3 Healthcare Predictions for a Post-Pandemic World

What will the healthcare landscape look like after the pandemic — and what are you doing now to prepare?

There's no shortage of content addressing the current realities of the pandemic. In fact, more than 41,000 articles were written about COVID-19 in just the first 3 months of 2020. While there is uncertainty around the timing of a vaccine, the toll on the economy and other critical issues, the paradigm shifts in how healthcare is delivered, financed and promoted that were at the tipping point prior to the pandemic and are now becoming a baseline for the future.

Here are three of these patterns that we predict will last long after we’ve found a cure for COVID-19.

The Prediction: Driving profitable revenue will be the C-suite’s top priority.

Even before COVID, the trends toward consumerism and digital transformation were driving a shift from inpatient to higher-margin outpatient procedures. This “no more heads in beds” approach has been gaining momentum for years and is now accelerating daily with lack of physical access to physicians during the pandemic. The result will be what Jefferson Health CEO Dr. Stephen Klasko calls a “healthcare with no address” environment.

At the same time, revenue growth has become the top priority for hospital and health system CEOs—and the pandemic is only magnifying that mandate. The cost of COVID-related hospitalizations and the subsequent impact on elective procedures and other high-value services is fueling an urgency to drive revenue, along with creating a capacity vacuum that healthcare organizations will be laser-focused on filling when the pandemic dissipates.

According to William Winkenwerder, MD, the former CEO of a large health system who also served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, hospitals need to take more non-COVID patients—as they can’t expect politicians to solve the problem. “The hard reality is that no amount of financial aid from Washington or increased lines of credit can reverse the growing losses across our entire healthcare system. The only answer is for the healthcare system to cure itself.”

The Implication: As payment for telemedicine and other non-traditional channels expands, the healthcare organizations who embrace these consumer-centric models and build a pipeline for priority service lines will emerge as winners in the post-COVID world.

The Prediction: Healthcare will be delivered from virtually everywhere.

Thanks to Amazon, Uber and other global brands, the modern consumer expects an easy, elegant and convenient experience at every stage of the decision cycle, from researching conditions and evaluating treatment options to patient encounter and loyalty.

In addition, these interactions are increasingly happening from the comfort of home as consumers conduct nearly all activities of modern life—from shopping and working to educating children—without having to go anywhere.
These standards set by retail providers and e-commerce platforms are having implications across all industries and healthcare is no exception. This is clearly evidenced by the growth in healthcare-related search queries, demand for online health content and adoption of tools like online appointment scheduling and telehealth.

The Implication: Fueled by social distancing efforts due to COVID, consumers seeking a retail-esque healthcare experience beyond the traditional hospital or physician practice setting will progress until today’s norms could seem antiquated in the near future. In fact, Dr Klasko suggests that, "We should never again use the word 'telehealth' just as we don't use the word 'telebanking.' It's just that 90% of banking went from the bank to the home. Much the same will happen in healthcare."

The Prediction: The role of caregiver will be redefined.

Physician burnout and nursing shortages were critical issues before the pandemic, and the stress associated with the surge in COVID-19 cases—overcrowded hospitals, limited resources and their own threat of infection—has only exacerbated those concerns.

The strategies deployed by healthcare providers and government regulators to address the crisis have been tremendous, including.

  • Redirecting physicians and nurses to care for COVID-19 patients
  • Allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others to perform expanded functions without physician supervision
  • Offering fourth-year medical students the opportunity to graduate early and jump into action
  • Enabling non-clinical staff to triage patients

Many of these efforts to expand capacity are likely to remain in place as healthcare leaders audit their plans for an unexpected spike in patient volumes. When combined with the potential use cases for artificial intelligence (Dr. Klasko even suggests that “Any doctor that can be replaced by a computer should be”), it’s clear healthcare providers of the future could look a lot different than the ones caring for patients today.

The Implication: Business development leaders that have focused outreach and referral development strategies on physicians will need to reconsider their audience and messaging strategies. In addition, marketing and communications leaders will be counted on to support recruiting, onboarding and training for new clinical peers that ensure a satisfactory patient experience and maximum reimbursement.

Looking Ahead

Along with these themes, another vestige of COVID-19 will be a greater appreciation for the healthcare providers who are putting themselves in harm’s way. We believe healthcare marketing and communication professionals have also been instrumental in educating their communities, celebrating their colleagues and flattening the infection curve.

