Healthcare Marketers Share How They're Managing the COVID Crisis [UPDATED]

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Healthcare Marketers Share How They're Managing the COVID Crisis [UPDATED]

Every industry is being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in different and unexpected ways, and healthcare marketing is no exception. We held a virtual meetup with our healthcare marketing customers so they could share what they are putting in place to better serve their customers, protect their employees, and reduce the impact on healthcare systems during the outbreak.

In the coming weeks, we will be holding virtual meetups with core industry groups and sharing what we hear on the Invoca blog. If you are an Invoca customer who is interested in participating, please contact us.

Here is what we learned from our healthcare customers during this discussion.

Update: May 19, 2020

We met with a group of our healthcare marketing customers again to see how the business impacts of COVID-19 have evolved over the past two months. The sectors they represent include regional healthcare systems, dental, senior care, behavioral health, and healthcare marketing agencies. Since they serve very different people across the country, some are seeing surges in business while others remain flat. 

Some Healthcare Providers are Seeing Signs of Recovery

One customer, a national dental care provider, is surprised that call volume has actually increased about 2% over this time last year. For them, call volume is a key indicator of demand. “We thought we would have to scrape and claw back after this, but we’re seeing the opposite,” they said. “We’re back to 60 - 70% of daily revenue and we suspect this is because some people who were in the middle of treatment plans [when shelter in place started] are now making appointments to finish treatment when things open back up, and those who were in minor pain now require essential treatment.” They also said that they are again pivoting their marketing to focus on patient safety and cleanliness, but they have not had to be as aggressive with this messaging as they first believed they would have to be. 

Virtual Care Continues to Expand

Telehealth usage has spiked up to 2000% according to Vonage, which drives most of the major telehealth providers worldwide. Most of the healthcare marketers we spoke with said that they are continuing to see increases in telehealth use and are rotating their marketing toward it. However, one of the healthcare providers we spoke with sees this as a potential threat. “This is presenting a big threat because now these huge tech companies are involved, we are a non-profit so it’s hard to compete.”

One regional health system customer sees telehealth as an opportunity. “We’ve put a ton of energy on getting telehealth up and running as there’s a lot of demand for this. It’s a big opportunity to pivot our strategy to ‘health at home.’” 

Our customers in senior care are also driving significant digital transformation so they can continue to reach new customers as they are able to safely open back up. Given the vulnerability of the senior population that they serve, though, they still want to keep visitors out of the facilities. “Everything now is virtual for us — we are not doing in-person tours or move-ins. We have improved the web experience of the virtual tours, which has resulted in an overall increase in online tours.”

One provider even did a star-studded virtual bingo game with their community — run by Matthew McConaughey. “He was super good with the seniors. It’s a community in Austin where he lives and his mom even knows some residents there.” They also had Mario Lopez teaching residents how to do a TikTok video.

“We don’t have a different product to sell but we can change the message — we’re trying to reach out to seniors who have been isolated for two months and show that it might be better to live in a community with others and that they are stronger together.” 

Healthcare Consumer Response Varies Regionally

Differences in state and local regulations, coronavirus infection rates, and consumer attitudes are causing varying rates of business recovery for healthcare providers. One dental provider in Dallas, Texas was at full capacity the first day they opened, while facilities in the western U.S. are not seeing patients return. The marketers we spoke with cited that infection rates in Dallas were lower, while they were not yet flattened out in the Denver, Colorado area. 

As concerns that hospitals may be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients wanes in some areas, hospitals want to get patients back in for elective and preventative procedures. Many elective procedures occur in hospitals, and many people still feel that going into hospitals puts them at greater risk of being infected. However, because of heightened safety precautions and procedures, they said that the hospital is a safer place. “We’re spending more marketing budget to advertise this to people, but still not seeing the [call] volume where we want it to be right now.”

Healthcare Marketers Rapidly Adjusting Messaging to Changing Consumer Behavior

Consumer needs and behavior continue to change almost every day as infection rates flatten and stay-in-place regulations are eased. The healthcare marketers we spoke with are using Invoca conversational analytics data and call recordings to adjust their messaging in real time. “As we move from crisis to recovery, being able to listen to the calls in the call center to learn what’s on patients’ minds and thinking through that experience for them is important, and [Invoca’s] signal tracking is vital to this,” one marketer said. 

Another marketer exclaimed that they are “changing their website every day,” and that they turned off online appointments at first and pushed to the call center, but then implemented new screening procedures that allowed them to screen for appointments online. 

One team conducted a full website review and found a lot of imagery of residents and caregivers touching each other and outdated copy that needed to be revised. They also optimized keyword bidding to be more appropriate for the services they are currently able to offer.

From March 18, 2020:

The Top Goals: Triage In-Person Visits and Protect Employees

Triage has moved into the digital world during this crisis. It’s no longer just about prioritizing care for those in the waiting room, but using digital tools to keep people who don’t need urgent care out of the hospital. This is critical to keep front-line healthcare workers healthy and reduce the burden on the healthcare system. We found that healthcare marketers are using everything from adapting paid search to inform people about the coronavirus instead of advertising, to increasing the use of telehealth technology, and adapting content strategies to allay common concerns that are changing from day to day.

Adapting Marketing Campaigns and Using PPC Data to Manage a Healthcare Crisis Environment

Most of the healthcare marketers we spoke with are pausing their normal marketing campaigns that drive inbound traffic and new patient inquiries. “This is no longer about volume and conversion rates — it’s about informing people and keeping them safe,” said a senior living healthcare marketer. Another customer cited that they are discontinuing lung cancer screening campaigns because they do not want to drive vulnerable patients into care centers right now, as the virus is a threat to their health.

