Like it or not, the nature of routine, non-invasive outpatient care is changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed restrictions on in-facility treatment, resulting in an upsurge in demand for telemedicine visits. In response to the crisis, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have eased regulations for this type of care.
Health systems across the country have increased their commitment to this now integral method of direct care. And, with no immediate end to the pandemic in sight, telemedicine’s skyrocketing trajectory for increased application will only continue. As the technology is adopted by both patients and providers, both will likely find that advantages of convenience and safety outweigh direct one-on-one care. Even when the pandemic is over, there will always be a flu season. Our heightened sense of contagion may result in a much greater demand for telehealth in the foreseeable future as all involved deem the care to be safer, convenient and in most cases, comparably effective.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused your organization to react quickly, but a slapdash approach to rolling out telehealth services will provide only immediate benefits towards patient retention. Now is the time to regroup and consider the needs of your patients concerning telehealth, helping you to implement strategies that both retain patients and cause new patients to choose your organization.
This seismic paradigm shift towards telehealth services places new and critical demands upon the Marketing Department and re-affirms their role as essential to the financial welfare of the organization. Marketers must develop short- and long-term strategies to maximize the potential of telehealth visits and other forms of digital healthcare delivery and also breakdown barriers that prevent patients from using that service.
Keep these five telehealth marketing suggestions in mind as you create those strategies:
- Know Your Audience
Determine how patient demographics such as age, socio-economic status and availability of computers and mobile devices impact delivery of virtual care. Also, determine what types of care are most effectively delivered in this manner. Urgent care, routine physicals, follow-up care, health education services, medication checks and more all have the potential to benefit from telehealth services. Build a patient journey analysis to help you understand the important milestones in the telemedicine service. Develop patient personas to identify specific traits and circumstances that bring patients to either use or decline telehealth services.
- Offer Compelling Messages that Attract and Convert Patients to Telehealth
Now that you know who your patients are and understand their needs, craft messages that help them to choose telemedicine over more familiar in-person care. Demographics play an important role in adopting this new medium. Older patients and those less familiar with the technology need an empathetic ear and message. Address their fears, make it as easy as possible to understand how telemedicine works, speak to their needs and offer compelling messages that are educational and reassuring. Calm patient fears by leading with safety, security and convenience. Remind them that telehealth offers greater appointment time flexibility, eliminates the hassles of transportation, parking and wayfinding, and reduces the overall appointment time. Make the patient journey through a telemedicine visit clear, simple and perhaps most important, worth their while.
Build trust in telehealth services by sharing patient testimonials and use them to evangelize regarding satisfiers such as convenience, personalized care, safety and ease of use.
- Create On-line and Print Content
Whether it is paid advertising, newsletter articles or website content, copy should make telemedicine simple. Landing pages and headlines should be benefit-driven. Use graphics and icons to convey instructions. Use clear and descriptive copy and repeat keywords like “virtual, remote, telehealth, telemedicine, from the comfort of your own home.” Be persuasive but approachable.
Develop content that anticipates their questions, addresses their fears and builds trust and credibility. If instructions are complex, your audience will determine that telemedicine is complex. Step-by-step guides should include instructions on setting up an appointment and technology requirements. CTAs and call-out boxes should make it easy to schedule an appointment online with one or two clicks. Include additional links touting the benefits of telemedicine and offer opportunities to read the biographies of providers.
Address topics such as insurance coverage (including Medicare and Medicaid), telehealth vs. in-clinic visit fees, quality of care advantages/disadvantages and more. Show providers and patients using the service that will make it feel personal. Provide links to necessary documents such as telehealth consent forms and new patient history forms. The more information you provide, the better the adoption rate will be.
- Scale up Digital Services
Apps and other mobile tools and services are essential components of the telehealth program. Make certain that the full range of telemedicine services can be arranged and provided via all digital platforms. Users who are comfortable with desktop and mobile features can schedule appointments, complete health questionnaires, pay bills and participate in online learning.
- Embrace the Future of Telemedicine and Digital Health
The article 3 Ways that Coronavirus Will Significantly “Disrupt” the Healthcare Industry, published by Forbes, states that digital health will become a priority. The author notes that the pandemic has highlighted the immense value of telehealth, and he references the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ recent announcement that it would expand payments to this modality. Looking to the future of medical care, the author writes “…there is more to digital health than just telehealth services, and the pandemic may be the impetus to increase the use of technology in making various aspects of clinical medicine more accessible and efficient.” The fields of radiology, dermatology, mental health services and pharmaceutical delivery services will all benefit from the expansion of mobile health (mHealth).
The savvy healthcare marketer has already determined that medical services have been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sooner we plan for the mHealth future, the sooner we will be ready for the challenges it presents to us and our patients.
James Shulkin is Senior Vice President – Healthcare Brand Director at Noise, Inc. He has been a member of WHPRMS since 1999.