And since the only constant in health care is change, those who can inform strategy, communicate effectively and engage customers—including consumers, patients, providers and other constituents—will continue to be pivotal as we prepare for the next crisis.

As this recent HBR article suggests, “it is critical to start considering how the lessons of this crisis can be captured not only to make the next crisis easier to manage but also to ensure that the ongoing operation of our healthcare system is improved in a fundamental manner.”

Let’s Plan Your Post-COVID-19 Strategy

Learn how we’re guiding healthcare clients to engage their communities and build a pipeline for high value service lines.

The Evolution of Digital Advertising

In a recent episode of the Touch Point podcast, True North Digital Senior Marketing Specialist Michael Robideau advises hospitals and healthcare systems on ways to optimize their digital advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Michael Robideau, Senior Digital Marketing SpecialistWith more than 10 years experience in digital/search marketing, including stints with e-commerce and retail brands as well as serving as digital marketing specialist for Fairview Health Services, Michael understands the digital marketing landscape in health care as well as anyone.

He recently appeared on the Touch Point podcast to share expert perspective on how healthcare marketers can foster brand loyalty and build a pipeline for high-value service lines during the crisis.

Listen to the full episode and get the highlights from Michael's interview below.

On Digital Marketing Shifts during COVID

Some marketers have this idea that they don't want to offend people by advertising online, but there are other ways healthcare organizations can engage consumers and help them through the crisis. The health systems we’re working with are industry leaders because they realize everyone is desperate for real, accurate information right now—and we're helping them meet that demand.

If you look at search and social data, everybody wants to know about the coronavirus and they need content that helps them understand what's really going on. Most importantly, they're asking the question: “How can I help take care of myself?” Hospital and health systems are the most trusted sources of that information.

For a while, Google was blocking legitimate companies trying to put out valuable information or trying to get people to make a shift and go to online healthcare platforms. You can't search anything related to COVID-19 or coronavirus without Google basically owning those top spots in search rankings as they rewrote their platform strictly for this pandemic. They've taken control over search results so it becomes even more important to find different ways to get your content out there.

During this crisis, we have to adjust our thinking on digital advertising and ask ourselves: What is a conversion right now? A conversion is not a new patient while access is limited, but it might be looking at how much content are they consuming. How much are they viewing or downloading? How much are they responding? We're building a pool for when this turns back on. There's going to be a floodgate and we have to be ready to open it.

These are challenging times, with Google claiming the majority of search traffic and delays in launching campaigns on Facebook as their employees are working home like everyone else. However, that doesn't mean we can't start filling the funnel while the costs are down.

It's a down market, so we can take the approach of looking at different goals and different tactics, where the conversion might be capturing search volume for phrases like, "Do you offer this service?" or "What type of doctors do you offer?" We're looking at that higher level, top-of-the-funnel conversion now.

On Brand Strategies during COVID

You have to ask yourself: Is digital advertising stopping? Is my competitor stopping? No, they're not. Are they able to gain patients like you? No, but they're not stopping advertising. They're not stopping building their brand and that's the most important thing. By putting that top-of-the-funnel information out there, it's almost like a pivot to the new paradigm of patient acquisition. We're building positive impressions and getting them to remember us so that when the crisis is over, they choose us for their care.

Once our campaigns are live and we review the data, it’s clear that consumers are engaging with healthcare content. You're seeing impressions go up much higher than they typically would because there's so much demand. We, as healthcare marketers, have a unique opportunity to start building more brand loyalty during this crisis.

Most people don't know their primary care doctor anymore—if they even have a primary care doctor (they might have a facility or a clinic they turn to when seeking care). That's where we can start building trust and differentiating our healthcare brands.

On Building a Pipeline for Priority Services

A personal story: My wife is home and it’s been a cleaning-the-house type of moment for both of us. So we said, let's look at getting someone out to price getting some trees taken down. Let's get people out to look at replacing the garage door. Like us, people have more time than ever to be planning and preparing to make purchases for things they need.

At some point soon, we're going to get back to normal and there's going to be a floodgate of healthcare organizations looking to refill their funnel. Everyone of us will be re-investing immediately when we can, so you're going to see a sharp increase in costs for those who haven’t been consistent. Google and Facebook like those advertisers that have stayed true to them. When you have a campaign that runs consistently, it builds credibility and gives you a competitive advantage.

