The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly and dramatically changed the way care is provided. Patients’ mindsets are changing rapidly, and they’re consuming healthcare differently than they did even a few months ago. In order to thrive during the COVID pandemic – as well as once it’s over – healthcare businesses need to respond to these shifts, and be prepared to adapt to a changing landscape.
Telemedicine Is Becoming Standard
The most significant of the changes we’ve seen thus far is the rise of telemedicine as a standard way to receive care. Telemedicine is nothing new – Kaiser reported that 52% of its visits were virtual as early as 2016, and telemedicine has long been standard in rural areas – but the necessity of reducing exposure forced temporary regulatory changes expanding reimbursements and lifting licensing requirements while the public health emergency is in effect, causing telemedicine to become widely adopted overnight. And those changes will likely be, to at least some degree, permanent. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announced in May that they would continue to cover telehealth visits permanently, and it’s likely that elected officials will feel pressure to leave some of the HHS and CMS changes in place.
“I added video consults as a service shortly after my practice stopped taking in-person visits,” said Dr. David Woo, a psychiatrist based in New York City. “There’s a lot of interest from patients in virtual visits right now. I’m planning to continue offering telemedicine appointments even after my practice reopens.”
It’s particularly important for primary care providers to remain competitive right now in order to maintain their relationships with their patients. Providers are now having to compete against health insurance companies, who are now marketing online virtual visit platforms (like Teladoc and MDLive) directly to patients, which incentivizes patients to seek care outside of their normal PCP. Primary care facilities need not only to have a telemedicine system in place, but also to make sure that their patient population is well aware that they’re offering virtual visits covered by insurance.
The Importance of Preparing For Future Disasters (That Includes a Comms Strategy)
The first wave of COVID cases in the United States is not likely to be the last, and it’s important to keep an “emergency communications protocol” in place for future urgent situations. Your patients may now come to expect improved digital communications from you. This includes having the ability to:
- Create alerts on your website or app, such as pop-ups or notification bars at the top or bottom of the screen. (Your healthcare responsive web design agency should be able to make this change if your staff is unable to.)
- Quickly contact all patients who have upcoming appointments, or who have had appointments during a past time period.
- Provide important pre-appointment instructions and reminders via SMS, email, and/or push notifications.
- Have a protocol in place for what happens when hours change, or if there’s an emergency. Part of this is identifying where your patients get information online – this may include your website as well as online listings like Google Maps, Yelp, and Facebook. Keep a list of which sites you need to update if there’s a sudden hours or service change, and make sure that staff are able to access those pages.
In addition to having a communications protocol for emergencies, healthcare internet marketing channels like blogging/content production and paid advertising can help increase a practice’s visibility online. Having a blog on your website and blogging weekly about topics related to the emergency situation increases your likelihood of being found in search engines, and connecting the blog to other tools like Facebook or an email marketing software makes sharing your content with subscribed patients easy. Blog content can also be automatically fed into a widget on your website’s home page or footer, posted on social media, or fed into your organization’s app.
Paid advertising is also an excellent way to communicate with patients. Google search ads, which appear at the top of search results pages, allow you to select keywords you’d like your ad to appear for, and tailor your ads’ messaging to whatever you need to communicate. Running ads that announce “Expanded Waiting Room Now Open!” or “Telehealth Appointments Available – Insurance Accepted” can be an effective way of getting patients in the (figurative) door during a financially stressful time. Banner ads can also be a way of communicating time-sensitive messages quickly, while funneling traffic to your website.
Know Your Patients’ Concerns, and Address Them Head-On
Even once in-office visits become commonplace again, patients may understandably be more sensitive to the possibility of future outbreaks – whether that be the possibility of future resurgences of COVID-19, new pandemics, or a general greater concern for the communicability of infectious diseases. It’s important to communicate what’s being done at the clinic to keep them safe, and this information needs to be provided electronically to reinforce the message that you’re prepared for future outbreaks.
List all the steps patients can take before, during, and after an appointment to minimize their exposure and get them in and out of the facility as quickly as possible. For example, they could fill out intake forms online before coming in, and could use your app’s indoor navigation feature to find the location of their appointment quickly. Consider adding a page on your website describing all these steps, and emailing the same information to patients a few days prior to their appointment.
Making patients more comfortable with telehealth will also go a long way toward retaining them. Those who are less tech-savvy may shy away from telemedicine because they’re uncomfortable with technology like video calling. Lower-income families may not have an internet connection at home, which would limit their ability to do a video call. If your practice can make a simple phone-based telehealth option available, do so, and make that option clear in all your communications. In many cases, this is still the most common channel through which to conduct a telehealth encounter.
Digital Front Door
For a patient, it can be challenging to know where and how to find all of your clinic’s online self-service platforms and education resources (especially at the rate practices are adopting these new technologies). The term “digital front door” is quickly becoming a healthcare application development buzzword, and refers to the consolidation of all a clinic’s patient engagement technologies and web resources into a single web page, portal, and/or app.
“As the utilization of these self-service tools increases, so does the need to consolidate them into a single platform,” says John Deutsch, CEO of patient engagement solution Bridge Patient Portal. “Having everything linked from one place helps patients find these resources quickly and with little effort, which increases utilization.”
Consider seeing how you could create one web page, portal, or mobile app that consolidates all your online resources for patients, and then heavily promote this new tool to your patient population. It’s important to install analytics software (such as Google Analytics) into your new digital front door to get insights into how your users are interacting with it.
Understanding Where the Market Is Headed
It’s more important now than it’s ever been to maintain constant communication with your patient base, and with the rapid rise of telehealth, making that communication digital is essential too. Expanding your organization’s ability to communicate with patients through email, SMS, your website, and your app will help build trust, put their minds at ease, and keep revenue up as the healthcare landscape continues to grow and change post-COVID.
Marie is Director of Marketing at Medical Web Experts, a leading provider of HIPAA-compliant enterprise healthcare solutions including mobile app development, custom portals and interface development, web design, and marketing. She has over 10 years of experience in the development and execution of digital marketing campaigns for healthcare organizations, including SEO, paid search, email marketing, social media marketing, and reporting/data analysis. She also heads complex medical writing projects for healthcare networks, hospitals, large physician groups, and independent physician practices like Mt. Sinai Medical Center, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and many others. Linkedin Profile