March Blog: COVID and the Search for Vaccinations Has Made Us All Millennials (and 5 Strategies that Put Your Patients’ Digital Experience First)

The hunt for COVID vaccinations is a daunting task. Persons of all ages are directed to a myriad of on-line registries. These registries can be run by individual states, state and local health departments, healthcare systems, physicians’ offices, pharmacies, federally funded health centers and more. The absence of a single, easily accessed national system for scheduling vaccinations (combined with limited availability) has caused many healthcare consumers to develop new perspectives on how they interact with healthcare providers. In fact, the long-term effects could cause dramatic shifts in the way most healthcare consumers — regardless of age — interact with health systems. Vaccination seekers want immediacy, are research and self-directed, social media savvy and willing to get satisfaction from any willing provider. The result may be that we all become millennials in the way we consume healthcare services.

How Millennials Seek Out Healthcare Services

Forward-thinking healthcare marketers rightfully pay attention to the preferences of millennials— typically defined as those born between 1982 and 2000. Here is a quick overview of how millennials prefer to interact with healthcare service providers:

• They grew up as digital natives. They expect convenience, speed, and transparency when interacting with service providers.
• They are also more likely take care into their own hands and are less likely to rely on a health system they are dissatisfied with.
• They are research driven. They pay close attention to online reviews and social media commentary. Thirty-eight percent say they trust their peers more than their physician. Additionally, over half (55%) said the information they find online is “as reliable” as their doctor.
• Many have no primary care provider. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 45% of 18-to 29-year-olds and 28% of 30- to 49-year-olds have no PCP. Over a third of millennials prefer healthcare from retail walk-in clinics over visiting their doctor’s office.
• They love digital options for patient engagement. Seventy-one percent of millennials want to schedule appointments through an app, access medical records online or receive automated appointment reminders. Sixty percent want an option for virtual doctor’s visits and would choose a telehealth visit over an in-person. Over two thirds prefer post care follow-ups via email or text message.

Millennials interact with healthcare in a way not at all dissimilar to the how vaccination seekers of all ages now interact with the new healthcare paradigm – essentially, looking for any port in a storm in any way they can. COVID-related disruptions to traditional medical care and the resultant search for vaccinations has caused healthcare consumers of all ages well to widely adopt these service preferences.

Improved Digital Skills, Higher Expectations for Service, Patient Portability, and Increased Competition Requires Renewed Brand Focus and Digital Excellence

Imagine now that you are older than 40 years (not a millennial) and perhaps, well into your seventies. Regular visits to your healthcare provider have been postponed. You are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get vaccinated and wonder why on earth you could not have gotten the shot yesterday. You may be spending hours researching vaccine availability and side-effects. You also may have downloaded an app for the very first time to register for a vaccination, track availability and be notified to schedule your appointment.

Because of COVID, audiences of all ages are now highly informed, digitally confident, multi-screened and multi-platformed. Patients are altering their approach to when, how, and with the coronavirus in mind, why they receive treatment. They are much less likely to be bound by geography and location and much more likely to be satisfied with a telehealth visit.

Furthermore, vaccination seekers expect convenience and speed in getting their shots, causing them to abandon their traditional provider in search of pharmacies, independent physician offices, walk-in clinics and health centers that offer the vaccine. These non-traditional and often proprietary vendors are more than willing to step into the void. With many discretionary and elective services postponed, patient loyalties have become compromised, exacerbating the movement of patients away from one provider to another.

COVID has been a huge disruptor for the healthcare industry. Consumers are now exerting greater control over where and how they receive care, but also in how they use digital tools to make those care-seeking decisions. This new era of patient self-empowerment, self-entitlement, and self-advocacy (regardless of age) requires us to engage audiences with meaningful content across all touch points – live and digitally – to create brand success. Brands must provide their consumers with the kind of digital experiences that inform, delight, and foster an emotional connection.

Five Strategies for Millennial-driven Digital Experiences

These areas of focus for digital strategy are critical:

1) Put the patients digital experience first. If you focus on creating an exemplary online experience, you are bound to see high conversion rates and improved ROI. The more high-quality content you put out, the more likely potential patients will find (and use) your services versus a competitor. Provide robust content for your website, social media, and press pitches. Add patient portals, email campaigns, and various communication channels that allow customers to digitize most every aspect of their experience with your system.

2) Manage your digital reputation. Positive patient reviews boost your search rankings and conversions. Automating patient communication and feedback gives healthcare marketers more time to dive into data, identify problems, and develop solutions.

3) Use location-based SEO. Each year, about 93 million Americans search for a health-related topic online. Strong SEO strategy ensures you are staying on top of search results. Keeping address details and pages up to date is incredibly important as people are more likely to search for immediate access to care using their phone, both through text and voice search. Reviews are critical, as Google automatically shows results with at least a 4.0+ star rating within the top of a local search engine results page (SERP).

4) Voice search is important. More than 43 million people in the U.S. own a smart speaker. Consider the questions patients might ask Alexa, Siri, or Cortana, and use adding natural language into your SEO strategy. Voice searches are typically longer than text searches and utilize the words why, how, where, and when.

5) Video is king. Hubspot reports that 45% of people watch more than one hour of video every day. Videos will increase social media engagement, provide important information, and strengthens patient-doctor connections. Create provider profiles, patient stories, health education messaging and coverage of special events. Add videos to YouTube and other social media.

By putting your patients’ digital experience first and consequently, making their on-line healthcare journey simple, your healthcare brand will remain personal, informative, emotional, convenient, and relevant. By integrating the five digital strategies above, your healthcare organization will help patients of all ages use and retain the same behaviors millennials will demand long into the future. This will help you to acquire more leads, gain more patients, and retain patients of all ages on a long-term basis.

James Shulkin, Chief Brand Officer – Healthcare at NOISE, Inc., has been a member of WHPRMS since 1999.

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