In my work building Bicycle Health and Virta Health, I've spoken to dozens of virtual healthcare startups, and we like to compare notes on what marketing channels are working and how they are working. Here is a quick summary of the channels.
Paid Facebook/Instagram has been the most common channel with the largest budgets in startups I've spoken with. Its a big audience, and the targeting is good enough to serve ads in a cost effective way. Some companies find success with Youtube and Tiktok. The most important part of all these channels is the creative, and most people are finding success with video creative created by an agency. Some people find success with influencer partnerships where the influencer will create content for the company's ads.
Paid Search (SEM)
Most all companies will run Google Search Ads, but what varies is how large a percent of the spend this is. For health situations that are often private or involve a lot of personal research, search will be the #1 online channel.
Organic Search (SEO)
Again depending on how searched the health topic is, SEO can be 'a little' important or 'very important'. If the topic area has a lot of searching, there is no excuse for not investing in organic search very early. You will regret later that you didn't. Organic search traction is a long process, so it is also quite defensible (unlike paid channels which are a more fluid and fast moving market for the highest bidder).
The playbook for organic search in the health vertical is fairly simple but also hard to execute because the 'bar' for content quality is very high. Common tactics are: FAQ answers, longer form health guides, and local pages. These are all common SEO practices (not just virtual healthcare). The key is to build an internal machine of content creation.
This channel is slower to evolve and generally requires some degree of traction and credibility. For virtual healthcare areas with few local options, this is likely to be a powerful channel over time. Setting this up is also a fairly manual 'hand held' process with partners, so it will involve quite a bit of outreach and nurturing of relationships.
Peer to Peer Referrals
The way peer to peer referrals are usually incentivized in many startups (eg. "get $20 for referring a friend") can be complicated or impossible to do in virtual healthcare startups given anti-kickback laws. That being said, peer to peer referrals will be a big channel as long as you treat your patients well. I haven't seen a health company yet with a well defined 'referral program', but I have seen many with peer to peer referrals as a large source of patient acquisition.
What I've heard hasn't worked
A few have tried, seen some traction, but nothing exciting. I'm sure some have figured it out.
Because Google doesn't allow healthcare remarketing, I haven't heard of anyone say it works for them.
Healthcare Specific Ad Platforms
I've know a few people who have tried out Pulsepoint as a display ad platform. They claim to offer targeting by health plan and even by health condition. It sounds like a powerful way to get your message in front of a relevant audience, but so far no one I know has seen success.
Happy to hear from others if you have had other experiences. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org