Healthcare System Marketing: COVID-19

Elise Ruland, Senior Digital Marketing Strategist, R2integrated

While all industries have been greatly impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, none has been more impacted than healthcare systems. Unlike other industries, healthcare has not come to a halt, in fact providers are busier than ever, however, many of the usual day-to-day patients and procedures have been postponed. This doesn’t mean that non-COVID care and resources are no longer needed, people are still having heart attacks, women are still going into labor, etc, making clear information and communication from local providers on everything from COVID-19 to Telehealth and fundraising initiatives more important than ever.

So, how can healthcare systems continue to support their communities and patients during these uncertain times? R2i recommends taking a balanced approach that focuses on building trust through the clear communication of accurate information and expertise for members of your healthcare system’s local community related to COVID_19 as well non-COVID related health information that is helpful at this time.

Optimize Patient Experience by Prioritizing Resources & Information
Over 50% of adults are actively seeking COVID-19 related information online, giving hospital systems the opportunity to establish themselves as a trusted resource for members of their local community by creating a digital resource center to house all of the most recent and relevant information like:

 - COVID-19 Symptom Checkers and Process for Seeking Care. By providing clear, actionable information to members of the community digitally, hospital systems are not only giving patients peace of mind and clear direction on what to do if they suspect they or a loved one have contracted the illness, from at home care to testing centers and when to seek professional treatment, they’re also helping reduce the number of calls to overburdened call centers, creating less friction during a high-stress time.

 - COVID-19 Thought Leadership. COVID-19 has almost completely taken over the news cycle and chances are, local outlets are running stories featuring quotes and conversations from doctors within your system. Sharing these stories across digital channels can help bolster brand awareness and establish trust with your local community that when they seek care, your system has the expertise necessary and is well equipped to help.

 - Donations. According to Google, searches related to “how to help others during coronavirus” was up +3,650% on 3/26 and “donate PPE” (personal protective equipment) was up +4,805% on 3/23. Massive increases such as this indicate that community members are actively seeking ways to help, so providing clear information on what your system needs, what you can accept, and the processes for donating is a must.

Though COVID-19 is top of mind and almost all elective procedures and in-person appointments have been postponed, patients and members of the local community still need information on everything from emergency care to mental health, providing health systems the opportunity to connect with audiences in their time of need and become a trusted resource. R2i recommends creating non-COVID-19 content related to:

Seeking Care
 - Telehealth. For years many systems have struggled with the adaption and utilization of Telehealth, due to challenges ranging from technology adoption to HIPAA. However, since February, over 51% of Americans reported avoiding medical centers and hospitals due to COVID-19 (emarketer) making the availability of telemedicine options a must for healthcare systems. Because having a unified message around Telehealth can be a challenge for large systems with many departments, practices, and doctors operating within them, R2i recommends communicating the most relevant available options directly to patients through targeted emails, links in patient portals, and through landing pages linked to across owned digital properties.

 - News Center/Resource Page. Help mitigate confusion at physical locations within your healthcare system by providing clear information on the status of each service-line and specialty. This is especially important for divisions like emergency and maternity care that can’t just push pause until after COVID-19 peaks, so taking extra care to keep communications clear, concise, and as current as possible is a must. R2i also recommends avoiding overly descriptive language and time-stamping updates and announcements when posted so audience members can trust that they are getting the most accurate and recent information.

Staying Home and Staying Healthy
 - Mental Health. Healthcare systems can provide helpful information and resources to their communities online to help them manage any increases in levels of stress and anxiety that many currently feel as a result of the pandemic and associated shifts in daily life, like social distancing and limited mobility. In doing so, health systems are further fostering trust and establishing themselves as a reliable resource for their local community during an unprecedented time. 

 - Recipes and Isolation Activities. Supporting the health and well-being of the community doesn’t have to stop at mental and physical medicine, healthcare systems can also foster trust and support their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic by sharing healthy, easy to make recipes and activities for kids and the whole family to do at home on social media. 

Planning for the Return to “Normal” in the Future
Many aspects of our everyday lives are going to be changed by COVID-19, and the way patient communities engage with their healthcare providers and healthcare systems as a whole are no exception, and while we don’t know exactly what the new “normal” will look like, we do know that it is important to start preparing what you can now, so you’re ready to go when elective procedures and patient visits resume. R2i recommends considering the following:

 - Postponed Procedures. Gain a clear understanding of which service-lines had to postpone procedures, at what volume, and what that will mean from a communications perspective in terms of updating existing patients when activity can resume, and the approach for acquiring new patients once any backlog is cleared. But, keep in mind that just because your healthcare system is ready to return to non-COVID-19 procedures, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re patients are going to be ready or willing to, so clearly defining protocols for information and the tone in which it’s communicated is a must.

 - Priority Service-lines. Ask yourselves which of your service-lines are likely to see an increase in activity post-COVID-19 based on available system data and as well as widespread shifts in behaviors -

Will people need increased mental healthcare to manage any remaining stress and anxiety from the pandemic and social isolation measures?

Will there a be a quarantine related baby boom in the 9-12 months following the local shut down orders?

Will patients have discovered they actually prefer Telehealth to visits to their primary care doctor?

While we don’t have clear answers yet, we can use logic to begin understanding the lingering impacts COVID-19 will have on patient demand across service-lines.

Though the future is uncertain and protocols surrounding COVID-19 are changing almost daily, healthcare systems are uniquely positioned to support their communities during this time, from a pandemic and general wellness standpoint, making a shifts in digital strategy and channel activation a must. 

About the author: Elise Ruland

Elise Ruland is a Senior Digital Marketing Strategist at R2i, leveraging extensive cross-channel expertise, an aptitude for out-of-the-box thinking, and 10 years of experience in marketing to drive the development and implementation of highly effective digital strategies. Blending cutting edge technologies with proven tactics, Elise works with R2i’s B2B and B2C brand clients, enabling them to achieve their business goals.

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