Hospitals and health systems are adjusting their messaging to patients as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
Toward the end of May, much of the country’s local governments lifted quarantine restrictions in place since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, hospitals are faced with the challenge of encouraging patients to seek care in places they previously were told to avoid and making sure they feel safe when doing so.
Chronically ill patients and even those with emergency medical needs have been avoiding seeking care at medical facilities. There are countless stories of people delaying urgent or necessary follow-up care, and it’s having a negative impact on their health and well-being. It is important for hospitals to offer some reassurance and get that message across that it’s safe to come back to doctors’ clinics, and the hospital, when they’re in need. Healthcare facilities need to work extra hard to send a message that they are taking the necessary precautions to ensure the public’s safety.
It didn’t help that every news coverage when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and April, carried features on hospitals nationwide postponing nonessential procedures and services to conserve resources for the care of COVID-19 patients in accordance with recommendations from both the Centers for Disease Control and local Department of Health.
As we begin to resume elective and nonemergency procedures, a number of hospitals are revisiting marketing and communications strategies, focusing on engagement with current and prospective patients to increase awareness about service lines with strong messages about proactive health and safety.
It is important to make people feel comfortable and confident about coming back to our hospitals and clinics — in terms of safety and protection against the virus, and in terms of personal attention to their health needs.
There is an increasing focus on a hospital’s safe care promise, outlining the many steps they are taking to enhance safety measures, including universal masking, social distancing through rearranged waiting areas, staggered appointment times, telehealth in different forms and various levels of digital connectivity, virtual conferences, and enhanced cleaning especially for high-touch spaces.
New and revised strategies don’t just broaden reach, but really enhance the organization’s level of engagement with patients. This creates expanded capabilities to utilize varied channels to reach communities through telehealth appointments, targeted mobile-messaging and useful social media content across varied platforms, including Facebook as well as Twitter, Instagram and others.
Early on in this pandemic, many hospitals moved quickly to run what was actually more of public service announcements focused on stopping the spread of COVID, providing sources for accurate information and sharing resources with patients about when and how to access care, with new protocols in place.
Marketing and communications had taken on even greater importance during the COVID pandemic and will likely remain that way well into recovery as hospitals work to reassure patients and the public about the steps they are taking to keep them safe. Hospitals need to communicate across all channels — traditional marketing and advertising, public relations, email and personal letters, social and digital engagement, executive visibility, grassroots outreach and video content — to inform patients about safety precautions, express g
ratitude for their own caregivers and caregivers everywhere, remind consumers not to delay care and let them know what they can expect to experience at the doctor’s office, hospital, Wellness Center or other specialty care site. Earning and sustaining consumer trust over the next year or two is going to be critical for every health system, and marketing and communications will play an important role in creating a dialogue and relationship with patients and the public.
A patient’s relationship with their healthcare organization is built on trust. Trust is continually gained or lost depending on the patient’s experience. In some cases, interactions are so profound they create lifetime brand loyalty. In other cases, one interaction alone can erode or even permanently sever a patient’s trust in their healthcare organization.
Trust in healthcare has never been more critical than it is today. COVID-19 has created a new world for the healthcare industry, a world in which masks and face coverings cover the smiles we once saw, virtual visits supersede in-person care, and visitor precautions leave patients feeling isolated. While we’ve never lost sight of quality and safety — in many ways it has ramped up — we know that building trust right now means doubling down on showing kindness and compassion to patients when they need our expertise and guidance most.
It is ironic that in an environment where people are no longer able to meet face-to-face, human connections have become more important than ever. We’ve learned how to reach more people faster with targeted information and interactions, while showcasing the depth of clinical expertise within our health organizations. The webinars and social media channels have created additional content for new and broader audiences. Although we had always employed some virtual meeting capabilities, we expect it will be a larger element of our marketing communications strategy for the foreseeable future as everyone adapts to how COVID has changed the ways we learn and collaborate in this new normal.
Our one message must be convincing, continuous and consistent with the patient experience: “We’re safe, so you’re safe.”