A lot of medical practices found themselves without a good way to communicate with patients during the pandemic. The good news is that it’s within reach for almost everyone. In this episode, you’ll hear where your marketing and communications focus should be in 2021, how to help patients who continue to put off care, and what to tell patients about the things you can do to help them.
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Announcer: It’s time to think differently about healthcare, but how do we keep up? The days of yesterday’s medicine are long gone, and we’re left trying to figure out where to go from here. With all the talk about politics and technology, it can be easy to forget that healthcare is still all about humans, and many of those humans have unbelievable stories to tell. Here, we leave the policy debates to the other guys, and focus instead on the people and ideas that are changing the way we address our health. It’s time to navigate the new landscape of healthcare together, and hear some amazing stories along the way. Ready for a breath of fresh air? It’s time for your paradigm shift.
Michael: Welcome to the “Paradigm Shift of Healthcare,” and thank you for listening. I’m Michael Roberts, here today with my co-hosts Scott Zeitzer and Jared Johnson. In today’s episode, guys, I’d like to talk about what medical practices should be thinking about for 2021 when it comes to marketing and communication. We’ve obviously been talking about this quite a bit in terms of adapting to all the many things that 2020 has brought, and thankfully, we are very close to the end of this year.
But one of the big things that we talked about over and over this year was just how important it is for everyone in healthcare, and for practices included, to keep on focusing on communicating with their patients. The whole routine has completely shifted over and over again, so it isn’t one change that we weathered. It was a variety of changes. A lot of different changes happened all year long and, man, we just needed that information all the way through to just keep guiding us on simple things like how to get into the facility, you know, just relying on telehealth, or whatever those options would be. But that’s one of the biggest things that we take from this year I think as we’re kind of leading into next year. That’s not going away.
Scott: No, no, it’s really not. Everybody wants this to be over, and we’re not going to be anywhere near normal for quite some time. And then what is the new normal? I guess that’s going to be a new podcast down the line, but communication will be critical. We’re getting better at it now. We’re getting better at updating our materials, both online and old-school paper, regarding what to do vis-a-vis COVID and changes that are occurring. There’s certainly, for everybody who’s been in a hospital or a doctor’s office, hey, man, you gotta wear your mask, and that’s not going to change for a while. And I think that there’s two layers to this, in my mind, for 2021.
So, one layer is stay strong, guys. We have to keep wearing our masks. We have to keep communicating about what’s going on with COVID. We have to still be extra good at doing all that. And then the other layer is, gosh, when can I get back to normal from a business perspective? So, there’s this triage of like, “I just need to take good care of my patients and make sure they’re reassured,” and then it’s like, “How do I turn the water back on?” Right? “How do I get back to normal in terms of just getting surgeries rescheduled, etc?” And I do believe that the people that we have been working with who were actively marketing themselves during this crazy time, they’ve been quite successful because a lot of people are not marketing. They’re kind of hiding right now, or just trying to handle all the new responsibilities of COVID. So, if you’ve got the time, if you’ve got the wherewithal, if you’ve got the budget, I would strongly suggest that you not only communicate about what’s going on in your area right now regarding COVID, but also start thinking about marketing yourself if you’re not doing it already.
Michael: Scott, you know, one of the big things we were talking about before the show leading up to this is we’ve been through this cycle now, right? Like, there are practices that had to turn off all their elective surgeries, had to go through this process of really just kind of not being able to help in the same way that they’re used to being able to help, and there’s always been this kind of looming, hey, that could come back. And we’re certainly in that kind of phase right now, where, depending on what state you’re in, depending on what area you’re in, like, this could happen all over again.
Scott: Oh, yeah. You know, guys, I humbly believe that it’s going to get a little bit worse before it gets better. There are a lot of people who have I’ll call it COVID fatigue, and so those numbers are going up, which makes it more difficult on hospitals to have elective surgeries if their hospitals are full with sick patients. I think everybody sees this vaccine, vaccines, I should say, I think the Moderna one has just been approved by the FDA (editor’s note: in addition to Pfizer), so yay. But it’s going to be a while before we get all that. And no one has proven that simply getting the vaccine stops you from spreading it, so there’s a lot of stuff that is going to be happening over the next six months but, hey, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it will get better. But in the meantime, yeah, you know, don’t keep your guard down about the immediate needs, but start thinking about how am I going to turn that water back on? And it’s not just going to automatically come back on. It’s not that simple, guys, right?
