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It’s safe to say that no industry has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic more than the healthcare industry. This means that for healthcare marketers, 2020 was a series of challenges, and while 2021 is looking up, healthcare workers know there’s still a long journey back to normal.

Yes, the vaccines are rolling out, and cases are at their lowest point since March 2020, but the change in consumer behavior and the way people engage with healthcare brands will be long-lasting.

To identify the way patient behavior has changed over the last year and how it will impact their decision-making when it comes to finding healthcare providers, we conducted a study of over 4,200 US adults who have been involved in any healthcare research or decision making in the last 12 months to find out:

  • What factors influence their healthcare provider selection.
  • The impact the pandemic has had on healthcare consumers.
  • What strategies work best for effective healthcare marketing in 2021.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a teaser of the data we uncovered—to get the full scoop, download our exclusive report here.

1. Patients look for telehealth solutions more and more

As shutdowns and stay-at-home orders hit communities across the country, healthcare providers and health systems struggled to make the switch to accommodate virtual appointments. Offices that had never offered this service were forced to adapt quickly and learn the ins and outs of the technology while navigating the insurance side of telehealth.

Telehealth was already expected to grow by as much as 65% in 2020, but the pandemic accelerated that growth – in March there was a 154% increase in telehealth visits compared to March 2019.

The use of telehealth and virtual visits increased exponentially in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.


The use of telehealth and virtual visits increased exponentially in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and our data shows that patients are happy with this change.

In fact, of those who have used telehealth, patients were satisfied with their experience, and for both Gen Z and millennials, having telehealth options is the top driver behind their decision on who they choose as their primary care provider.

This means that your healthcare system should be incorporating information about your telehealth options into your marketing messaging and campaigns. Share details about ease of use, make scheduling simple, and emphasize the convenience factor for your patients

2. Patients respond more to emotional drivers than functional drivers

When it comes to choosing a healthcare provider, we know that there is a mix of both emotional and functional factors that impact consumer decision-making. When it comes to the emotional factors, our study found that feeling like a priority and compassion topped the list, while quality care and quality outcomes were the top functional drivers.

healthcare marketing 2021 - drivers for patient decision making


While these factors aren’t necessarily surprising, what is surprising is that when you compare the emotional and functional factors, feeling like a priority and compassion were more important than quality physicians on the functional side, which speaks to the way many consumers lead with emotion when making healthcare decisions.

It’s important to incorporate emotional pieces into your healthcare marketing by sharing patient stories, highlighting the way your physicians care for patients, and touching on the areas that prospective patients care most about: Feeling like a priority and compassion.

3. Patients haven’t returned to their primary healthcare providers…but they want to

As the pandemic raged on, many people began neglecting their regular healthcare appointments. Some preventive care measures like mammograms declined as much as 80% at the onset of the pandemic.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there has been a decline in patients seeking preventive care.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there has been a decline in patients seeking preventive care.


Collectively, there has been about a 30% decline in preventive care and screening, which healthcare officials warn could place patients in danger long term.

While many consumers have not yet returned to their primary healthcare providers, our study found that just under 80% would like to incorporate primary care into their self-care routine post-pandemic.

We also found that there’s an opportunity to attract new patients to your primary healthcare facilities as nearly half of respondents have been with their primary providers for less than three years. Additionally, we found that Gen Z and millennials are more likely to switch primary care providers in the next 12 months, with 61% of millennials and 56% of Gen Zers saying they are “extremely or somewhat likely” to make a switch.

If you can target these groups with your healthcare advertising and play into their top emotional drivers—feeling like a priority and compassion—you can entice them to your practice post-pandemic.

healthcare marketing 2021 - primary care


4. There’s a renewed focus on mental health and self-care

Prior to the pandemic, a shift toward mental health and wellness was growing, and many healthcare brands were prioritizing their service line offerings to provide valuable resources to patients. The challenges of the pandemic – including social distancing from friends and loved ones and the economic downturn has only increased the call for mental health care in the US.

One poll notes that Americans’ mental health is at a new low amid the pandemic, and another survey found that over 40% of respondents reported an adverse mental health condition during the pandemic.

There's been a shift toward more focus on mental health and wellness as many people have been experience heightened anxiety during the pandemic.


Our study found that healthcare consumers agree that an emphasis on mental health is important with over 60% preferring to choose healthcare providers who care about patients’ physical and mental health.

This growing focus on self-care provides another way for healthcare providers to connect with consumers through content focused on self-care. Our study found that many consumers, especially Gen Z and millennials, are consuming content around self-care multiple times per week or even daily.

Create self-care content for your Gen Z and millennial audience to share on social media, your YouTube channel, and on your blog or website. And, don’t forget to run display advertising to drive more people to your content.

healthcare marketing 2021 - mental health


Branded content is another important strategy for sharing this type of content as 90% of people prefer premium news and publishing sites when consuming healthcare-related content online.

5. Patients’ perception of healthcare workers has changed

Obviously, we can’t talk about data from 2021 without mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic, which has very clearly impacted healthcare above almost any other industry.

One point our study found enlightening, though, was around the perception people have of healthcare workers. Nearly half of respondents said their perception of doctors and nurses improved since the start of the pandemic. And, if you break down the data by demographic, the percentage was even higher for millennials and boomers.

healthcare marketing 2021 - healthcare heroes


This data speaks to the effectiveness of Healthcare Heroes campaigns that illuminate the brave physicians, nurses, and healthcare employees who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Healthcare Heroes campaigns can continue shining a positive light on your staff as well as influencing the perception of healthcare workers for your audience. Branded content and video can make these pieces really stand out and shine, and by sharing these assets on your social media pages, you can encourage more reach and engagement.

The data on healthcare marketing in 2021

Healthcare marketing will continue to evolve as consumer behavior and our current health crisis evolves. By analyzing the ways that patient behavior shifted since 2020, you can create a healthcare marketing strategy for 2021 that continues connecting with patients, builds emotional connections with your community, and positions your healthcare brand as a trusted resource.

For help creating the right healthcare marketing strategy for your brand and to get the full breakdown of our data, reach out to one of our healthcare marketing experts today.

Want more data? Get 2023 search advertising benchmarks for healthcare here.

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