Weekly Comms Report — Consumers Experiencing COVID-19 Fatigue
As Summer Shandies and iced coffees phase-out, and stores begin to smell like nutmeg, we’re reminded once again that the season is changing. Yet, the effects of COVID-19 on the healthcare industry remains a constant buzz in our ears, one that’s now been with us through a few seasonal transitions.
Setting their sights on the fall, hospital marketers and communicators are now focusing on the upcoming flu season, November’s election, and the looming hope (and risk) of a rapidly-developed COVID-19 vaccine. The stakes remain as high as they were in March. We’re still here, doing our best to bring you the most up-to-date recommendations each week to help you meet the moment.
See below for insights on how to manage the COVID-19 fatigue happening with staff and consumers alike.
Communicating about COVID-19
1. Isolation practices are coming up short.
What we’re hearing: Despite CDC guidelines advising care facilities to isolate COVID patients to both mitigate exposure and conserve PPE, a survey found 32% of nurses are working in a facility that does not have a dedicated COVID unit. Nurses and staff are now sounding the alarm, saying that ignoring recommended isolation practices has put them at risk, caused preventable infection, and even led to the death of frontline workers.
Communications takeaway: There is a whole slew of reasons why some health systems did not, or simply cannot, isolate COVID-19 patients: shortages in testing, asymptomatic cases, and lack of isolation availability, to name a few. Regardless of the cause, this is a top-of-mind issue for staff and clinicians, especially those unionized. It remains just as important as it was on day one to communicate to staff the precautions being taken to protect their safety. We recommend staying close and maintaining open lines of communication with clinician leaders and unions to address concerns before they become media headlines.
2. Consumers are experiencing burnout, too.
What we’re hearing: The pandemic may be far from over, but Americans are over it. A new study reveals that consumer interactions and engagement on stories pertaining to coronavirus peaked in mid-March and have been declining significantly ever since, this month reaching the lowest levels seen since February.
Communications takeaway: The notion that the public is simply numb to COVID-19 is a scary thought for communicators. As we move into the fall and winter, experts predict a “twindemic” wave ahead: a dangerous combination of COVID-19 and seasonal flu. The public’s lack of interest will make it challenging to grab attention and share critical information with communities. This will present significant challenges should a safe vaccine become available. Be advised that traditional communication methods we’ve been using for the past six months may no longer be effective. Now is the time to be bold and get creative in finding ways to break through to those who have become disinterested.
3. Some early intervention rates remain concerningly low.
What we’re hearing: Experts previously predicted that the decline in preventive care resulting from the pandemic would soon be followed by a boom in demand. That still hasn’t happened, exacerbating concerns for the nation’s public health. In fact, colon cancer screenings are still down 33% and mammograms 23%. This matches ReviveHealth’s concern about the “missing domino” — patients who would normally have been moving through the system instead choosing to forgo physician appointments, diagnostic tests, imaging, and all the necessary steps before surgery or in a treatment plan.
Communications takeaway: Although there are many theories as to why the “missing domino” effect is occurring, from fears of infection to lack of insurance, health systems can begin to tackle the issue by trying to understand why people in their community are avoiding care. System leaders can then begin to craft a strategic communication plan, customized to their own community’s needs. Systems also need to aggressively market and engage in physician relations to restore “the missing domino” by getting patients back in physicians’ offices and diagnostic services.