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Healthcare Marketing During an Economic Downturn

Is your hospital or health system’s marketing strategy ready for the new national economic landscape?

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that online communications are more critical than ever. Make sure your strategic plans reflect consumer anxiety caused by a potential financial recession or depression, so you can meet your organizational goals and reach your target audiences.

Sobering headlines and statistics about record unemployment numbers, slowing global trade, decline of gross domestic product, and unstable stock markets paint a picture comparable to the Great Depression. A recent SSRS and the Commonwealth Fund survey reports more than a third of Americans have seen some disruption to their income due to job loss, cut hours, or a pay cut. Of those, three percent have lost their health insurance.

In this uniquely challenging (and ever-evolving) situation, optimizing your marketing efforts can help ensure your messaging resonates with consumers who have financial concerns.

Remember the Last Recession…

The 2008 economic contraction had a different cause and took place under different circumstances than we’re experiencing today. But what lessons can we learn from the last recession that can help us now? How did the 2008 financial crisis impact healthcare organizations, providers, and consumers?

According to Advanced Billing & Consulting Services (ABCS), the 2008 financial crisis taught us:

  • The healthcare industry may not initially feel the impact
  • Demand for certain treatments decreases, somewhat alleviating the shortage of qualified healthcare workers; in 2008, some retired returned to the workforce
  • Patients may delay elective surgery and medical care for minor, nonemergency conditions to save money needed to spend on necessities
  • Outpatient care, considered “usually more consumer-friendly and affordable… when compared to more traditional inpatient settings,” may expand

ABCS references a study of Great Recession trends from the American Academy of Family Physicians that looked at consumer behavior. Patients were more likely to:

  • Have higher overall stress levels
  • Experience anxiety about their abilities to pay for care
  • Cancel their appointments
  • Skip preventive care and develop new health issues as a result
  • Lose access to employer-sponsored or private insurance coverage due to job loss or furlough

Knowing your audience and their pain points is one of the most critical aspects of effective communications. While you’re writing, developing or refreshing marketing personas, or other tasks, use the above findings to inform your understanding of your readers.

…And Look to the Future

A lot has changed in digital marketing and content strategy best practices in the last few years. Healthcare organizations, providers, consumers, and marketing departments are much different than they were more than 10 years ago.

The following tips are informed by what’s happened in the past and tweaked to most effectively reach audiences of today. Bear in mind that the 2020 pandemic is a rapidly changing situation and your marketing efforts need to adapt with the same agility.

Let Empathy Guide You

Consumers feel more confident to convert when your content is relatable, readable, accessible, and helpful.

  • Aim to help consumers feel safe and secure returning to your healthcare facilities, and consider what types of questions patients have in times like this, especially when it comes to care.
    • What will my visit be like?
    • How can I trust it’s safe to visit a waiting room or facility?
    • What are you doing to protect me/my loved ones when we come to an in-person meeting?
  • Meet your users where they are, positioning your providers as their go-to resource for answers and solutions.
  • Write in an engaging, user-focused way (versus an organization-focused style) that demonstrates your patient-centered ethos.
  • Use plain language to make your content accessible to users of varying health literacy abilities, and conduct keyword research to understand the language your target audiences are most familiar with.

Promote Services Strategically

If you offer services that may see increased interest or demand, consider promoting them more widely.

For example, if your organization offers mental and behavioral health services and can accommodate increased volume, you may see improved engagement and conversions promoting counseling through a marketing campaign.

Promote services that were paused during the pandemic. Patient and visitor restrictions prevented people from receiving annual physical exams and routine cancer screenings, such as colonoscopies and mammograms. Young children may need to catch up on routine recommended vaccines.

Telemedicine as Competitive Differentiator

Patients will understandably worry about the risk of COVID-19 infection until a vaccine is widely available. When choosing between two organizations, the ability to see a provider virtually may be the user’s deciding factor. Whatever services you offer through virtual visits, promote those widely.

Communicate Risk

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid loss of patient volume for preventive and primary care services, explain the detrimental health impact patients who forgo or delay these services may experience.

It may be especially effective to note that waiting until a health issue becomes an emergency is likely to end up being a costlier option than catching it earlier, in addition to having a larger negative impact on the consumer’s health.

Answer Financial Questions

Our keyword research often reveals queries related to billing and finances. These include “paying for [XYZ] care,” “what’s the cost of [XYZ]?,” “financial help for patients,” and similar variations. We also hear from doctors and other department subject matter experts that these are some of the most common questions they get from patients.

On your service line webpages, use plain language to explain how most patients pay for care, and cross-link to relevant areas of your website as needed. For example, you may note that you accept major insurance plans, Medicare/Medicaid, and offer financial assistance or aid to patients who qualify. If affordability is a competitive differentiator for your organization, emphasize it in your content.

Get Expert Help

Contact Geonetric today to evaluate your current COVID-19 marketing efforts and plan a strategy to support future success.

Stella Hart

Senior Web Writer and Content Strategist

Healthcare Marketing During an Economic Downturn