Print vs. digital: Which reigns supreme in patient education?

It is no secret that the profusion of digital devices in daily life has changed the way people perform certain tasks. Instead of asking for directions, travelers can bring them up on a smartphone. Rather than browsing retail storefronts for a deal, customers have discount products delivered to their doors. Even the medical industry has embraced the digital wave with electronic health records, population health management and many more forms of advanced data analysis.

However, the ongoing shift from print to digital media has forced healthcare marketers to face a number of critical issues: Which do patients respond to more, and where should advertisers spend their budgets to reap the most benefits? There are those who swear by each method as the only way for healthcare marketing services to turn razor-thin margins into comfortable revenue streams, but to reach a wide variety of patients, marketers may need to use similarly diverse materials.

The 'either/or' crowd
In a healthcare industry that is increasingly embracing coordinated care and clinical integration, it would seem that most marketing professionals would recommend a similarly inclusive approach to the print and digital materials they use. However, a significant portion still trumpets the horn that digital- or print-only campaigns can reach consumers.

Advertising Age claimed that digital materials offer patients search functionality, remote accessibility and interaction on a level that print cannot approach. On the other hand, HealthStyle Press argued that many consumers struggle to read long stretches of text on screens. Depending on the source, information regarding print or digital's effectiveness can seem contradictory, confusing and ultimately useless when trying to decide between the two.

Integrate materials for widespread success
Choosing between print and digital materials can seem like an impossible decision, but as the American Marketing Association explained, the whole debate may be a false dichotomy that draws attention away from a truly comprehensive approach to patient education - integrated campaigns with targeted uses of print and digital media.

The AMA noted that, instead of approaching the differences between print and digital being as weaknesses, a campaign that uses their strengths at the appropriate moments is more effective than either alone. While waiting at a hospital or doctor's office, a patient might pick up a brochure - something less easily ignored than a tweet or a YouTube commercial. That patient might be convinced by a call to action at the end of the brochure and visit a site to search for more information.

Each individual patient learns in a different way, and marketing materials need to reflect that in design and implementation. Not just any content will do, though - it takes a savvy marketing agency to fill both print and digital marketing materials with accessible language that patients understand and conveys relevant yet esoteric medical information.