Patients Who Have Delayed Care
Michael: For sure. One of the other things that we were talking about kind of leading into this, Scott, was not only do you have this kind of business disruption where I can’t just keep my doors open the same way that I normally have, but you’ve also got this group of patients that have been delaying care, they’ve been trying to figure out when it’s safe to come back out, especially elderly population, if you’re anybody that’s at risk, you’re really having to try to navigate this. And these are decisions that people are having to make on a daily basis around what level of risk they’re comfortable with, you know. I’m sure that all of us, you know, all of our families are having to go through that kind of process where are we going to this particular gathering? Are they going to stay far enough apart from one another or…? You know, these are conversations that my wife and I are having on a daily basis.
So, you’re in this at-risk population group perhaps, or you just been willing to just stay away from all this stuff, and now you haven’t been going to get that care that you need. And I’m not even thinking in terms of, like, chronic conditions, but just, hey, I just didn’t get that hip replacement yet. I put off this. And whether that’s because you’re worried about getting back out, or whether it’s because your insurance got disrupted in the middle of all this, you know, economic turmoil. So, man, there’s a lot of patients out there right now that are trying to figure that out, and they’re going to have to get back into this, you know, the healthcare scene at some point, but what challenges do we think that are ahead this year, guys?
Scott: I think, again, I go back to those two layers. So, on the one layer, it’s the doctor as a practitioner of medicine, and the other as the doctor as a business person.
From the perspective of the doctor as a practitioner of medicine, it is so hard to take care of people. You have to change the way that you’ve been taking care of people. It’s not very laissez-faire anymore. There’s a lot of things that need to be planned step by step, so a lot of things that you didn’t plan on thinking about, like just walking into a room to say hi, you know. I mean, do I have my mask on? I mean, we all deal with this, right? When you get into the car just to go shopping. Do I have my mask on? You know, that kind of silly stuff. And you’ve got a lot of patients that are scared and they don’t want to come in and they need care. And telehealth has definitely helped with that. Ambulatory surgical centers have helped, where, “Guys, we’re going to have to do surgery, but here’s a good way to ameliorate those risks,” right?
So, all of those things will continue to be in play I think in the first two quarters. And hopefully, we’ll hope to recede, you know, in quarter three, but that is going to still be a critical component. We’re all tired. We all just want it to go back to normal, but if you think of something as simple as, like, I want to get my teeth cleaned, I want to get my hair cut. You know, you don’t clean your teeth for a while, you’re going to build up plaque, and you’re going to build up plaque and you might need a root canal, you know. Get that hip taken care of, or that knee taken care of, on the other end of the spectrum, right? I’m in a lot of pain but I’ll just deal with it. Well, it’s not just pain. The joint is degrading more as well. And so, there are going to be a lot of patients that are going to be desperately needing care as soon as they get that shot, as soon as things tend to die down, or I just can’t avoid it.
And so, when you take off your “how do I take care of my patient” hat and put on my business hat, I go back to, like, well, what are you doing to tell patients that you can take care of them? How are you explaining your processes to help keep everybody as safe and sound when they need to come in? And then later on, when they want to come in, how are you telling them? What are you doing? Are you still going to employ telehealth? Have you been doing surgeries in an ambulatory surgical center and you need to get the word out about how and why? You know, all these things are going to be critical.
Jared: Yeah, Scott, one thing to think about there is just the fact that what COVID has not changed is that everyone has their own preference for how they communicate. Some still prefer email, some prefer text, some prefer a phone call, and some prefer actual…communicating, you know, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, whatever. And that part is always going to be a factor in doing things. And hopefully, when we’re thinking about all of these things, the topics that we need to be talking about, we’re also thinking about the channels. So, we’re also realizing that we can’t just put it in one place and say, “Hey, we put it there. We put it in this one place. We communicated it out and now everyone should have that.” We should still assume that people have not heard it, and so let’s over-communicate it, let’s put it in every channel, let’s put the same thing in every channel. And I think even just a little bit of a greater recognition that communications need to be rock solid. They need to be consistent. We need to be saying the same things in each of those channels. So, let’s not assume that it happens, and let’s not assume that just because we posted it somewhere that people have heard it and are being communicated to.
