Strategies for Engaging Non-Consumer Healthcare Audiences

The way healthcare organizations communicate with non-consumer audiences is critical to brand and revenue performance. Here’s how you can engage physicians, employers and other business-to-business stakeholders to support effective rebound and recovery strategies.

The pandemic’s impact on healthcare consumer behavior is well documented. New data is released nearly every day on how COVID-19 is accelerating telemedicine and other trends that were underway before the crisis. For non-consumer audiences, there is significantly less coverage despite the pivotal roles that healthcare providers, payers and other community partners play in driving referrals and brand reputation.

These audiences are experiencing their own challenges that need to be addressed as part of a post-COVID-19 marketing strategy. For example:

Physicians are both valued as #HealthcareHeroes and stressed at extraordinarily high levels.

Employers and other community leaders are juggling competing priorities of safety, financial stability and productivity.

Hospitals and health systems are shifting into recovery mode and engaging donors in efforts to address resource and financial deficits.

If marketing to one of these audiences is within your purview, there is a tremendous opportunity to build and deepen connections that can have a significant influence on your brand reputation and financial health.

Whether your role involves physician relations, business development or some other business-to-business function, you’re primarily responsible for managing relationships with people—and all audiences are ultimately healthcare consumers, who consider hospitals one of the most trusted sources of COVID-19 information.

To support these efforts, we’ve compiled a few recommendations for engagement.

Engagement Strategies for All Non-Consumer Audiences

First, acknowledge the uncertainty that everyone is experiencing. Any outreach that does not recognize the anxiety, fears and feelings of isolation could come across as tone deaf.

It’s also critical to create alignment on your brand’s identity, voice and communication strategy as you shift from response to rebound and recovery strategies.

As part of this transition, marketing and communication leaders can help ensure a safe, but quick, return to elective volumes and in-person care by engaging candidates and promoting the appropriate access point.

Finally, consider ways to shift from the ubiquitous COVID-19 narratives like #HealthcareHeroes and #InThisTogether to messaging that highlights your unique capabilities and differentiates your brand.

Engagement Strategies for Physicians

Taking care of those who take care of patients is a top priority for all healthcare organizations. To reflect this effort in your physician outreach, share resources that will mitigate stress and support mental health for caregivers. This can include tools to prevent/address burnout like the following from the American Hospital Association:

To facilitate an effective patient/provider interaction, provide support that enables effective utilization of telehealth and other new advancements that come out throughout the crisis. Effective communication is key to adoption of new technology, both for consumers and providers. Arm physicians with talking points on policy changes, frequently asked questions and other resources they need to effectively connect with patients on the current state and what’s next.

During this process, be transparent with providers about what the future looks like if a decline in volumes continues, and communicate those reports often. This includes clear directives about your return to in-person care so providers understand factors under consideration and key procedures to follow. Ensure providers fully understand both what you’re doing for them and what’s expected from them.

And of course, share stories of your #HealthcareHeroes! Everyone needs some uplifting content, doctors included. Find creative ways to spotlight physicians and other front-line staff going above and beyond for their patients and peers. Here are a few of our favorite examples from hospitals and health systems nationwide.

Effective Tactics

  • Email outreach with daily/weekly updates on COVID-19 impacts, policy changes and other resources
  • Physician content hub (like this example from Vanderbilt Health)
  • Leadership huddles and virtual town hall meetings
  • Social media posts celebrating caregivers
  • 1:1 conversations and support

Engagement Strategies for B2B Marketers

Employers and other community leaders play a key role in the rebuilding strategy. To ensure they’re well informed and support their efforts to drive down costs, start by helping your partners or clients understand and promote the telehealth solutions available to their employees. Also, find ways to continue screenings, smoking cessation programs and other wellness initiatives that can prevent costly hospitalizations.

Be transparent with your partners, and arm them with information to share with employees about COVID-19 testing procedures and availability. When you resume in person care/elective volumes, share with your partners/clients how you’ll be prioritizing case volume and the demand for services. Depending on the scope of your relationship, share content on disease prevention, stress management and other topics designed to drive down costs on health plans and keep the workforce healthy.

Effective Tactics

  • Email updates with local COVID-19 statistics, state return-to-work guidelines and other resources
  • Webinars with “how-to” instructions on telemedicine and other non-traditional access points
  • Content and collateral on preventing illness/injury and ensuring a healthy workplace
  • 1:1 conversations with employers and community leaders

Engagement Strategies for Donors

During a crisis, donors want to hear from reliable sources like hospitals on what is happening and how they can help. The key is to be specific by focusing on what you need and how donor support will be used, particularly when directly related to COVID-19 needs.

For non-monetary gifts, help people understand what you can accept, where to deliver or ship masks and other items, who to contact with questions and other directives that can avoid donor confusion. If a fundraising gala, golf tournament or other foundation event has been postponed due to the pandemic, reach out to those who have signed up with an offer to support investments in telemedicine and other new technologies that will advance patient care.

And again, share your stories of the front-line staff going above and beyond to take care of patients. This will create an emotional connection that illustrates where the money is going and the lives being impacted.

Looking ahead, be transparent with major donors on any changes to strategic growth plans so they’re well informed and feel invested in the organization’s future.