So even in these dark times, if we're taking those campaigns and just kind of shifting what we're doing with them and keep running, Google loves us. It gives us that ability to stay ahead of the curve.

On Effective Content

I’m seeing a lot of negativity in the news and online, but there are many ways that we can actually start to find joy in this crisis. There are so many incredible stories within health care and we can start advertising around that. This could simply be informing the community of what's going on and how to stay safe. It’s about expanding focus from solely bottom-of-the-funnel conversions to building brand awareness and affinity at the top-of-the-funnel. In some ways, we’re hitting the reset button on advertising right now. There are so many new opportunities to educate, inform and teach our audiences who are hungry for information.

For example, elective surgeries are postponed in many areas—but just because we can't do it doesn't mean people aren't searching for it. I've been walking on a daily basis with my family and my knee is starting to kill me. Am I going to be able to get my knee taken care of right away? No, but that doesn't mean I'm not trying to figure out, in two months, where I am going to go and what I am going to do.

You're seeing these shifts in digital advertising. Instead of talking about coming in for an appointment, your messaging can answer questions like, “How do I take care of myself until I'm ready to come in?” It's critical to build that brand knowledge now so you’re the best choice for treatment when the time is right.

On the Future of Digital Advertising in Health Care

I think one of the biggest shifts is the idea of telehealth and digital health care. The virtual care market has been growing slowly for a long time—and now it’s exploding. There were a lot of questions around how it works. While in-person visits have been preferred, everybody's now being forced to use telehealth. I think you're going to find that once people get a taste for it and find out how simple it is, that's going to become the new norm.

For healthcare organizations, providing that education is critical. It's a new way to build relationships with our brands and fill the funnels for priority service lines.

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What You Can Do Now to Drive Revenue Growth After COVID-19

The foreseeable future could make or break the financial outlook for hospitals and health systems. For marketers, this means it's more critical than ever to focus on initiatives that capitalize on pent-up demand, capture commercial volumes and drive revenue growth.

A recent Modern Healthcare article encourages hospitals to start planning now for what follows, and the authors believe "organizations that start now to prepare" are poised to "be better positioned" in the post-COVID-19 future.

Along with increasing surge capacity in the ICU and operationalizing alternative care delivery channels like telehealth, market leaders are aggressively building a pipeline of candidates for primary care, elective procedures and other priority services.

As a healthcare marketer, it’s imperative to balance COVID-19 communications with initiatives designed to capture the loyalty of the most valuable patients and prospects for priority services. Here are strategies you can implement now to get ahead of the curve and drive growth for specific areas of care.

Primary Care

The situation: With a short decision cycle and myriad options to choose from (including urgent care providers and new retail entrants), marketing primary care requires a strategic, consumer-centric approach to delivering value and differentiating your brand. 

The strategy: Primary care candidates are making decisions based on ease of access to care and brand recognition. Content marketing is a key strategy for building affinity by ensuring your information is discoverable and your brand top of mind at any moment of need. By delivering a steady flow of useful content on critical topics of interest, you become a trusted advisor and the provider of choice when the time comes to establish what can become a life-long relationship. 

Women & Baby 

The situation: With heightened concerns around keeping babies healthy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, women are increasingly making decisions based on convenience, access and comfort of providers and facilities, along with value signals like quality of birthing suites and other amenities. 

The strategy: As a patient considers her choice of OB/GYN services, building a relationship during the critical, and often short, window when women are actively seeking information is a key part of the process. Targeted, timely, and actionable content, along with search engine optimization, positions your brand as a compassionate guide before, during and after the pregnancy journey.

Capturing the loyalty of pregnant women can go a long way in creating a halo effect within the family, by extending the relationship and subsequent patient revenue for pediatrics, urgent care, ongoing OB/GYN care and a variety of other healthcare needs.

Elective Specialty Care

The situation: Service lines like bariatrics, orthopedics and spine have a longer decision cycle, requiring a significant investment of time and money for consumers who go down the path of surgical interventions for weight loss, pain relief and other elective procedures. Currently, hospitals around the country have halted activity in these areas, and there’s pent-up consumer demand for services that will enhance their quality of life.

The health systems who build a pipeline for these services now can expedite care for patients and be the first to capitalize on these volumes.

The strategy: Marketing efforts should focus on driving home the point that your services will help them enjoy a higher quality of life following their experience. To achieve this, craft messaging that engages consumers early in their research for options and advances them from awareness to action. Make sure to alleviate concerns and minimize friction during their journey by addressing their questions and promoting the outcomes you’re generating for people like them.

