Through the span of COVID-19, the way people have sought out healthcare has completely changed. Being able to see a doctor from the comfort and safety of your own home was a far more favorable option to many people than venturing out into a medical office and risking the possibility of contracting a deadly virus, though many were not given the option to choose. Hospitals, as well as out-patient medical offices, saw non-COVID related visits decline substantially, while telehealth companies were reporting record-breaking usage. However, it isn’t zero-sum, as many of the missed doctor’s appointments, screenings, treatments, and testing needs were not able to be fulfilled by virtual care. Specialties that are reported to use telehealth the least are ones that rely on physical examination, such as allergists/immunologists, gastroenterologists and OB/GYNs. IQVIA reported that the net loss in physician visits, even taking into consideration the increase telehealth usage, was about 21%.
The reality for many healthcare organizations is that the pandemic caused many people to suspend the regular medical care they were receiving in the past, as well as many preventative measures such as cancer screenings and children’s vaccinations. The implications that have, and will continue, to result from this are boundless. Unfortunately, doctors predict substantial increases in the number of avoidable cancer deaths as a result of COVID-19-related diagnostic delays.
The subsequent business impact? Hospitals and other healthcare companies are reporting massive unprecedented revenue losses. While there was a period of time in some parts of the country when things seemed to be getting back to some semblance of “normal”, that is likely not going to be the case for the near-term future, as COVID cases are now increasing across the majority of the country. The point is, regardless of how it gets done (virtually or in-person), it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to ensure patients are addressing their health concerns, and not delaying medical treatment that needs urgent attention.
To help make sure this message gets effectively communicated to patients, marketing leaders in healthcare organizations should:
- Make it Easy: Help patients decide which option (virtual vs. in-person) is right for their particular situation, weighing their symptoms versus safety risk from COVID-19. Some hospitals have chatbot features with decision tree logic to help triage urgent cases. Also, for hospitals and pharmaceutical brands, ensure telehealth options are prominently featured in all patient-facing communications. In the Hospitals & Health Systems 2020 DIQ, although nearly all hospitals offered telehealth services on their sites, only 65% had virtual care promoted on their homepages, and only half of those were immediately visible when a patient landed on the site. When helping patients decide, make sure to include information about other factors they are considering, such as the cost differential, appointment availability, and quality of care. Take measures to help patients and HCPs get set up for success, by addressing frequently asked questions, showing video tutorials, and creating customer support channels dedicated to helping people use virtual care platforms.
- Make it Tailored: Patients are more likely to respond to marketing messages when they are more personalized, or tailored to their specific segment/disease. For example, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center ran a campaign called “Cancer Care Can’t Wait” urging cancer patients to continue their treatment or diagnostic screening, since it is a disease that is very dangerous to push off treatment for. Similarly, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer recently ran a campaign called “No Time to Wait”, to raise awareness of the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AFib), deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), and how seeking early medical attention is critical for better outcomes. Healthcare organizations should consider creating automated triggers to alert patients proactively when they are due for an appointment and use geolocation data to provide HCP options, who accept both in-person and telehealth appointments. When talking about in-person options, create direct links to pages that discuss the organization’s safety precautions to assure patients they are safe to come in.
- Make it Authentic: One of the most-cited reasons for resistance to virtual care is the perceived impersonal nature of it. Patients are more likely to trust authentic messages from their doctors, rather than promotional messages from a hospital or pharmaceutical company. To help patients feel a sense of urgency to get medical attention, consider creating templates or guides for HCPs to personalize, and share with their individual patients. Another tactic to consider is creating user-generated testimonials to promote the positive aspects of both virtual care as well as in-person care.
For more recommendations and case studies, check out Gartner’s recently published research Optimize Your Digital Marketing to Promote Telehealth in a Post-COVID-19 World (subscription required).