Effective Tactics

  • Print materials on what/where/how to give
  • Social media posts celebrating donor impact
  • Hospital website content tailored to current and prospective donors
  • Email outreach to your donor list featuring video messages from your CEO/leadership
  • 1:1 conversations with donors

We Can Help You Engage Non-Consumer Audiences

Let our team of healthcare marketing experts connect you with physicians, donors and other communities.

Vanderbilt Care Paths: Clinical and Marketing Leaders Collaborate to Improve Population Health

When marketing and medical professionals communicate, remarkable things happen. Just ask the experts at Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network, whose internal collaboration is improving population health in Tennessee and surrounding states through the use of standardized care paths.

Population health management strategies are gaining traction all over the country as hospitals and health systems look for ways to improve patients’ overall health and lower costs. The 2018 HealthLeaders Media Population Health Survey reports that 87% of providers say population health is a top priority for their organization. For Megan Pruce, vice president of strategic marketing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), this shift marks an important opportunity for organizations to rethink the way they deliver and market their services. “The model we have today isn’t going to work for too much longer,” Pruce says. “We have to keep people healthy and living a high quality of life to succeed.” As part of her role, Pruce is focused on Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network (VHAN) and the care transformation initiatives at VUMC. This transformation is a strategic priority for the organization, as it is for health systems and provider organizations across the country. In 2012, it became a founding member of the VHAN, which has worked with VUMC and 13 health systems, 680 hospitals, 400 practices and 6,700 providers across the mid-south region to collaborate and improve the cost and quality of care. Michael T. Modic, MD, senior vice president of population health and professor of radiology and radiological sciences at VUMC, also believes that the current healthcare model, which largely ties revenue to specific procedures and treatments, is outdated and does little to ensure patients are living healthier lives. “Traditional volume-driven health care is based on patient visits and services, whereas population health is really designed to manage patients over time,” Dr. Modic says. “Population health initiatives focus on the entire continuum of care rather than an isolated event or procedure.”

Collaboration Is Critical

Both Pruce and Dr. Modic believe that collaboration between physicians, marketers and organizational leadership is vital to the success of population health management strategies. As colleagues who have collaborated across organizations, they know the importance of strong communication and buy-in from multiple stakeholders. “Leadership has to drive these initiatives,” Dr. Modic says. “They help make the case to the rest of the organization, so they need to understand the message behind population health. This message has to be delivered in the right fashion to individual players within your organization, or else it may not take off.” “Similar to a traditional marketing campaign, you have to target multiple audiences, including the providers and practices delivering the care, the employers that are carrying the financial burden, and the patients receiving the care,” Pruce says. “Marketers are specially equipped to gather data on consumption, awareness, engagement and adoption, which can help us create a product or service line that the market will actually use.” These services should not only be clinically sound, but also appealing to the marketplace. “The core skills and attributes of marketers work really well when trying to get population health initiatives off the ground, because you’re selling a new idea to people both inside and outside of your organization,” Pruce says. “A large part of it is taking our traditional marketing and communications strategies and deploying them in nontraditional ways.”

Leading the Way with Care Paths

Marketers are normally steeped in a world of data, statistics, iterative thinking and adaptive action, all of which are vital when launching population health management strategies, as well as when improving and building upon them. Dr. Modic appreciates the type of thinking that marketers bring to the table and is leveraging it well as a multidisciplinary team of healthcare experts works to develop the care paths initiative at VHAN.
"At Vanderbilt Health, marketers are involved with care paths from start to finish. That includes the strategy, concept and delivery of the actual product, as well as the design and development of the campaign to build awareness and adoption of it.” — Megan Pruce, Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Care paths are a strategy that has been adopted by a handful of leading health systems over the past few years in an effort to standardize the approach to care at the caregiver level for common conditions like diabetes, low back pain, orthopedics and others that see high variability in care process and outcomes. “A critical component to building out a care path is establishing a cultural change within your organization,” Dr. Modic says. “This change happens when you bring a multidisciplinary team together to take evidence-based literature and come up with a product or service line that truly belongs to the team. When that happens, you’re more likely to deploy it and employ it.” These care paths are based on best practices in manufacturing and retail and provide structure and protocol for treating certain conditions. Care paths help reduce unnecessary variation and are embedded in electronic medical record systems. This last step helps marketers and physicians gather data for continual improvement. “Manufacturers are obsessed with quality, safety, standardization and cost, and those are the same organizational attributes that a healthcare system should obsess about, too,” Dr. Modic says. “In addition to best practices and standardization, one must also appreciate attitudinal and behavioral aspects of patient population stratification—and that should be a sweet spot for the marketing input.” The iterative care path project at VHAN is currently in its first wave. While internal collaboration is a vital component, the organization has also relied on external collaboration to get the initiative off the ground. “True North Custom is helping us develop the content product, which contains peer-reviewed evidence and data to support the care paths,” Pruce says. “From there, we can digitize the content to become more interactive and start gathering metrics for improvement.”
"Probably the most important aspect of building these initiatives is getting the entire team to come together. That’s physicians, marketers and leadership. Once you understand, you can work together.” — Michael T. Modic, MD, Senior Vice President of Population Health and Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Looking into the future, the True North team is excited to see how Dr. Modic, Pruce and the rest of the VHAN team drive adoption across their series of care paths and work to implement patient-facing education resources and other complementary strategies. Ideally, efforts like this will drive better outcomes for patient populations, improve the healthcare experience for patients, families and providers, and decrease healthcare costs across VHAN and other systems around the country.