How to Increase Patient Engagement in Healthcare During COVID-19

Most of us are aware that consumers are hesitant or afraid to pursue elective care during the pandemic. Quell their concerns and bring your health system to top-of-mind with relevant and important content.

We’ve all seen the concerning statistics on declining rates of emergency room encounters for heart attack symptoms and other urgent conditions. It's no secret that many people are delaying critical care during the pandemic. As a result, it is critical for healthcare providers to focus on patient engagement during these challenging times.

There are key categories of patients that should be top of mind when planning your patient engagement strategies right now. Specifically, these include two groups: those living with chronic conditions and those who need routine medical care.

Chronic Disease Management

Chronic disease management is a challenging but critical task for health systems across the country. This is particularly true as systems are part of more value-based contracts. Ensuring that patients are seen regularly by their provider and that they have the tools they need to adhere to treatment plans for conditions like diabetes, chronic heart failure and high blood pressure are critical patient engagement strategies. These have become more challenging during the pandemic as many at-risk consumers are delaying appointments.

Here are a few ways marketers can support clinicians in the task to increase patient activation and support healthy outcomes over the next few months:

  • Clearly communicate the telehealth options available to patients. Be proactive in your quest to drive utilization. In-person care will most likely be necessary at some point during the pandemic. Make sure your most vulnerable patients have access to the information they need. Answer questions related to how to arrange transportation, what the check-in process looks like, how many (if any) visitors can accompany them and other issues that can impact their care.
  • Make the experience as frictionless as possible, both in person and virtually. Virtual waiting rooms are as annoying as sitting in a lobby. Accessing the care itself should be easy for patients of all ages. Set up a system that benefits your patients and considers their time.
  • Frequently communicate the importance of preventive care measures. Routine procedures such as flu shots and other vaccines, annual mammograms and more should be promoted. Preventing the flu and detecting a life-threatening cancer early are arguably as important as avoiding the spread of COVID 19 for our at-risk communities.

Pediatrics

Search volume for topics like “can I skip my kids’ vaccines this year?” is higher than ever. As we head back to school, parents across the country are grappling with tough choices about school, social events and sports participation. Worse even, they are skipping critical well visits, vaccinations and physicals for this children. Patient activation for this audience is key, and there are two approaches marketers can take to drive engagement.

First, work with your operations team on eBlasts to existing patients. In particular, we’ve found trigger campaigns that deploy when vaccines are due to be highly effective for increasing patient engagement. Chances are, families are already getting outreach from you for this, but marketers have a unique ability to craft messages that drive behavior change that should be leveraged right now.

Second, your content marketing strategy and social campaigns should include this topic as a focus. Blog posts that are crafted with parents in mind and targeted via Facebook and Instagram will reach your target demographic with content that inspires action.

Here are a few turnkey topics that can support patient engagement:

  • Critical vaccines no child under 18 should miss
  • Key items to send your child back to school with, including wipes, sanitizer and more
  • Halloween during a pandemic: what to do without trick or treating?
  • Keeping kids active and at a healthy weight when sports are cancelled

Annual Well Visits

If your organization is part of an ACO or CIN, has employer wellness contracts, or offers a health plan, patient activation is likely already on your radar. A number of those contracts and plans incentivize both the patient and health system for annual well visits and on-time preventive care utilization. But, when it comes to driving adherence, success rates are often alarmingly low. Particularly during a pandemic, it’s hard for patients to see the value of routine visits and preventive care, and frequent communication through the right channels is critical.

Here’s a few ways to reach your target audience with messages that drive action:

  • eBlasts to known patient lists that communicate the value of routine care, plus how to access it
  • Virtual visits options for as many routine and preventive visits as is practical
  • Content on employee portals and in newsletters that communicates deadlines and how to access care
  • Direct mail, particularly for the medicare audiences, that clearly communicates deadlines and how to access the necessary care
  • Practice outreach via the phone to patients who have not had their annual visit yet or who are due for some form of screening

eVOLVE Your Patient Engagement Strategies

We recommend starting with these three segments as part of your patient acquisition strategy, but each piece of advice can apply to your engagement and growth goals for particular service lines or audiences, too.

