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5 Tough Questions: Content and Creative Services in Healthcare


Waiting Bench Outside Of Examination Room

“Playing catch-up” — that might be the quickest way to describe the current state of content marketing in the healthcare industry.

From outdated clinical content to overstretched in-house teams to multichannel distribution, there’s a strong chance healthcare marketers feel like the odds are starting to stack against them. It may be time to seek out some help.

For a second opinion, we pulled in Nicole Williams of RRD Healthcare Solutions and Patrick Karker of RRD Content and Creative Services to discuss the current state of healthcare content as well as where they see it heading. Here’s what they had to say:

How is the current state of healthcare content falling short for members?

Patrick Karker (PK): There are two dominant trends in healthcare content. First, there are many pockets of content that haven’t been updated and refreshed, so there’s a need to modernize that content and make it more hip and relevant to readers. Second, there’s an overwhelming proliferation of content, and marketing teams are pressured to produce. There’s a push toward personalization with health plans, and this is driving a demand for tailored content.

Nicole Williams (NW): We live in a world where the consumer has multiple ways to consume content, and those methods of consumption continue to grow while distribution channels continue to widen. Content must be versatile and distributed in multiple formats, whether online, via email, through social channels or other digital elements. Not to mention, print plays into all of this. And, we know plans have a competitive advantage when they can talk to their members in a one-to-one way, so there’s a growing demand for content that is segmented and individualized.

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In what ways are health plans struggling with content creation?

PK: Larger entities are struggling with the demand for personalized, relevant content that speaks to individual members. They’re also wrestling with how to execute content efficiently across multiple platforms using different vendors and in-house teams. We’re seeing a number of small in-house teams challenged to generate on-brand content that is approved by CMS (The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services).

NW: Plans are also struggling with version control. They are in a regulated, compliance-driven environment and their partners must be on track with the latest version. It sounds simple, but it’s not. One of the ways we’ve helped our clients is by providing them with content that we know is going to get through CMS compliance. Having a partner that gets it can help collapse turn times so plans can get materials to market.

PK: A lot of this is very tactical and process-driven. With the volume and demand for content today, we must remember that healthcare organizations are dealing with specific, intricate plan information related to individual members and specific scenarios. They have tight timelines. Fundamentally, plans need a sound, tactical workflow process and approach in place paired with the resources that can deploy projects effectively.

For health plans outsourcing their content and creative services work, what kind of upside are they seeing?

PK: We need to be careful with the term outsource. Many times, in-house teams control the front end of processes. We look at how we can complement and plug in to existing infrastructure and teams. And, there are a few ways to do that. For larger organizations with infrastructure in place, they might need help implementing a process where a partner can create those versions and write copy, find the right imagery, and format files before handing them off to an in-house team.

NW: An ability to resource-up so organizations can expand or contract based on their needs is a real benefit. In many ways, healthcare is highly seasonal. It’s easier for our clients to push overflow work to us rather than creating a posting for a full- or part-time employee.

Also, having a partner that is tightly connected to the industry is important. Oftentimes, pieces are designed by someone in a bubble, and while they might look great, they are not executed in an economical, efficient way. Working with a creative partner who understands what it takes to actually get these pieces into the mail stream is essential.

Regarding healthcare-specific content marketing, what do you see on the horizon?

NW: Health plans are looking to be more proactive. For example, when they recognize their constituents speak another language, a translated version of the content is created. We’re seeing plans go beyond just translating the words on the page, but actually designing a piece that aligns with different cultures’ constituents. We refer to that as transcreation.

PK: Plans are trying to create more material for more channels. There are regulated printed pieces, but there’s complimentary material placed on a member portal or distributed and linked out through email. So, it’s about being proactive by giving end-users multiple ways to look at materials, and taking a layered approach with print, digital and video.

More plans are embracing that content marketing needs to be part of the upfront thought process. They’re focusing more on how material is going to be distributed and presented to align with different member profiles and cultures.

For example, one plan we work with is engaging with expectant mothers based on scenarios they can relate to. The team is reaching out to members individually via text to alert them of events and information. So, while most of what we are talking about is program-focused, there is also a sporadic, ad-hoc kind of approach where plans are trying to be flexible and really talk to members — have a conversation with them about what matters in their lives.

NW: There’s also a demand for greater transparency. The health plans we work with recognize this industry is complex. And, there is a lack of health care literacy. Plans are taking a critical look at their content to be sure it’s information their audiences can understand. We’re helping to write that content to help drive transparency and improve the member experience health plans deliver.

Based on your industry experience, in what capacity do most clients begin outsourcing their content and creative services?

PK: Some customers want to engage us for individual thought-leadership related to project-based work, and others partner with us to execute entire programs. Some want to plug in to our marketing and creative teams. There’s a mix that’s often dictated by the plan size or needs.

NW: We’ve had clients who are having a code red. They are dealing with compliance issues and it’s all hands on deck. We can step in and provide scale and resources quickly for those clients. But more often than not, clients have projects that need updating and there is a desperate need for fresh content. The bottom line is, health plans really should be looking for and insisting on working with partners that can provide the expertise and flexibility they need.


Nicole Williams is Director of RRD Healthcare Solutions and Patrick Karker drives business development for RRD Content and Creative Services.