It’s no secret that digital marketing is essential to the success of businesses across a range of sectors. Although it might surprise you to learn that the medical and healthcare industry is also included in this list, and nowhere near the bottom. The catch for marketers is that digital healthcare advertising content must follow specific industry guidelines. This means extra care must be taken when creating marketing and advertising content for healthcare businesses.
In this blog, we’ll be breaking down everything you need to know about digital marketing in the medical sector.
Private healthcare in the UK
The United Kingdom is among a select group of countries that offers a form of universal healthcare, in this case the NHS. While this is the case, it doesn’t mean there aren’t a wealth of private healthcare services too. Most of these providers will target a specific type of treatment, such as sexual health medications. The niche nature of the products and services is a major strength when it comes to marketing and advertising efforts. Sometimes, private healthcare providers will offer the same services as is available through public means, just without the waiting times.
Providers of private healthcare function in the same way as businesses. They are seeking to generate revenue through the sale of products and services, while attracting and retaining customers. While we are relatively accustomed to accessing healthcare, many of us have come to expect more and more convenient ways to do so. This has led many healthcare businesses, particularly pharmacists, to have an increased online presence.
In the UK, all licensed pharmacists must follow certain procedures to sell prescription drugs. This includes both over the counter medication and pharmaceutical products sold online. To be a registered service, the pharmacy must:
- Be registered with the National Pharmacy Association
- Have a registered pharmacy number
- Be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council
- Be registered with the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
When it comes to advertising medicine and pharmaceutical products in the UK, guidelines are outlined by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). These bodies exist to ensure the safety of patients and professionals within the industry. Their jurisdiction therefore extends to healthcare marketing efforts, as it’s not an understatement to say that advertising misinformation has the potential to be deadly.
Rules and regulations around healthcare advertising
As you might have guessed, the guidelines around marketing healthcare products are very comprehensive. The ABPI Code of Practice, which is administered by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), states ‘a medicine must not be promoted before the grant of the marketing authorisation which permits its sale or supply’.
Along with the sale being approved, there are other requirements for the medical sector marketing which are enshrined in law. The areas below have been grouped together by considering rules from various official bodies.
Advertisers typically utilise comparisons and a measure of hyperbole to sell products. It’s a tried and tested strategy which has proven effective over decades. However, pharmaceutical advertisers must be careful not to adopt this approach. The GMC says that any statements made in relation to pharmaceutical products should be done without ‘exaggerating its properties’. This includes substantiating any special qualities and avoiding sweeping claims. As such, hyperbole is best left out of any pharmaceutical advertising material.
Furthermore, comparisons are not allowed unless they can be substantiated. For example, any tables, graphs, or datasets must be referenced clearly. Substantiated comparisons must also not disparage other medical professionals or competitors.
Advertisements for medicines must make the nature of the product clear. In other words, anyone viewing the ad must be aware that the product being advertised is a medication designed to treatment certain illnesses or symptoms. Advertising features to comply with this requirement include:
- An invitation for the reader to check the medicine’s active ingredients.
- Information about the correct and safe use of the medicine.
- Clear indication of any conditions that come with the medicine’s use. For instance, if a diagnosis is needed before self-treatment can be undertaken.
- Neutral tone.
Regulations outline that any promotional material put into circulation by pharmaceutical companies must be certified by a registered pharmacist or other medical professional in the UK.
Advertising to the public
One of the most important rules to be aware of is that UK organisations cannot promote prescription-only medication to members of the public. Of course, B2B style marketing can get around this by targeting other healthcare professionals. However, when advertising online there’s no way to guarantee that members of the public aren’t being exposed to and affected by pieces of content.
An exception to this rule comes when advertising approved vaccination products, such as the Covid-19 vaccine and lateral flow tests. There is also a list of permitted medicines which are legally classified for pharmacy sale (P), as well as a General Sale List (GSL).
Finally, there are rules that dictate how marketing content for pharmaceutical products can be shared across certain digital channels. This includes email marketing, as well as methods of distribution on the wider internet. The main requirement is the presence of a prominent link that provides evidence of where the information has come from.
How to advertise for the healthcare industry
Digital marketing in healthcare poses a unique challenge for advertisers. This is primarily due to efforts to comply with the regulations outlined above while also ensuring that the material stands out. Limitations are also present as you have limited flexibility when it comes to content layout and employing valuable tactics such as comparisons. Nevertheless, there are options for executing an effective healthcare digital marketing strategy.
Pay per click (PPC) advertising
Pay per click advertising can overcome one the main obstacles with marketing healthcare businesses – reach. Oftentimes, people searching for the relevant keywords will end up being presented with official reports or sources from elsewhere in the scientific community. PPC has the ability to target consumers based on various aspects, including:
Retargeting is one of the most effective marketing strategies used by ecommerce sites to generate recurring leads. It works off the assumption that if someone has purchased from you before, they are likely to again if they had a good experience. Retargeting reminds past customers of their positive experience with your brand while, traditionally, offering a small incentive to repurchase.
When it comes to medical advertising however, content should not imply any knowledge of the individual’s personal information as this would be a breach of user confidentiality. Furthermore, major ad platforms such as Facebook and Google have their own regulations around healthcare retargeting.
Don’t rush content
From experience, we know that consistency is key when it comes to effective content marketing. This means creating regularly, whether it’s blogs, social media posts, emails, or paid advertisements. This can lead marketers and copywriters to feeling like they have to rush to complete a large amount of pharmaceutical content regularly.
Time should be taken to reduce the risk of mistakes and inaccuracies. Firstly, these can damage the reputation and authority of the pharmaceutical brand. As many marketers will know, this can have knock-on effects on lead generation and sales. However, any medical advertisements that are found to be in breach of the regulations will also incur significant penalties. This comes in the form of monetary fines.
Experienced healthcare digital marketing agency
Senior healthcare professionals will be required to ensure any advertising material is compliant. However, this can be a drain on resources when you already have to devote significant time to running your own medical practice or pharmaceutical clinic. Deliver Media have years of experience working with a variety of healthcare professionals to promote their life changing products and services. As such, our team know how to create and implement an effective medical advertising campaign that follows all the relevant guidelines. Contact us today to discuss your business needs.