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Bringing Patients Back to the Doctor’s Office After COVID-19

After putting out fires during COVID-19 crisis communications, your healthcare organization is ready to get back to normal — or something resembling it.

Find out what patient marketing looks like in a recovering world.

Reversing a Trend

Your healthcare organization has spent months delaying elective procedures, restricting visitors, and shifting some appointments to telemedicine. As the number of COVID-19 cases starts to fall in some areas, your organization may be ready to spread the opposite message: Come back in for care.

It feels like a tall task, as it does for all industries trying to encourage the return of consumers who’ve been told for so long to stay home. But the stakes are highest for healthcare. Emergency departments have seen fewer patients come in with life-threatening stroke and heart attack symptoms — which professional medical societies believe is due to fear, not fewer emergencies. Since the pandemic started, there’s been an 18% drop in healthcare spending, according to MarketWatch.

Some healthcare organizations are planning for a potential surge of patients as restrictions ease on nonurgent procedures. But some people, especially those who don’t have life-disrupting symptoms, may wait and see how their community’s initial return to public life plays out. Or, having managed their symptoms at home for the past few months, they may decide they no longer need professional help. Many patients almost certainly won’t seek timely care.

What You Can Do

Information was key to changing public behavior to control the spread of COVID-19. Knowledge will also help consumers feel confident returning to in-person health services.

During the height of the pandemic, your organization may have seen record numbers of website visitors, email subscribers, and social media followers eager for updates on COVID-19. Harness your new reach to educate people on the need to get medical care.

Some valuable information to share:

  • Measures you’ve kept in place to continue preventing the spread of infections. Patients will feel safer knowing some precautions are still in place:
    • Sanitization efforts in offices
    • Phone screenings of patients before in-person visits
    • Social distancing guidelines in waiting rooms
    • Face masks for staff and patients
    • Separate entrances for immunocompromised or high-risk patients
    • Maintenance of separate care areas for patients with contagious illnesses
    • Highlight even the routine safety measures you’ve always taken.
  • Risk to patients’ long-term health of avoiding medical care. Cape Cod Healthcare wrote a cautionary blog post on this topic, citing a patient whose delay seeking care for appendicitis resulted in a weeklong hospital stay. Another hesitant patient, who felt chest pain, had to hear that “the actual risk of having a heart attack was worse than the theoretical risk of getting COVID-19” at the hospital.
  • The value of getting evidence-based care in your established medical setting. When hospitals restricted visitors and cared for coronavirus patients, some expectant moms planned home births. Forced to put off elective procedures, other patients may have explored unproven alternative remedies.
  • Any guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization on the safety of returning to public life. Consumers have gotten used to relying on these sources over the past few months. Support your advice with their trusted information.

How to Get the Message Out

Take advantage of the same channels you’ve used for other information related to COVID-19. Consider:

  • Using your website’s alert panel or homepage banner for timely content urging patients to resume routine and elective care, and linking to a blog post with the information above
  • Asking a respected or well-known doctor to let you record a video of them explaining why patients shouldn’t delay care
  • Encouraging individual providers to deliver customized messages to their patients via the patient portal, mail, or email
  • Publishing a blog post with questions for patients to ask their provider before coming in for a visit
  • Profiling patients who came in for elective care and recovered successfully
  • Reaching out to the media for help spreading the message; news outlets will be covering the effects of the pandemic for months
  • Engaging with skeptics or hesitant patients on social media

Accommodate Nervous Patients

If you’re like many organizations, you ramped up telemedicine offerings in response to the pandemic. Continue promoting these for all patients, especially those who aren’t ready to return to a clinic. Expanded virtual care will be part of the new normal after COVID-19.

If your organization has concierge medicine doctors who make home visits, consider giving this service more promotion as well. It’s an option for patients who want in-person primary care without having to worry about the perceived risk of coming to a doctor’s office.

Address Financial Barriers

For some patients, the obstacle to care isn’t fear, but finances. Pandemic-related job losses have cost many patients not only income, but also health insurance. That means more members of your audience will need information about financial assistance programs and free or low-cost clinics. As long as the insurance providers you work with waive copays for video visits, publicize this information as well.

Get Communications Advice From Experts

Post-pandemic healthcare marketing is relatively new ground for many professionals. Get advice from strategists and content writers who’ve worked with other organizations in your position. Contact us to learn how Geonetric can help.

Celine Klosterman

Web Content Strategist & Writer

Bringing Patients Back to the Doctor’s Office After COVID-19