COVID-19 has changed the way the world operates. That’s especially true in healthcare, which has entered the global spotlight but also been forced to change its entire operating procedure amidst the biggest pandemic in more than 100 years.
Finding safe ways to treat and consult with patients has been a consistent challenge since early 2020. And yet, that challenge also has brought some significant opportunities. Being forced to change marketing strategies and business models on the spot has led medical practices across the spectrum to rethink their status quo, with potentially long-lasting effects.
It’s been a constant learning curve, of course. But, with vaccines finally on the horizon, it’s time to look towards the future. Learnings over the last nine months can turn into crucial ways to improve the way you attract, interact with, and treat your patients.
In fact, 84% of physicians now believe that there will be lasting changes to the way they practice medicine after COVID-19. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more significant ways in which that’s already happening.
Moving Towards (and Marketing) a Telehealth Environment
It only took a global pandemic to completely turn around patient perceptions of telehealth. As the Harvard Business Review pointed out in a recent article, attitudes have shifted from “this provider must not think my problem is important” to “this provider cares enough about me to want to keep me safe.”
- 67% of clinicians and patients now view virtual appoints as positive.
- 60% of patients want to keep using technology to meet with their medical provider even after the pandemic.
The takeaway is clear. Now is the time to build an infrastructure that doesn’t just put a Band-Aid on appointments until in-person visits are possible again, but integrates virtual appointments as a core offering even once the pandemic’s impact begins to lessen.
Fortunately, the nine months of the pandemic have offered plenty of lessons on how to best offer telehealth opportunities to your patients. It starts with a website that clearly advertises the process, making it intuitive to request the moment someone visits your website. But you can also go further.
Advertising the option for telehealth is key. Even after the pandemic, the ability to visit with a medical provider virtually may remain an important differentiator between your practice and others.
Sinai Health System in Chicago, for instance, has begun to use mobile messaging platforms and social media channels to provide consultations that might not rise to the level of a full appointment. Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, which saw its telehealth visits increase from 7,000 to 63,000 in April alone, used its social media channels and digital ads to drive visitors towards this alternative.
Building a Library of Online Resources
COVID-19 also had another amplification effect in existing digital patient behaviors. We already knew before this year that people love to browse for health information. Last year, Google announced that 7% of its searches are health-related, which comes out to an astounding 1 billion searches every day.
But that was only the beginning. As the pandemic began to affect people’s lives, health-related searches soared far beyond that number.
The good news is that your practice can react effectively through your website. Even before they make an appointment, your users will be interested in general information about your area of focus. The general population tends to trust doctors, and you can leverage that trust to turn your website into a resource database for health-related topics.
Take the Perico Group as an example. A Periodontics clinic with four locations around Boston, it has built out its website to become much more than just a way to learn about its services or request an appointment. Resources available for free to every visitor include:
- Frequently asked questions about periodontal exams and surgeries.
- Care instructions for patients before and after surgery.
- Basic information about periodontal disease.
- An entire section on continuing education for both current and aspiring professionals.
- A blog that covers current and evergreen topics in this dentistry field.
None of this content is exclusive or reserved for patients. It’s freely available for everyone, offering a crucial service to the Perico Group’s target audience while also leveraging the benefits of content marketing and SEO. Though the need for these types of online resources has become more urgent with fewer face-to-face doctor visits, these benefits will not disappear anytime soon, pandemic or not.
Prioritizing Your Doctors’ Online Reputation Management
Word of mouth marketing has taken on a renewed importance during the pandemic, with more users than ever talking to each other about product and service recommendations. That might seem counterintuitive, given the decreased personal contacts and get-togethers. But it’s exactly what Media Post found in a research article published this August.
Within the medical industry, word of mouth is closely connected with actual patient care. But it also includes online reputation management, the ability to ensure that your practice is as well-represented through patient reviews online as possible. And that’s exactly where a focus point during and after the pandemic can lie.
You need to make sure that both your physicians and your practice as a whole has as many five-star reviews as possible. But that doesn’t just happen through excellent care. Instead, medical practices across the country are gaining an advantage now by laying the foundation for successful reputation management post-pandemic.
Getting to that point means making sure that you know exactly where your patients are leaving reviews, from Google to doctor directories like WebMD. It also means being proactive, encouraging satisfied patients to leave positive reviews rather than simply hoping that they will. Finally, it means responding professionally and thoughtfully to negative reviews, turning dissatisfied patients into potential return visitors.
Getting Creative With Giveaways and Promotional Items
Let’s be honest: you probably don’t associate your marketing practice too closely with promotional items as a key marketing strategy. Sure, you might give out branded pens now and then, but that is likely the extent of this tactic.
Once again, COVID-19 is changing the game. Take the Weil Foot & Ankle Institute as an example. After the pandemic began, the practice began to order custom-branded face masks for both its patients and its doctors. That, in turn, accomplished two things at the same time:
- Doctors were able to silently promote the Institute, both while taking care of patients and in their private lives.
- Patients were able to promote the practice as well, and were likely to do so because the item in question was actually useful in the current situation.
Experts now predict that face masks will be required or recommended until at least 2022, even after the introduction of vaccines. That makes face masks a more long-term promotional item than you might think. But even beyond that, it might be time to explore promotional items once again. Branded hand sanitizers, for instance, could be a giveaway that your audience can actually use, reminding them of your practice’s name and logo in the process.
Communicating the Safety of Your Operations
Even when the pandemic is over, it will have a lasting impact on our collective psyche for years (if not decades) to come. As outlined in a recent article by BBC, experts predict a lasting increase in anxiety as well as perceptions of safety (or lack thereof). As a result, it’s difficult to imagine going back to a world in which a year from now, normal operations have resumed in your practice as if 2020 never happened.
The more realistic future is one in which medical practices of all sizes have kept the safety practices that originated during COVID-19 in place. That means fewer people in buildings, more frequent and thorough cleaning, more significant protective equipment, and more.
Patients, scarred emotionally by the pandemic, will appreciate practices who keep their safety a top-level priority. That’s why communication will become almost as important as implementing the practices themselves. If you can tell and show your current and future patients who safe you can keep them, you will gain their trust.
This summer, Jefferson Health in Philadelphia pioneered this communications and marketing approach in the midst of the pandemic. Its The Numbers Tell Our Story campaign focused on visuals, simple stats, and short paragraphs to outline exactly how the organization was keeping both personnel and patients safe. This open, clear communication about its safety measures offers important lessons for healthcare practices looking to build the same level of trust both during and after the pandemic.
Ready to Prepare for a Post-Pandemic Environment?
COVID-19 still dominates daily headlines, and keeps all aspects of the healthcare industry in a constant state of flux. That said, the lessons learned now can actually provide a crucial bridge into a future that will look nothing like the industry and world we remember in 2019. Preparing for that environment now could make all the difference in attracting patients while accomplishing your mission of care.
That may sound daunting, especially given the day-to-day challenges still present today. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be, because you don’t need to be on your own. Contact us to discuss a potential partnership to build a long-term marketing strategy for your practice to thrive.
Written by Andrew Epprecht
As the Founder and CEO of Phase 5 Analytics, Andrew leads a team of healthcare marketers and consultants. He's been featured in publications like Forbes and Search Engine Watch. An entrepreneur at heart, Andrew started his first business in high school. While attending Duke University, he further developed his knowledge of online marketing and advertising. Today, Andrew uses these skills to help forward-thinking healthcare organizations attract new patients online.