you would want to be treated and marketed to if you were in a similar situation. Ditch the pushy sales pitches. Forget the self-promotional marketing fluff. Be authentic. Be helpful. Because making life easier for caregivers is just good business.
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