The COVID-19 pandemic created seismic shifts in healthcare and consumer behavior. As vaccines become more widely available and virus infection rates continue to decline nationwide, what's next and how can healthcare marketers prepare?

At CMG Health Marketing, we are seeing four trends that are shaping the industry in what many are calling the COVID economy:

  • A need for alternatives to physician referral programs
  • Increased spending on digital advertising
  • A rise in digital communication between providers and patients
  • An emphasis on empathy in messaging

Let's look at each of these trends and consider how marketers can rise to the challenges ahead.

A Need for Alternatives to Physician Referrals

Physician referral initiatives used to be a reliable pathway to practice growth. Research shows the use of referrals has declined by 44% since 2018, with digital resources replacing traditional channels throughout the patient's journey. Self-referrals are the new normal as consumers turn to social media, hospital websites and Google to research their symptoms and choose a specialist.

If your organization needs to reduce its reliance on physician referrals, the first place to start is your website.

  • Make sure your website is up to date and easy to navigate. Think of it as your digital front door - one that should welcome patients to your hospital or practice. Do you have online scheduling options and a clear way for people to contact you directly? Does your home page use medical jargon or complex terminology geared more at medical professionals than patients? If you've worked with the same website vendor for years and aren't happy with the results, consider an outside opinion. Most web design agencies are happy to conduct a quick audit. A refresh of your website could mean the difference between patients finding and connecting with you for vital services.
  • Focus on search engine optimization (SEO) by ensuring your content reflects your practice's expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (Google's pillars for success).
  • Consider paid search options to drive traffic to your site. Use keywords for conditions and treatments that prospective patients are looking for. If you're struggling to see conversions, it could be that your budget allocation is too low. We recommend narrowing down your campaign focus to conditions and treatments that will drive the most revenue to your practice.
  • Know when to hire outside expertise. As a healthcare marketer, you likely wear many different hats each day. When it comes to SEO or even paid search execution, tapping an agency for help can increase ROI and free up your time to focus on more strategic versus tactical work.

Increased Digital Advertising

To stay competitive in the COVID economy, healthcare organizations must invest even more in digital advertising. Get the most bang for your buck by focusing on:

  • Dominating Facebook and Google, rather than thinly spreading your spend across too many platforms.
  • Hyper-focusing your target audience rather than trying to reach everyone.
  • Being patient—it may take a while to see a return on investment. Start small and build from there.

A Rise in Digital Communication Between Providers and Patients

Telemedicine utilization exploded in 2020 as consumers sought alternatives to face-to-face appointments. People who are now more comfortable with online visits expect digital convenience throughout their healthcare journey. They want to:

  • Make and cancel appointments online.
  • Communicate with their provider and the office staff via live chat, direct messaging and patient portals.
  • Receive appointment reminders using text and email.
  • Pay medical bills with a few clicks.

The use of integrated technologies in healthcare is surging. If your organization is ahead of the curve, make sure your patients know it. Promote your technical capabilities on your website, in the office setting and on social media.

And if your practice isn't up to date on these bells and whistles? It's time to consider a transformation. Patients want healthcare that is easy to access and convenient—before, during and after their office visit. When your practice is technically savvy, the patient experience improves (along with your team's operational efficiency).

An Emphasis on Empathy

Now more than ever, it's important for healthcare providers to communicate empathy. Empathetic communication lets patients and consumers know you're right there with them. Here's what empathetic communication can look like for your organization:

  • Reassuring patients that it's safe to return to your practice for care. Think video!
  • Keeping in touch with educational content that reinforces your expertise and commitment to patient wellness.
  • Showing appreciation for your patients via emails and social media posts.

Every message you share with your patients and the wider community should reflect the care and compassion you feel for others in these challenging times.

At CMG Health Marketing, we're always anticipating the opportunities and challenges healthcare marketers face. Call us today to learn how we can help you prepare for whatever the future may hold.