COVID-19: 7 Communications Strategies for Healthcare Marketers Right Now

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Summary: For hospital systems, health plans and others are on the front lines of dealing with COVID-19, here are seven actions to take right now.

The Perficient Digital Health Solutions (DHS) team of strategists organized and moderated a forum conversation on Friday, March 20. This forum brought together thought-leaders from many teams within DHS, including:

  • Content
  • Digital advertising
  • Strategy

Forum participants discussed practical ideas and approaches during this seminar. The following are some of the initial actions you should take to keep your community informed during this crisis.

Assess Your Tone: Eliminate Promotion, Highlight Heroism

People are frightened and looking to your healthcare organization as a trusted resource of information. We always advocate taking a position of being knowledgeable and relatable authorities on all matters relating to healthcare, and that position is of even more importance in a healthcare emergency such as this.

Here are three themes you can communicate right now:

  • Acknowledge that these are tough times for everyone and promise you will be there for them.
  • Highlight the heroism of doctors and nurses who are in the fight currently
  • Post references to CDC and other qualified sources to combat the spread of misinformation

Lower Your Reading Level, Consider Emojis

On all communications, make sure to lower the reading level of the text as much as possible.  Many communication pieces we’ve seen, while accurate, operate with college-level syntax.  People are scared, they’re not reading accurately; shorter, clearer sentences matter.

Strongly consider bolding your conclusions such as “call this number instead.”

Though I am (personally) no fan of emojis, the use of emojis like 🧼👏 both as a way to communicate more quickly ideas and to make the outreach feel conversational.

Divert Your Website Resources From Marketing to Communications

Normally, your homepage likely promotes information about service lines, events and initiatives in your community, etc. Most visitors to your site right now are interested in one thing: How are you handling coronavirus, what’s changing about your services, and how are you addressing with people who are sick or think they may be sick?

These aren’t normal times, and your website needs to reflect that. Due to guidance on social distancing, you’ve likely already postponed or canceled classes, and moved seminars and other in-person events to online solutions.

Make sure your site’s messaging reflects this new reality.

Post a note on your events calendar that you’ve postponed your in-person events for the time being, or swap out the events banner on your homepage for a link to your coronavirus-related information page if you have one.

Of course, COVID-19 strikes all populations regardless of language, so please ensure you’re including clear instructions for non-English-speaking members of your community. Include links from your homepage and your landing pages for each language to dedicated information for speakers of that language, and direct them to similar resources for protecting themselves and their loved ones.

Use Social Media to Combat Memes and Hoaxes

With more people staying home, they’re more likely to turn to social media to gather information, share thoughts and reassurances, and try to get a sense of what’s being done. Now, it’s more important than ever that you establish and maintain a regular cadence of factual, clear, actionable information to help keep your community up to date on this critical situation.

You will need to address what we’re predicting as a rise of medical misinformation and snake-oil cures.  By using your reputation, you can lend your organization’s voice to the fight.

Be sure to use the following hashtags in your tweets for the benefit of those following the crisis:

  • #coronavirus
  • #covid19
  • #covid

Use Social Media to Reroute Patients

As your system implements new restrictions on who can visit hospitals and physicians’ offices, post those updates on both the website as well as your social media accounts. Heavily push any breaking news or urgent developments that are likely to affect your users.

Social media posts allow you to quickly route users to important content relating to the coronavirus. The following are just some of the places you can direct people from your social accounts:

  • Any coronavirus-specific content you have on your site, particularly about self-protection or what readers should do if they think they’re sick
  • Any search or taxonomy results for blog articles you’ve posted about the disease
  • Your telemedicine or virtual care pages, if available, for people who need to consult a physician
  • Interviews, whether in-person or over teleconference, with providers who can share tips for how to stay healthy and safe

If you have time, search through your archives of past blog posts for any relevant topics you can share. You might have published a handwashing article a year ago; now is a good time to republish it and post links from your social accounts.

Deploy a Chatbot Triage to Reduce COVID-19 Call Volumes

Chatbots can play a key role in relieving some of the burden your call-center employees, receptionists, triage nurses and other staff members are shouldering as members of the communities you serve call and ask whether they’re at risk for infection from the coronavirus.

Perficient DHS team members, working alongside our partners at Drift, have developed a simple chatbot that interacts with users and assesses them for their COVID-19 risk. The chatbot uses the standard Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) triage guidance and does not allow the input of any personal health information (PHI).

Learn more about our COVID-19 chatbot tool.

Adapt Paid Search to New Policies for Ongoing Campaigns

Healthcare organizations often turn to digital advertising to help their messages cut through the online clutter and reach users in their service regions. However, new policies from Google, one of the major gatekeepers in online advertising, are limiting advertising that includes such keywords as “coronavirus” and “COVID-19,” among others. That can make getting the word out more difficult. Again, consider social media and your website itself — channels directly under your control — to help make users aware of much-needed information about your facilities and services relating to the outbreak.

Review any campaigns you may currently have running on Google and/or Facebook to see if they’re still appropriate in the current climate. Nearly all service lines as bariatric surgery, oncology, orthopedics and others are going to push their elective procedures if they haven’t already. Make sure your paid search campaigns aren’t spreading outdated information to patients, and pause or pull any campaigns that aren’t relevant at this time.

If you have services that are still active but have modified their procedures to accommodate social distancing or other realities of the pandemic, be sure your campaigns reflect this new normal. If your system has modified a required seminar to be a teleconference or a phone call, pause campaigns and pull down landing pages that use a call to action to sign up for events that are postponed.

We Will Get Through This Together

We understand how challenging a time this is for you. Your organization is facing new obstacles and overcoming new difficulties every day as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve. However you need us to help, we’re here for you.

We will continue to post updates as we learn more about what’s working.

Contact if our team can help you during this coronavirus crisis.

About the Author

Paul Griffiths is the GM of the Digital Healthcare Solutions unit at Perficient, where he works with hospital and health plan marketing departments on digital initiatives. DHS services integrated healthcare delivery systems around the United States.

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