5 strategies for putting mHealth to work at your hospital

Hospitals aren't doing nearly enough to take advantage of the marketing value of smartphones and other mobile devices. Developing apps, securing tablets and connecting all of your various devices is important, but won't necessarily bring in new business to your facility.

So I dug into the new study, "Mobile Healthcare Marketing: Prescriptions for Health and Wellness on the Go," by eMarketer researcher Victoria Petrock. The study provides some key tips for putting your mHealth marketing plan in motion, such as:

Create apps that deliver your best content. Apps are among the most efficient channels for delivering your fitness, wellness and chronic disease management information to patients, Petrock says. She uses WebMD as an example of smart app development, having created the über-popular Symptom Checker app that allows consumers to research symptoms, conditions and treatment options. What made it work? WebMD carefully distilled reams of symptom/treatment information from its the larger websites into a simple calculator that was mobile-friendly, she says. Marketers must tailor their most popular content for not only the small screen on a smartphone, but also the short timeframe most mobile users are online.

"Rather than migrating an entire desktop site to the mobile platform, carefully cherry-pick the most relevant content and develop sites and apps that are intuitive, uncluttered and easy to use," Petrock recommends.

Get that mobile website going. The most recent data, from a May 2011 Acsys study shows that while just under 13 percent of hospital marketers already have a mobile-friendly website, more than 46 percent plan to build one in the near future.

"Mobile websites present a variety of marketing opportunities," Petrock says. "Not only do they enable portable data access at the point of need, they can also become a central hub for promotion and educational outreach campaigns." Petrock recommends marketers drive users to the mobile website in all their other advertising channels, from radio to TV to outdoor billboards.

Tackle the social media connection. Create a mobile-web version of your site that can link to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Social media offers hospitals "a greater chance of connecting with users who are sharing information and engaging with target messages there," Petrock says.

Stop dallying on text messaging. Recent studies have shown consumers are excited to receive health messages by text, "but most [healthcare] organizations aren't using them," Petrock says. One example of a successful campaign: Pharmaceutical chain Walgreens found its text messaging program to notify patients that their prescriptions were ready "completely outstripped the growth we've seen for people wanting that same message via email," Walgreens CTO Abhi Dhar tells eMarketer.

Consider QR codes. Quick response codes may be controversial, but "they enable consumers and healthcare professionals to access information about healthcare conditions, medications and other products--at the point of need--without having to enter long URLs into their mobile browser," Petrock notes. Here's how they work: Users take a picture of mobile bar code in an ad or on printed literature, and are automatically directed to a website for more information on a product, treatment, or other information. - Sara (@FierceHealthIT)