We’re Here to Help You Increase Patient Engagement

If you need a hand with content strategy and campaign execution, let us know. We’ll be happy to share additional patient engagement topics and ideas for your unique challenges.

How Healthcare Content Can Help Alleviate Common COVID-19 Fears About Seeking Care

Understanding your community’s most common COVID-19 fears is mission critical—here’s how content marketing can alleviate those concerns and instill confidence in seeking care.

Healthcare marketers are facing dual threats due to COVID-19: consumers delaying care due to fears or anxiety and shrinking patient revenue.

Among the new norms for healthcare marketers due to the pandemic, there is an acute focus on accelerating revenue growth. While patient acquisition has always been important, it has vaulted to the pinnacle of COVID-19 plans across all categories—from small, rural hospitals to large, national health systems.

This mandate comes at a time when the ability to attract consumers is increasingly difficult. Hospitals and other providers are marketing to communities who are scared that seeking care will increase their risk of COVID-19 exposure. Many are experiencing other valid concerns keeping would-be patients from getting the screenings and treatments they need.

While these fears surrounding COVID-19 are creating a significant financial impact for healthcare providers, more troubling is the fact that people aren’t seeking care for potentially life-threatening conditions:

  • The CDC reported that in the 10 weeks following declaration of the COVID-19 national emergency, ED visits declined 23% for heart attack, 20% for stroke and 10% for hyperglycemic crisis.
  • According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in June, 52% of adults say they or someone in their family has skipped or delayed getting medical care because of coronavirus. More than a quarter of those who say they or a family member skipped or postponed care because of coronavirus say their condition or their family member’s condition worsened as a result.

For healthcare marketers, there is urgency to address these fears and improve the health of both their communities and organizations. This undertaking will be much more marathon than sprint, a reality that was reinforced in a recent SHSMD podcast featuring Jefferson Health Chief Strategy Officer Monica Doyle, who said, “... one of the things we really have to do now is to convince our patients that it's safe to seek healthcare, and that it's potentially more detrimental to them in the long term, if they avoid screenings, diagnostic procedures, and treatment. So that that’s really how we see the next six months moving forward.”

To reach their communities during this time of crisis, healthcare organizations are turning to the experts in consumer engagement: the marketing department. Around 70% of health system executives surveyed in June said their main concern is replacing lost patient volume and revenue, and a similar share reported their focus is on marketing, education and patient outreach to make it happen.

To guide your efforts to alleviate consumer fears about COVID-19 and grow patient volume, your healthcare marketing strategies must pivot to address current consumer concerns. Here are a few of the most common concerns along with ways your content marketing strategy can address them.

Fear Factor: If I go to the hospital, I might get COVID-19—or I could be asymptomatic and infect others.

These are the primary causes of concern, with 70% of consumers saying they are very or somewhat concerned about getting infected if they go to facilities to receive care for non-COVID-19 issues. In fact, a recent study of 500+ consumers found nearly 20 percent would switch providers if another provider demonstrated better safety and cleaning procedures to protect them from coronavirus. These fears are amplified among those who are pregnant or at risk for specific health conditions, and market leaders are addressing these fears with messaging designed to build trust and bring patients back.

To address this fear, consider these content marketing tips:

  • Target search campaigns around keywords like “is it safe to return to the hospital” and link to landing pages that detail safety procedures and answer common questions.
  • Share stories of patients who were experiencing symptoms and overcame their fears to getting screened that illustrate the importance of early detection.
  • Feature your environmental services team and cleaning regimen in your blog and social content.
  • Contribute OpEd pieces to local news media with details about safety protocols.
  • Create a virtual tour on your website that illustrates how you’re modifying the environment to isolate COVID-19 patients and ensure physical/social distancing.
  • Feature your physicians in content focused on the value of wearing cloth face coverings in public and how wearing medical masks is being implemented in your care settings.
  • Feature caregivers from your Birth Center and other priority service areas on your blog and social pages, to reassure patients and let them know what to expect.
  • Promote urgent care in calls to action to encourage evaluation in the ER and help patients choose between in-person and virtual care.

