As we emerge from this pandemic, our hospitals will need us to help drive patient volume to overcome the dire financial challenges they are facing. With that in mind, there is a clear imperative for healthcare marketers and communicators to develop content and messaging that is designed to alleviate the fear that consumers feel when they think about returning to healthcare facilities. As a result of the pandemic, people are currently avoiding visiting medical facilities and, in many cases, are delaying necessary care. They are putting themselves at risk and when they do opt to come to the emergency room their health has significantly degraded; they are waiting too long to address serious health issues. During the pandemic, there has been a striking decrease in patients visiting emergency rooms for serious non-COVID-19 issues, such as heart attack and stroke.
Hospitals and other provider organizations have done a great job communicating with their communities about the need for people to stay home and stay safe. Unfortunately, the public has come to believe that hospitals and medical facilities are not safe places. Over the last 30 days, as consumers have begun to take this pandemic more seriously, national research has shown that Americans’ concern about visiting a healthcare facility has grown significantly. In March, roughly 58% of Americans surveyed had safety concerns related to visiting a medical facility. Today, that number has increased to 72%.
With this fear looming, what’s going to happen when we start trying to encourage people to return to our hospitals and outpatient facilities for more routine care? How is that going to be received? Needless to say, it is going to be a challenge to bring people back to our hospitals and clinics.
The good news is that national surveys also demonstrate that consumers hunger for information about the pandemic and see healthcare providers as a trusted source. Consumers report that the preferred manner in which they would like to be contacted is through email and more than 50% are happy with weekly or even daily communication. So, the door is open for us to educate and inform people within our communities!
How Do We Take On This Challenge?
Right now, if it’s not being done already, we need to be developing content and messaging that do two things:
1. Inform consumers of all the steps you are taking to keep patients (and your employees) safe. People need to know that hospitals are not COVID-19 Zones. Show them photos and videos, and publish interviews that help them understand that your facilities are clean and safe. Let them see how hard your team works every day to maintain a safe environment.
2. Paint the picture of your vision of the “new normal” and the steps your organization is taking to create that reality. Let patients know what they can expect when they come back to your facilities. (Speak to specific facilities like your Women’s Center, Pediatric Specialty Center, Diagnostic Center, or Primary Care Practices.) How will they be protected? Will waiting rooms be different and allow for social distancing? Will patients use their vehicles as a waiting area and receive a text when they should enter the facility? Will patients be greeted at the door by an employee taking temperatures, ensuring that patients are wearing appropriate masks, and offering hand sanitizer? Will patients be expected to wear face masks? Will you be extending hours at your clinics and limited the volume of patients at any one time to limit congestion? Will there be a contactless payment system? Will patients be able to complete pre-visit paperwork online prior to the appointment? These are the things we need to be talking about right now. We need to be painting the picture of that new reality. Additionally, if you’ve got telehealth options for patients, you’ll want to promote those. If you’ve got outpatient clinics, laboratory services, diagnostic facilities, and surgery centers that are separate and apart from your main hospital, you’ll want to share that information. We also need to be reminding patients about the importance of routine diagnostic tests like mammograms.
In my daily conversations with healthcare marketers and strategists around the country, nearly everyone agrees that overcoming fear will continue to be one of the most important challenges facing healthcare organizations. My point is that we need to start laying this foundation now by producing and disseminating solid content and messaging that help ease the fear and anxiety felt by our constituents. We need to provide consumers with information that lets them know that their risk is minimal and that we are doing everything we can to minimize that risk. And we need to start now!