Jan 25 2023
Megan Reschke

What’s Worse Than Misinformation in Healthcare Marketing? Doing Nothing When It Spreads.


It’s a tale as old as time (in the digital age): You wake up with a scratchy throat and a slight headache. At first, you ignore it—maybe it was those extra few minutes (okay, hours) of TikTok scrolling or the fact that your dog woke you up at 3:00am to go outside. Best to ignore those symptoms and get on with your day…right?

But they persist as the day progresses. You start to overthink. Likely a cold, maybe allergies—or did your friend say they thought they might have the flu? You initially resist the urge to turn to the internet for guidance, but eventually give in.

You type your symptoms into a search engine and are met with varying results. From websites claiming your symptoms indicate a problem far more extreme than what you’d imagined, to home remedies, to ads for at-home COVID tests, you’re bombarded with information. Amidst this overload, you find yourself wondering: What is true? And what can I trust?

Today, we’re exploring the issue of digital misinformation, why healthcare marketers should care, and what they can do to protect themselves from its implications.

Digital Healthcare: Key Stats Marketers Should Know

In an increasingly digital world, more and more people are turning to the internet to meet their healthcare needs. Whether they’re looking for information about specific symptoms, researching available treatments for a new diagnosis, exploring options for healthcare providers, or reading up on how to live a healthier lifestyle, the internet has become a crucial part of how people take care of themselves.

Here are some key stats marketers should know about the current state of digital healthcare:

  • In 2022, the global digital health market was valued at 211 billion US dollars. It’s projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18.6 percent from 2023 to 2030.
  • A recent survey found that more than half of consumers use the internet to find and select a new primary care provider.
  • On this same survey, 58% of respondents said finding accurate information online about the provider influenced their choice.
  • A 2021 study found that 80% of patients prefer to use digital communications when interacting with healthcare providers and brands.
  • In 2022, over a third of patients (38%) reported receiving virtual care.

The takeaway? Digital healthcare is a growing sector, and one that will only become more significant in the years ahead.

The Threat of Misinformation

The catch to this explosion of digital healthcare? The simultaneous explosion of digital misinformation—an issue that’s doubly impactful to healthcare brands, given the personal (and sometimes highly politicized) nature of healthcare decision-making.

As misinformation has proliferated in recent years, the public’s understanding of the issue has grown, as well as their sentiments in favor of tamping down on the threat. According to one 2021 Gallup poll, 59% of US adults say tech companies should take measures to restrict online misinformation, while 48% say the US government should take those same measures.

All in all, misinformation is a threat that digital marketers can’t ignore. But healthcare marketers in particular need to be proactive and intentional to protect their brands, avoid controversy, and advertise ethically.

Why Should Healthcare Marketers Care?

This might be obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway: All advertisers have a responsibility to advertise ethically. Misinformation has negative impacts on internet users, and advertising dollars spent on sites that peddle misinformation support that. In addition, consumers are concerned by the spread of misinformation: A recent study showed that 80% of consumers agree misinformation is a serious problem in digital media, and 73% of consumers feel unfavorably toward brands that have been associated with misinformation. 

In a 2022 McKinsey Health Institute survey, approximately 85% of total respondents rated mental and physical health as “very important” or “extremely important” to them. Health is a huge factor in determining happiness and overall quality of life, and people need reliable information to inform how they take care of themselves. So for healthcare marketers, misinformation is especially problematic.

Now, more than ever, consumers need to be able to trust the information they’re getting online when it comes to healthcare. And healthcare brands that are trying to build relationships with consumers need to be especially mindful of where their ads are displayed, what comments are generated on their social media posts, and other brand safety measures. How can you expect a consumer to trust you with their health and wellbeing when they just saw an ad for your brand on a website peddling misinformation? Or if a Facebook ad for your product is riddled with misleading comments?

When misinformation spreads about health-related topics, it’s both unethical and dangerous. Besides the moral implications of advertising alongside it, healthcare brands risk their reputations and consumer loyalty when their ads are shown in the context of mis- and dis-information.

For healthcare marketers, then, combatting misinformation should be a priority. But what should that look like? Let’s dive in.  

Strategies for Identifying and Addressing Misinformation

1. Be proactive  

Let’s start at the very beginning (we heard somewhere that it’s a “very good place to start”). Healthcare marketers can avoid the controversy of advertising alongside misinformation by crafting a strong brand safety plan. These plans might include:

  • blocklist of sites that are known to house questionable or misleading content
  • OR an allowlist of sites—which means your ads are served only on sites you have deemed safe
  • Topic exclusions that enable your brand to avoid highly politicized or controversial themes
  • Sensitive subject exclusions to ensure your ad isn’t displayed alongside upsetting subjects
  • Content exclusions for channels that might be too difficult to effectively monitor
  • Strategic partnerships: NOBL, for example, allows brands to align their values with their programmatic media buys, target high-quality content, and avoid funding misinformation

2. Monitor consistently

Advertisers know their jobs aren’t finished when a campaign goes live. In healthcare marketing, this is especially true. The most effective campaigns are those that are closely monitored and optimized based on data and trends.

This monitoring for misinformation might look different based on the channel(s) you’re advertising on. For programmatic media buys, given the vastness of inventory available and the speed at which these buys occur, it’s important to have a plan to pay attention to where your ads are being placed and the content they’re running alongside. For social media, monitoring likely includes looking through posts, comments, and other activity to ensure your page or post isn’t a host for unclear, untrue, or misleading information.

Though it might feel overwhelming to plan for this degree of monitoring, the alternative is far worse. Healthcare marketers cannot afford to lose audience trust, damage their brand’s reputation, miss out on revenue, or contribute to the toxic and potentially dangerous spread of misinformation related to peoples’ health.

3. Remain agile

Finally, marketers can’t make strategic adjustments if they aren’t agile.  

What this agility might look like, however, will vary depending on the situation. If you realize your ads are running alongside misinformation via programmatic buys, it might involve updating blocklists or allowlists, adjusting creative, and removing assets from sites. For social media, it could include deleting comments, actively addressing misinformation, or even removing posts.

Whatever the case, it’s critical that healthcare marketers have the flexibility to respond when these instances occur. Ignoring them or turning a blind eye could prove harmful for your brand, and for your potential consumers.

That said, it can be a challenge to stay quick on your feet in today’s fragmented and complex media landscape. One solution that can enable agility is advertising automation technology. In particular, tools like workflow automation software can streamline the media buying process, freeing up the time healthcare marketers need to make adjustments on the fly.

Wrapping Up: Stay in the Know, So You Can Fight Misinformation and Build Trust with Consumers

All advertisers want to build connection with consumers. For healthcare marketers, trusting and meaningful relationships are especially critical. One way healthcare marketers can ensure they’re building this trust is by proactively addressing misinformation when it arises (and, even better, having consistent systems in place to do so!). In doing so, they can prioritize relationships with their consumers, build brand trust and loyalty, and help to foster a safer digital environment.

The developing issue of misinformation is just one example of why advertisers need to be up to date on what’s happening in digital advertising. But researching and finding the best content can take time and resources that not everyone has.

Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Each month, we put together Basis Scout, a digest of top digital content and news. It’s a great way to stay up to date on misinformation and other evolving topics in the world of digital advertising.

Sign Me Up!