The Great Paradox of Healthcare Marketing
For hospital marketing communicators, the last six months can be described as a great paradox. For many of us, it’s been the most challenging and stressful, yet rewarding time of our careers. Our skills have placed us in a leadership position at our organization. Our outreach has never had as significant an impact on our community’s well-being — or our organizations. And as ReviveHealth’s own industry thought leader and author, Chris Bevolo, recently remarked (tongue in cheek), “right now Joe Public really does care about your hospital!” All things not many of us would have envisioned just six short months ago.
As time marches on in the era of the No Normal, we’re faced with having one foot squarely planted in the midst of an evolving pandemic and the other wading through how to help our organizations financially recover by growing service line patient volume. It could feel like a great paradox to focus on navigating COVID-19, which may still be significantly impacting and limiting parts of our organization, while simultaneously marketing service lines.
After all, when the pandemic started (and as we’ve seen recently in hot spot areas), we quickly shut our facilities for “nonessential” procedures and effectively got the word out. Then came the images of hospitals and caregivers on the front lines that were often compared to a war zone — understandably striking fear into the hearts and minds of many. In hindsight, it’s clear that we should have continuously emphasized our ability to safely handle essential healthcare needs — a lesson we’ll remember for the future. But now, the pandemic is not going away, our hospitals are open and ready to serve patients, and we must figure out how to balance both. The question , how?
Part of the answer is dependent on the operational status of different areas within our hospital as that varies across the country. The other part of the answer lies in being agile in our work. But if you think about it, this is what we’ve always done. We’ve never been in a position as marketers to promote every service line at all times, full-throttle. We’ve always had to prioritize. We’ve regularly been called to accelerate or slow our service line marketing to pace with capacity. Today is no different; it just requires much more alignment and a fine-tuned focus on different ways to use personalized (versus mass) marketing.
It’s critical for us to take a fresh look. We must again step out of our comfort zones and lead our organizations to think differently about how we approach service line marketing. We need to:
1. Work with our operational leads to understand the details of current and near-term forecast capacity and potential gaps for the organization’s priority service lines.
2. Use data to mine our current patient base for those with conditions or potential procedure needs aligned with our priorities and perhaps lost to ongoing care.
3. Prioritize those patients who have a higher risk/reward payoff to serve as a proxy for a likelihood of returning.
4. Consider tactics to reach patients that we may have never tried before. How can we support targeted marketing and outreach approaches that are easier to meter for our volume needs? Tactics like hyper-targeted and personalized outbound phone calls leveraging underutilized members of our care teams designed to encourage patients to return to care or schedule a telehealth consult.
5. Craft an approach to use personalized direct mail as a follow-up to our outbound call efforts or non-responders.
6. Help identify whom to target and direct how we nuance our messages and scripts to reassure patients it’s safe to return while being transparent about the dynamic of COVID-19 in our particular area.
7. Throttle the number of outreach efforts based on the capacity in different areas within the organization, being mindful of how we prioritize our queue and pull back if necessary.
8. Host unique educational sessions to serve as CTAs such as “ask me anything” or Facebook live events where patients considering procedures can get direct answers from clinical staff.
9. While advancing new personalized marketing tactics, it’s also important to maintain our leadership position as a trusted source of health information in our local communities.
The news media has never been so interested in what we have to say. Instead of us pitching stories, they are now regularly coming to us. Use their interest as a way to engage our community in new ways. Also, consider how we shift our messages from purely COVID-19 facts and our own safety protocols to a deeper resource on how to navigate health and well-being within the context of COVID-19. Demonstrate how the safe return to care is happening in and helping our communities. Show the variety of options in how and where care can be accessed for specific needs.
Leveraging personalized marketing to drive service line volume and maintaining our visibility as a trusted source of information during the pandemic CAN function together. It’s not really a paradox but a necessity, and as we shift our messages FROM COVID-19 to helping our communities maintain a healthy life within the times of COVID-19, we’ll find our balance.