The novel coronavirus pandemic is perhaps the greatest single disruptor to the American healthcare system since the 1918 flu pandemic or the Civil War. Organizations nationwide are still figuring out how to handle its impact. One approach has been to lean on the healthcare marketing apparatus to speak to consumers, calm their fears, and share critical messaging.
I recently took part in a virtual panel discussion for an episode of “Now What?”, a podcast series hosted by digital health influencer Jared Johnson, and we talked about how COVID-19 is accelerating healthcare marketing technology. The show is available on:
As we discussed during the podcast, this is a difficult time for healthcare professionals nationwide, but it’s also a time of learning. Let’s explore where we’ve made progress, what gaps the pandemic has exposed, and what comes next for the industry.
Where Have We Made Gains Because of COVID-19?
The healthcare industry has taken huge strides in telemedicine (also known as virtual visits or virtual care). Early adopters have been integrating telemedicine into their offerings for years, but many systems had been slow to embrace this type of service.
Seemingly overnight, however, healthcare organizations have been implementing telemedicine capabilities to cope with the need for urgent or ongoing care while still reducing the flow of patients who haven’t been infected with the coronavirus. The incredible surge in demand for telemedicine has a clear starting point: the week of March 8, 2020, when news of COVID-19’s presence coast to coast began hitting media outlets and the first areas of the country started declaring states of emergency. In response, Google has made it easier for consumers to connect with providers’ telemedicine services. This means it’s even more important for healthcare marketers and their organizations to prioritize their virtual care.
Another area where I’m glad to see healthcare leaders making progress is in marketing automation. Before the pandemic, automation was primarily valuable for its ability to drive conversions for elective procedures and interest in service-line content. Now we’re seeing automation come into its own as a way healthcare systems can drive conversations directly between patients of a particular practice and their physician.
Healthcare organizations have also discovered huge value in chatbot technology during the crisis. Ironically, a well-designed chatbot can help humanize the early touchpoints a consumer has with a healthcare system and improve the user experience. We’ve seen three main types of these programs come into play within healthcare systems:
- Navigational: These are chatbots that help users find something on your website or ease the decision-making process
- Call-center or customer-service: These chatbots can answer basic questions or escalate a consumer to a customer-service representative if necessary. This requires adequate call-center staffing and additional augmentations.
- Medical triage: These chatbots incorporate medically accurate ICD-10 information to take some of the strain off triage nurses, such as
What Gaps Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Spotlighted?
First and foremost, we’ve seen that traditional marketing is no longer enough for modern healthcare systems. In states with stay-at-home orders — 42 states plus Washington, D.C., as of this article’s publication — there’s been a tremendous scaling back of print media, billboard, radio, and other segments of traditional marketing.
These outlets already were on the decline, but during the pandemic, it’s much harder for consumers to come across a billboard, newspaper, or radio ad if they’re not in their cars and commuting to work. Conversely, digital media consumption, already on the rise for years, has shot up as people have been at home during the crisis. Systems that were coasting on their tried-and-true traditional marketing techniques have had a rude awakening as a result of COVID-19.
Similarly, the coronavirus emergency has shown us that healthcare organizations can’t afford to rely on their service-line marketing strategies and elective procedures to sustain their growth. As we’ve seen, a public health crisis of sufficient size can and will disrupt these long-established contributors to an organization’s bottom line.
We’ve seen surprising struggles on the part of many healthcare systems to update consumers on the status of individual locations. People want to know if their preferred office is open for business, only seeing patients with COVID-19, only seeing patients without the coronavirus, only doing COVID-19 testing, etc.
Traditionally, hospitals haven’t made it easy to seek care, and the restrictions brought on by COVID-19 have brought that challenge to the forefront. Modern consumers are used to “sticky” digital experiences, like web browsers or Google Maps, which can easily follow the user from mobile to desktop or vice versa. This is an issue that has only become more apparent during the pandemic.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It’s important to start thinking about how a post-coronavirus world will lend itself to digital marketing tools — both those that healthcare organizations have utilized for some time and those they’ve implemented to help cope with COVID-19.
Chatbots have shown their value in relieving some of the immense strain the pandemic has placed on call-center and other customer-service personnel. I think we’ll continue to see more healthcare organizations turn to this technology.
As healthcare marketers and leaders continue to embrace digital transformation, the ability to connect one-on-one with consumers will only become more important. People want businesses to speak to them directly and address their unique needs. Your healthcare organization has to be able to deliver the kind of personalized experience consumers have come to expect from e-commerce and other industries.
Part of healthcare’s continued commitment to digital transformation means understanding the idea that organizations can no longer think of their websites, mobile apps, and other digital tools as separate entities. To leverage the most from these tools, you have to think of them both strategically and technically across the entire enterprise.
And as more healthcare systems implement telemedicine, I expect we’ll start to see true integration with customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Now that consumers have experienced the convenience of virtual care, providers can not only use CRMs to remind patients of their needed exams and consultations but also close that loop with a scheduled or on-demand video visit. This is going to help healthcare providers manage patients’ chronic conditions in a way they couldn’t before.
I frequently have the opportunity to speak at conferences for healthcare professionals, and I used to give a talk that covered the expectations consumers have for healthcare organizations and where those organizations often struggle to deliver. I think the pandemic has shown us a great deal about where healthcare has closed that gap, as well as where there’s still more work to do.
Read more about what our thought leaders have to say about COVID-19 on our blog.