Here are examples:

  • Adventist HealthCare created a Patient & Visitor Safety landing page featuring a video message from the President and CEO.
  • Beaumont Health features caregivers in their “Safe Care. Available Here.” campaign.
  • Geisinger created a landing page highlighting safety procedures and featuring a hotline for more information.
  • Holy Name Medical Center ensures first-time site visitors get the message: We are open. We are clean. We are ready.
  • Northfield Hospital + Clinics highlights precautions they’re taking to keep mom and baby safe.
  • Rockcastle Regional Rural Health Clinics posted a letter from physicians and staff on the website that details new safety procedures.
  • Tidelands Health launched a multi-channel “Safe in Our Care” campaign highlighting extra precautions to keep patients safe.

Fear Factor: I need care but can’t afford to pay for it.

Not being able to pay medical bills was a major concern before the pandemic, and this anxiety will likely continue as consistent employment becomes a challenge for many consumers.

In fact, a recent analyses found that almost half of families that lost work due to COVID-19 avoided healthcare.

For healthcare marketers, it’s critical to help consumers understand they can’t afford NOT to seek care, especially for life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke.

To address this fear, consider these content marketing tips:

  • Research search terms related to financing specific types of healthcare and point local traffic to a resources page with tips and FAQs.
  • Guide consumers on how to access affordable care with articles on your blog.
  • Contribute patient stories to local groups serving young families, older adults and other key demographics within your service area that highlight the importance of seeking care.

Here are some examples:

  • MD Anderson outlines sources of support available to cancer patients.
  • Methodist Health System helps patients estimate charges with contact information for financial counselors.
  • Nemours offers tips to find affordable care, including steps for enrolling children in public programs.

Fear Factor: I don’t know how to use virtual care.

While telemedicine is growing rapidly, there are segments of the population who are less likely to embrace virtual care due to lack of comfort with technology or fear of privacy issues. This is especially true of people ages 65 and older who have historically relied on personal, face-to-face visits when seeking care.

To address this fear, consider these content marketing tips:

  • Create a user-friendly virtual care page on your website featuring “how to” videos and FAQs.
  • Ensure articles about the ease and value of telemedicine have “forward to a friend” and social sharing features so family members can pass information to loved ones.
  • Develop scripts for clinical teams and call center operators to send a clear, consistent message about how to access telemedicine.

Here are some examples:

  • Beaufort Medical Center outlines costs, common ailments covered and other telemedicine details.
  • Novant Health created an animated video to guide consumers through the process of accessing virtual care.
  • Vanderbilt Health provides step-by-step instructions for accessing virtual care.

Fear Factor: I’m struggling with mental or emotional issues—but don’t want anyone to know that I need help.

Stress levels and fears associated with COVID-19 are well above pre-pandemic norms, with worry of infection, rising unemployment and social distancing translating into feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression that show no signs of fading. Unfortunately, those with mental health conditions often suffer in silence. Studies show it can take from six to eight years for those with mood disorders to seek treatment.

To address this fear, consider these content marketing tips:

  • Target paid campaigns with keywords associated with mental health and offer content that underscores the importance of seeking help along with opportunities to connect.
  • Feature content addressing mental health on your website, blog and social channels; consider easily shareable formats like infographics and downloadable guides.
  • Educate civic and community leaders on the importance of mental health through targeted campaigns and content.

Here are some examples:

We’re Here to Help Alleviate Your Community’s Fears

Our team of healthcare content marketing experts can engage your consumers in a way that inspires confidence and encourages return to care.