Healthcare Marketing During COVID-19
In the best of situations, most healthcare marketers wear multiple hats in their organizations: whether they double as PR professionals, practice managers, or physician recruiters, even on a normal day, there are a lot of priorities to manage. In our current situation, healthcare marketers are working to triage the new realities of the day, while responding to huge shifts in patient behavior and daily changes in recommendations and policy from the CDC, CMS and even the President of the United States.
As a healthcare digital marketing agency, we are not in the trenches with our incredible healthcare providers that are fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we have been creating and mobilizing strategies to help our clients update their websites and digital marketing strategies to keep messaging consistent and help our communities stay informed.
In a time where things are changing not just day to day, but even hour to hour, we wanted to share the strategies we are implementing with clients right now to help manage their marketing programs in a time of uncertainty.
1. Evaluate existing campaigns and make sure messaging is consistent and helpful in the current context.
If you are running advertising campaigns now, make sure that you or your agency reviews each one to determine if the messaging meets the actual operations of your organization during the COVID-19 outbreak. Print or direct mail campaigns may already be out the door, and that’s OK, but the great benefit of digital is that you can update your ads and messaging at any time.
For example, if you are running ad campaigns for elective procedures that need to be performed in hospital, such as bariatrics or orthopedic surgery, you likely need to shift messaging. A lot of patients are at home right now, working or not, and may be doing research. Switch to a brand awareness approach, rather than trying to get patients in the door right away for a surgical consult.
This is a screenshot we took of an ad on March 20th, 2020. This ad probably needs to be paused now that the U.S. Surgeon General, the CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are calling for all elective surgeries to be postponed.
Search ads could be updated to promote the program to patients researching for the future, rather than encouraging patients to "Schedule an Appointment Today." The messaging below promotes the program's benefits and encourages searchers to "Learn More."
If you are cancelling or encouraging patients to reschedule all preventative care visits, be sure that your ad messaging is reflecting that. From there, you can either use your ads as a patient education tool to help guard the resources of your organization to ensure you have bandwidth to care for the neediest cases, or you can pause your ads and post messages in key places in your website informing patients to call ahead and reschedule.
2. Make sure existing patients are aware of changes to process and procedure — especially those who may be at high-risk.
For pregnant mothers, oncology patients, and others who may be immunocompromised, having to attend doctor’s appointments during a pandemic is especially stressful, and rightly so. Many providers are asking patients to wait in their car outside the practice or shutting down certain entrances. Be extremely clear in explaining your healthcare practice’s commitment to their health and safety — which includes being clear about when patients should not come to your office.
Many healthcare practices are discouraging patients with cold and flu symptoms from coming in to the office and instead opting for telehealth visits. If that’s the case for your office, be vigilant in sharing that message. If you are encouraging patients to call ahead before coming in if they have COVID-19 symptoms, be sure to post that message on your website, social media, in digital ads and on local listings.
When communicating to at-risk populations, address their fears and concerns, and go into as much detail as you can in explaining what you are doing to ensure their safety and how they can ensure the safety of other patients too.
This example below from www.nghs.com gives in-depth FAQs for patients who are uncertain of how to interact with their healthcare providers. Links to these FAQs are prominently displayed at the top of every page on this health system's website.
3. Update local listings.
If your office hours or policies have changed, local listings like Yelp! and Google My Business are excellent avenues to keep patients up to date. Add COVID-19 statements, and update them as often as needed.
While Google My Business’s “Posts” expire after 7 days, changes to other listings may need to be altered when things return to normal. Keep a spreadsheet detailing all the accounts you’ve updated so you can easily find and remove any COVID-19 information later on.
Below is sample language for a Google My Business post for COVID-19:
Update as of 4/8: Google My Business is also now offering the ability to add two links to any of your local listings. This includes a special link to COVID-19 information and another link to Telehealth information on your website. Take advantage of these resources to ensure that searchers can easily find information about how your practice is adapting for COVID-19. These features can be found by signing into your Google My Business account, choosing a specific listing, and then updating the "Info" section.
4. Use this time as an educational opportunity and to promote brand awareness if you can’t accept new appointments.
Many people have more free time on their hands than normal, and they’re very likely to be glued to their phones, laptops, and other devices. If they were considering a bariatric surgery before the pandemic, it’s likely they’ll still be considering it. Use this time to continue educating patients about various topics, keeping the conversation between your prospective/current patients and your practice alive.
Consider offering virtual seminars about surgical options or even ways that people can manage symptoms in the interim. For example, if someone needs a knee replacement, what exercises or techniques can they be employing at home to manage pain while they research a surgeon for the future? Build trust now so your practice can convert that patient later when this crisis passes.
An article from the Heart Foundation on how to keep your heart healthy and stay active during quarantine.
5. Be sensitive.
It’s safe to say that anxiety levels are high across the board. People are worried about their health — but they’re also worried about work, their children’s education, finances and more. In all that you do, use sensitive language, and when it makes sense, directly address those fears. This will help build trust during a trying time.
Prioritizing ethical and transparent communication, as well as matching your marketing messaging with your operational reality, will pay off down the road when patients realize they have a trustworthy partner in care.
6. View our other marketing resources.
We have compiled a list of marketing resources for healthcare organizations on our website, which we plan to update regularly as the situation changes and new tools and opportunties are revealed. Our COVID-19 Resource Guide for Healthcare Marketers includes tips on how to market telemedicine, information about advertising grant programs from Facebook and Google, and more.