Recently, our friends at Klein and Partners and The DRG published the second wave of their Coronavirus Omnibus research — How the Coronavirus is Impacting Healthcare Perceptions and Behaviors. The healthcare market research study was fielded in early May 2020 with a random sample of 502 adults across the U.S. (We’ll use “Coronavirus” throughout this article, instead of COVID-19, consistent with the research itself.)
We’ve been using the findings of this study to help guide our clients with healthcare communications strategy with regard to practices and messages that will be most effective in helping consumers feel safe enough to return to non-virtual care settings. The research sheds some useful light on consumer thoughts on telehealth, as well. Following are several of what we see as the most immediately actionable highlights to get more patients.
I have to admit, this one surprised me a little. We’ve been seeing other national healthcare marketing research on the current high level of fear and anxiety, which we have all also experienced firsthand over these past three months. I would likely not have predicted that hope and optimism would slightly outweigh the more negative emotions. Levels of hope, optimism and inspiration were all rated between 6 and 7 out of 10, on average. Loneliness, anger, fear and anxiety were all rated between 4.3 and 5.3, and all abated somewhat during the prior month. Nonetheless, these challenging emotions remain significantly higher among the women and adults 18-44 who comprise the typical health system’s primary audience.
While it is still necessary to provide reassurance to allay fear and anxiety (more on this below), it’s also a good idea to allow system communications to reinforce and spread the hope that consumers feel and need. Of course, the proper balance must be struck between reassurance of safety and optimism.
The good news is that their average anxiety about contracting the virus in a care setting wasn’t rated a 10 out of 10, but a six (6.09) out of 10. Of course, that’s still a significant hurdle. Not surprisingly, concern is highest for the hospital E.R. setting (7.28 average), followed by hospital inpatient (6.9), urgent care center (6.68), outpatient center (6.3) and doctor’s office (6.19). We’ve got our work cut out for us when it comes to reassuring patients; fortunately, the study sheds more light on how to do just that, below.
When asked what a healthcare facility could do to put them most at ease when coming in for an appointment, the top ranking answers were:
Similarly, the study asked which communication messages would put people most at ease prior to their appointment. The top responses were:
Clearly, we’ve got a lot of “explaining” to do. It’s not enough to offer vagaries like “We’re socially distancing and cleaning more than ever.” Systems need to give detailed information, and, ideally, show what they are doing.
You’ve reconfigured your waiting rooms? Installed sneeze guards? Upgraded your HVAC system? Implemented new cleaning protocols? Great! Tell patients the details — and show it. Better yet, walk them through what to expect in the entire experience from start to finish, in digestible sound bites, with photos. Some of the best provider communications we have seen in recent weeks do just that.
When asked what would most likely cause them to choose a different provider for their care, consumers’ top choices included:
As in pre-pandemic times, you’ve got to be easy to work with and empathetic to retain patients and generate positive word of mouth and reviews. (Hypothetically, that’s more true now than ever, as patients are in a heightened state and likely to have even less tolerance for negative experiences.) You’ve got to schedule and reschedule people quickly. Do what you can to ease cost issues; the research sheds more light on this that we won’t get into in this post, so let us know if you want to discuss further. And, as discussed in depth above, make sure your safety practices are coming through loud and clear, including how Coronavirus patients are being treated separately.
We’ve all witnessed the recent surge in telehealth. The study provides some useful data points on where consumers are with regard to this service:
Of the two-thirds of respondents who had experienced cancellations of various types of appointments, only 9% had changed sick care visits to a virtual setting, vs. 17% of follow up visits, 21% of consult visits and 45% of mental health visits. As Rob Klein points out, we could see continued growth in virtual visits in follow ups/consults and mental health. That seems quite likely.
This also suggests that we have some work to do in terms of educating people about the use of telehealth for sick care during the continued pandemic — at least for those patients who continue to be too fearful about coming to a physical facility.
We will keep you informed as things evolve, in the future third wave of this study. For now, there’s more to this wave than we can reasonably report here, so please reach out if you have questions about healthcare marketing strategies and communications during the pandemic.
If you’re finding it particularly challenging to bring patients back (and who isn’t?) you may want to consider doing a local version of this study to understand how needs may vary among your specific population and ensure that you’re getting the most impact from your marketing dollars.