COVID-19

How to market your practice during a pandemic

A health care marketing agency CEO shares the marketing and advertising strategies physician practices can use right now.

According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), over 97% of physician practices have suffered economic loss due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and many medical practices are reeling.

Fortunately, there are many marketing and communications strategies you and your team can implement to help protect your practice now and prepare it for the days ahead.

On May 7, the AOA/AOIA hosted a webinar in which Stewart Gandolf, CEO of Healthcare Success, a health care marketing agency, went over some of those strategies.

The presentation slides are available here. To earn CME credit for watching this webinar, viewers must register through AOA Online Learning.

A summary of the webinar is below.

How are physician practices now operating as a result of COVID-19?

  • About half are using telemedicine (48%)
  • 38% of physicians are seeing COVID-19 patients
    • Of those, 30% feel great stress, but will continue to see patients
  • 60% of physicians who are not seeing COVID-19 patients are willing to do so
  • 14% plan to change practice settings as a result of COVID-19
  • 18% plan to retire, temporarily close their practices, or opt out of patient care
  • These numbers are from a recent Merritt Hawkins report.

Visits at ambulatory practices declined nearly 60% in mid-March and have remained low since, with just 30% of those visits now being provided via telemedicine. Surgical and procedural specialties saw bigger declines than specialties such as adult primary care, OB/GYN, oncology and behavioral health.

Roughly 95% of physician practices in California reported worry, to some extent, about their financial health. Regardless, individual decisions to open up practices fully again will depend on a variety of factors, and vary greatly (see page 18 of the presentation slide deck).

How are consumers behaving during the pandemic?

To view a full breakdown of health consumer behavior survey stats from McKinsey, refer to pages 22-28 of the presentation slide deck.

Of interest for physicians, the survey shows there has been a 180% increase in telemedicine user growth, with 48% intending to continue using it. On the flipside, 39% of respondents to the survey said they will wait more than a month after the pandemic ends to return to a physician’s office.

The biggest takeaway from the survey data is that respondents expressed interest in rescheduling cancelled procedures; half said a physician actively contacting them about rescheduling might prompt them to do so earlier.

What should marketing for your practice look like right now?

Some general tips to keep in mind when crafting your messaging:

  • Acknowledge the current situation wherever possible, directly or subtly, and be transparent and empathetic
  • Any images of large crowds, handshakes or parties can come off as out of touch
  • Make sure you don’t have any unintended messages (phrases like “we’re dying to see you”)

This situation is difficult, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop marketing. This time presents an opportunity to position yourself as a thought leader in your community and build your brand for the long term.

Some basic marketing efforts you can make right now include:

  • Creating up-to-date COVID-19 notices
  • Creative work on branding
  • Strengthening employee and provider communications (for bigger organizations)
  • Updating social media accounts and keeping in contact with patients
    • Examples: inform patients and the public on wellness tips, assure them you are taking all possible precautions, and answer FAQs

Internal marketing strategies

  • Be sure to update the COVID-19 safety notice(s) on your website
  • Create a video to emphasize your COVID-19 safety procedures
  • Call/text patients who postponed visits or procedures to reschedule them
  • Use email to get the word out en masse (link to your safety page/video)
  • Ask satisfied patients for referrals

Digital marketing strategies

  • Update your website (or create a new one)
  • Focus on search engine optimization to make sure your content is as visible as it can be
    • Also look into paid search and paid social (see pages 45-51 of the presentation slide deck for information on Google Ads and social promotions)
  • Create a system to improve your online reviews
  • Create organic social media posts (these are posts that you don’t pay to promote)

Advertising

  • If you have the budget for it right now, streaming radio and television are Gandolf’s company’s favorite advertising platforms. He advises against pursuing billboards and print ads.
  • Gandolf recommends ads that convey positive messaging to the community.

Final takeaways

  • There is currently pent-up consumer demand for pursuing care, but some patients will return to see you faster than others. It depends on comfort level and location.
  • Marketing and advertising will get interest, but conversion rates (inquiries) may lag behind historical norms.
  • Recovery will take time, and things may not go back to the way they were, but that creates new opportunities for growth, like in telemedicine.

Related reading:

What practicing medicine could look like after COVID-19

What small-practice physicians should know about Paycheck Protection Program loans

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