Many health systems today are preparing for a post-COVID-19 surge in demand by offering virtual seminars, pre-op visits via telehealth and using health risk assessments (HRAs) or downloadable guides to fill the funnel with qualified leads.

Non-Elective Specialty Care

The situation: For service lines like cardiovascular care, endocrinology and oncology, it’s important to drive engagement for interventions like screening programs, heart checks and mammograms. For healthcare brands to capture loyalty early in the patient journey, candidates need to receive clarity on their health concerns, understand their screening options and have access to information on ideal treatment options.

The strategy: Effective messaging for these services often focuses on the negative consequences of not seeking intervention. Your brand can stand out as an authentic partner on the path to a healthy future by encouraging consumers to be aware of their health risks and take action now that allows them to continue being there for the people they love.

While virtual seminars and telehealth visits are not always practical at the screening and intervention stage of the consumer journey for these services, tools like HRAs can help consumers understand their relative risks and help health systems fill the funnel to quickly build volumes as the COVID-19 crisis dissipates.

Urgent Care

The situation: Typically dealing with an unplanned event or seasonal issue, consumers seeking care for illnesses and injuries have a short decision cycle and often choose a provider based largely on access (location and convenience) and brand recognition. 

The strategy: When marketing urgent care, highlight online check ins, “hold my spot” features and other attributes that facilitate convenience and ease of access. Also, be sure to promote any partnerships with hospitals and other acute care providers that create a seamless patient experience.

Let's Connect

Learn how how we’re planning service line growth strategies to meet current and future demand for healthcare clients.

Need a Lift? Experience Hopeful, Joyful and Helpful Content Shared During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives, and its impact reflects in our inboxes and social feeds. Let's take a moment to celebrate the myriad ways clinical, marketing and communications leaders are lifting spirits and leading with positivity.

These are challenging times in health care, as healthcare professionals both on the front lines and behind the scenes are rising to the occasion. They’re also sharing moments that keep us safe, teach us new ways of staying healthy and even make us smile in the midst of the crisis.

According to Dr. Dennis Charney, dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, having a positive outlook in difficult circumstances is not only an important predictor of resilience—defined as how quickly people recover from adversity—but it is the most important predictor of it.

Here are a few great examples of how leaders in health care are persevering in the face of this pandemic.

Sharing Hope and Joy

  • Cook Children's Rise Up video is a beautiful tribute to their #HealthcareHeroes, with music performed by a 10-year-old patient.
  • A St. Joe’s Health nurse sings a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” at shift change.
  • Cleveland Clinic shares a heartfelt message of gratitude from a recently-discharged patient who had COVID-19.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Lurie Children’s Hospital challenges followers to post a fun video about handwashing.
  • MetroHealth highlights Compassionate Care Rounders standing in for visitors, connecting them with family members via video chat and reading them emails and letters. (Have your Kleenex handy for this one.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Communities Safe and Healthy

Moz founder Rand Fishkin suggests that in times of uncertainty, “The best type of marketing you can create is stuff that helps first.”

Here are a few healthcare organizations and providers doing exactly that.

  • Jefferson Health offers a comprehensive parent’s guide to coronavirus.
  • LCMC Health shares six healthy ways to keep from going stir-crazy.

Share Your Stories

We’d love to highlight other positive moments and resources during this historic moment. Send your examples to jskinner@truenorthcustom.com and we’ll share them with our community.

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Why Marketing Is More Important Than Ever in Health Care

The data is clear: During times of crisis, organizations that fine tune their marketing strategies to evolving customer needs come out stronger on the other side. Let’s explore how this business principle translates to health care, and how marketing and communications leaders can drive long-term success for their brands.

Depending on the size and scale of your organization, COVID-19 has either consumed every ounce of your focus (and energy) or had a less dramatic impact, like creating time pressures and resource constraints for your current initiatives to meet existing patient demand.

Here at True North Custom, we’ve seen a mix of both situations and we are committed to guiding clients on how to effectively tailor content and campaigns to ensure the health of their communities and organizations.

Considering the caveat that no two healthcare organizations are alike, there are several reasons that we—along with thought leaders like Atrium Health Senior Medical Director of Population Health Zeev Neuwirth, MD—see marketing as a linchpin during challenging times like these.