Many are changing their PPC ads to drive people directly to the coronavirus information they are searching for in order to reduce the impact on the healthcare system by keeping healthy people out of the emergency room. “Since our paid media ads are addressing coronavirus, callers seem to be less panicked when they call because they have already received the right message online,” said one healthcare marketer.

Paid search has become an effective tool to manage the impact on hospitals and call centers so healthcare providers can focus on the people who need them the most. PPC data is informing many other marketing activities that help drive people to the virtual route first. “We’re looking at what campaigns are being triggered and we are seeing that in addition to the coronavirus issues, people are looking for virtual care since they want to stay out of the doctor’s office.” It is also helping them to optimize local content and local searches, as it allows them to identify regions where people are asking where to go for testing and appointments.

Overall, we found that paid search is being used as a source of data to understand healthcare customer behavior, guide them to the right places, and inform decisions about what content needs to be created to address their concerns.

Healthcare Content Strategies Used to Inform and Alleviate Fears of COVID-19

Content and messaging strategies are also being extensively updated to meet the rapidly changing needs of healthcare customers. All of the marketers we spoke with emphasized the importance of working proactively, and most had coronavirus content up well before the virus became widespread in the U.S. One interesting point we heard was pushing down or eliminating branded messaging to keep important information about the virus at the forefront.

Many healthcare marketers have set up centralized content pages and dedicated their home pages to guide customers directly to information about coronavirus.

Given the rapidly changing nature of this incident, content efforts are also being coordinated and concentrated. “All of our marketing efforts are supporting the overall coronavirus message,” said one marketer. They are updating this content daily or even more often, so to keep messaging aligned, it is important that all the content is in one place. To distribute the content, they are also using channels like Facebook Live and Twitter for sharing information about the virus.

“We’re using the know/go/owe approach to content and our customers,” said another healthcare marketer. “This means, what do they need to know, where do they need to go, and what will they owe?” The content strategies they are all using revolve primarily around tempering panic and fear around the outbreak so they can appropriately manage healthcare resources, help contain the virus, protect healthcare workers, and serve the most vulnerable and sick people first.

All of the healthcare marketers in our group also indicated that they are significantly increasing outbound communications, and it has been very effective. “We are being very careful, however, to not panic people with too much information that may not apply to them.”  

Using Call Tracking to Provide Better Service to Healthcare Customers

Our data shows that, surprisingly, call volume to our healthcare customers has remained fairly flat over the last few weeks. At the same time, one marketer said his website traffic to coronavirus pages increased by over 70,000 users in the last week. This shows that the marketing tactics that they are using to inform customers online are likely effective at alleviating people’s concerns and reducing the impact on call centers.

Some of our healthcare customers are also using phrase spotting and Invoca Signal AI conversational analytics tools to learn more about customer behavior on the phone. This helped one customer make changes to their IVR to get people to the right representative quickly. They did this by removing everything from the IVR except hold music and coronavirus content, as well as messages that direct callers to online content like infographics and symptom checkers like this one from University Hospitals.

Interactive symptom checkers like this one from University Hospitals helps people diagnose themselves before calling or coming into the hospital.

Some are also using Signal AI to capture data about what is happening on calls. Such as whether people are calling about symptoms or general questions. Most have found that many of the calls are for appointment cancellations, as people are trying to stay away from hospitals. Others have found issues where phone agents are losing their patience with callers because they have to repeat the same information over and over again.

To alleviate this, some are using Invoca to route calls from coronavirus-related web pages to the most appropriate agents to assure they are served quickly by agents who have the information they need.

Increasing Use of Telemedicine to Safely Serve Patients

Telehealth is being utilized more often by healthcare providers right now as people shouldn’t go to facilities for general appointments. Primary care appointments are being pushed to telehealth and most providers are offering this free of charge. One senior living customer is also offering virtual grief support groups to make sure this vital connection between people remains intact despite the need for social distancing.

Some have discovered issues with their telecare app providers having difficulty handling the large increase in volume. And despite the fact that telehealth is not usually profitable, utilizing it in this situation is a huge benefit to both patients and healthcare systems. “The message from our leadership is people before profit,” said one marketer in senior living healthcare. “We will have a financial hit now, but everyone will be better off in the long run.”

This may end up being the tipping point that brings telemedicine fully into the mainstream. “We see wholesale changes coming to everyone because of this. Virtual contact with the healthcare system is becoming more desirable and telemedicine will become more of the standard after this crisis.”

Creating Dispersed Contact Centers

Many healthcare companies have had to shut down call centers to provide for social distancing. Some were surprised to find that operating their call centers in a virtual environment (with agents working from home) had little negative impact on the quality of services provided. This is a change that will likely continue after this crisis is over, as they are now discovering the benefits of dispersed contact centers.

“As for [call center] performance, it’s surprisingly going very well and metrics are mostly stable,” said one marketer. “So at the end of all of this, what do we do? Do we reevaluate the big expensive office [for call centers] in the future? If you don’t have to maintain an office then recruiting suddenly gets a lot easier.”

Healthcare providers that use on-premises telephony systems have maintained physical operations by reorganizing offices to provide for social distancing.  

Playing a More Active Role in Internal Communications

The health, safety, and mental well-being of healthcare personnel is the main concern for all providers. In order to provide easy access to up-to-date information that is specifically geared towards them, some organizations are setting up internal hotlines and intranet sites where healthcare workers can get the resources they need. Some also have crisis communication teams specifically focused on pushing out PSAs with talking points to the staff so the front line is educated on how to protect themselves and how to speak to people about the virus.

Keep an eye on the Invoca blog over the coming weeks for more industry insights about how marketers are handling the COVID-19 crisis and serving their customers. If you are a current Invoca customer who would like to participate in a group discussion, please contact us here.

I hope you stay healthy and wish you and your families all the best.

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