To illustrate, here are a few key reasons why we recommend that healthcare organizations maintain a meaningful, consistent brand and outreach strategy to generate favorable outcomes now and into the future.

Your community needs healthcare information now more than ever.

The demand for online healthcare content has been on the rise for several years and has now exploded, with the majority of U.S. households working and educating their children from home. This is creating a surge of up to 50% more Internet traffic than the same period last year, and hospital and health system websites are among the most trusted sources of information on coronavirus as illustrated in the chart below from a recent NRC Health study.

 

By engaging these consumers with healthcare content that educates them on COVID-19 issues, eases their anxiety and encourages them to take the most appropriate actions, your brand can create affinity that lasts long after the pandemic has passed.

Your service line prospects need a pathway to treatment.

That grandmother who needs a hip replacement, the father preparing for weight-loss surgery and a mom stressing out about her non-malignant tumor are certainly concerned about COVID-19—and still seeking to address the physical and/or emotional pain caused by their health issues.

It's imperative that healthcare organizations stay connected to these consumers, as demand will only grow as supply is constrained. In fact, a survey of 1,000 consumers on their sentiment during COVID-19 found half (50%) are planning to purchase healthcare services in the next 30 days.

Rather than pausing campaigns promoting these and other non-COVID services, we recommend adjusting content and calls to action to acknowledge the situation and secure their place in line. For example, people who convert on a form promoting specialty appointments can receive a message to the effect of, "We're not accepting new patients right now, but please provide your contact information and we'll reach out as soon as we can to schedule an appointment."

This allows your organization to collect information from these candidates, expedite their treatment and enhance their overall patient experience now and when restrictions are loosened and capacity becomes available.

Your organization needs a short- and long-term marketing strategy for virtual care.

In the near term, telehealth and other virtual care options are expanding to address immediate health needs and reduce risk of COVID-19 infection. Longer term, your organization needs a strategy for scaling and promoting these services as consumers get accustomed to seeking a medical diagnosis via screen—and offering a frictionless experience becomes their baseline expectation.

Of course, the spike in demand for virtual care is causing many systems to experience capacity issues so the immediate needs are more likely related to operationalizing the technology and training on coding requirements. However,  now is the time to think strategically about how to position your organization as the best choice for care in the setting that's right for your consumers.

Whether your favorite adoption curve aphorism is "the toothpaste is out of the tube" or "the genie is out of the bottle," there's typically no turning back once people get comfortable with more advanced technology.

To facilitate virtual care initiatives during the pandemic, we recommend pointing urgent care patients to telehealth as an alternative to in-person visits, as well as redirecting top-of-the-funnel conversions for priority service lines. For example, someone who is researching for same-day surgery options and downloads a guide can be directed toward a COVID-19 updates landing page that highlights the organization’s current policies with a call to action to sign up for weekly email updates on the evolving situation.

Your leadership needs insights on the market.

A clear view of brand perception, consumer preferences, geographic market dynamics and other metrics still matter—and will be even more important when the dust settles. Revenue growth was the top priority before the crisis, and rebounding from the financial impact of COVID-19 will be paramount as the virus dissipates and healthcare organizations compete for pent-up demand.

Marketing has a unique vantage point into these strategy drivers and other areas that can inform decisions. Keeping your team informed and clarifying misinformation during the crisis is critical, and will ensure the most effective investments and other strategic initiatives for long-term success

Your peers need to be informed and inspired.

The “we’re in this together” mindset is permeating throughout healthcare, and maintaining team morale is critical to meeting expectations from all stakeholders, including patients, consumers, physicians and board members during the crisis.

Your organization’s messaging strategy and active presence on the website, social media and other platforms should celebrate those going above and beyond to care for the community. Blog and social posts focusing on Healthcare Heroes are seeing engagement rates higher than others, reflecting a sense of community that your content can help foster through stories of sacrifice and hope.

Your competitors are either doubling down … or going dark.

Either way, now is not the time to scale back and shrink away from your audience. Notwithstanding financial emergencies, a short-term response to cut a revenue-generating function sends a message that community outreach and patient acquisition aren't priorities—and that could have lasting impact beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

We propose taking a strategic approach to pivoting your marketing initiatives that reflect the realities of the day, without compromising the brand perception and revenue growth opportunities of tomorrow.

We're Here to Help

Our healthcare marketing experts can share insights and best practices based on partnerships with organizations like yours.