Telehealth as an Expectation
Michael: Talking about telehealth just for a second, you brought that up, Scott, as you were talking through these items. You know, I had the immense privilege to sit in a session at HITMC. You know, they just went through their virtual conference this year. Got to hear the fantastic Dan Dunlop, and Jared Johnson was also there. He also did a good job. I’ll give the kudos there. Jared, one of the things that you brought up in the midst of that presentation there was understanding the nuances of the telehealth experience. And I really found that to be a pretty fascinating topic. I’d love if you could kind of rehash that a bit for us, for those that didn’t get the chance to be in the illustrious HITMC event like I was. You were talking about it in terms of telehealth isn’t a differentiator, like, these are just expectations now, and there’s even…some people may even be looking for something like even hybrid models to go at this. So, I’d love to hear you talk about that a little bit.
Jared: Yeah. You’re buttering me up pretty well here, so I’ll do my best. Yeah. What we were talking about was an example from a colleague of mine who is in the healthcare marketing space, and she had a real example herself of her daughter having a chronic condition and needing to come in on a regular basis, and part of that includes a height check, so something physical. You can’t do that on a virtual visit, but the rest of her visit, she would love it if everything else was virtual, and the reason being this particular colleague, she lives about two hours away from the nearest…from their main pediatric hospital. Then she’s only about 10 minutes away from their local satellite clinic, the local walk-in clinic. And so, she said she was going down the sort of…You know, if somebody was asking me what would be best for me, I’d say, “Well, look, for me, and probably others whose child has the same condition, we’d love to just go into the satellite clinic near us for the height check, and then have the rest of it as a virtual visit, so I don’t have to make the two-hour drive just because it’s not fitting in one of your existing care models.”
And, I mean, that really stuck with me, that example of a potential hybrid model, meaning yeah, it’s not the fact that you offer this. Everyone offers it now. So, how can they just even do some…get some feedback from other patients to say, what’s your preference? And can we do parts of this in a way that part of it is virtual, part of it is in-person, and do it specifically for different treatments, for different conditions? And I thought that just opened up the door to a whole new realm. And my main takeaway besides the thought of, you know, whoever latches onto this is going to really set themselves up well, it’s simply the thought of recognizing that just because you offer it doesn’t mean that’s the best thing for everybody. That’s still the new way of doing things. There’s still a lot of education that has to happen, and a lot of communication that has to explain what it’s like, and that doesn’t just mean, “Hey, click here to schedule your appointment.” It’s like the more education we can do around it, the better off patients are going to be and the more comfortable they’re going to be trying something new. The fact is any time we ask someone to try something new, there’s some hesitancy.
Scott: Yeah. You’re right, Jared. And, you know, necessity is the mother of invention here, right? So, communicating, listening, so critical. You mentioned, like, you know, I grouped everything into telehealth, and you just came back with, hey, a little telehealth here and a little in-person, and the combination is good care. And I am hopeful that some of the positives, you know, that there will be some positives out of all this. First of all, no one ever thought that we’d be able to get a vaccine completed in a year, or under a year. No one ever thought that telehealth, across the board, would just be like, “Yep, you can get paid for telehealth. Go do telehealth.” Or, there are some local walk-in clinics, you know, the 24-hour clinics, where you don’t have to go to ER. You can come into the clinic. And some of these people, it’s like, “Hey, we only have three ER people on staff, so you’re going to come in and you’re going to get seen by a nurse. So, if anybody needs to sew you up or anything, we’ll take care of that, and then I’m going to have a telehealth call with you because there’s only three emergency room people in seven locations. But we’ll get you taken care of.” Right?
All of these hybrid answers to difficult and complex situations. I hope we’ll make medical care better in the year coming. And I think, again, I go back to, like, different ways to take care of people, different ways to communicate. When you’re on Facebook, you can communicate a message in a particular way, and on your website another way, Instagram, and so on. Man, I’m still waiting for AOL to come back, so you never know.
Jared: Any day now. Any day.
Scott: Any day.
Jared: Keep that dial-up port handy.
Scott: Ding, ding, ding.
Michael: Everybody, I always appreciate that you tune in, that you’re listening to the show here. I wanted to let you know that we have set up a new newsletter that you can get to at paradigmshift.health. That’s paradigmshift.health. You can go there. And the reason that we’ve got this newsletter is that we’d like to send out a few extra pieces of information with the show. We also have the full transcript for every single episode that we do, and we can let you know that through email. We can let you know also if we have a good quote card to be able to show for every episode. So, check that out if you’d like, paradigmshift.health. Thanks so much.
Different Channels for Communication
Talking about all those different channels, one of the things that we found this year kind of going back to, as things were really starting up, you know, and we were talking about all these different channels that people are communicating, it was interesting seeing how certain channels just became so much more effective. You know, like, one of the things that we do with a lot of practices is that we will work with them on their Google Search campaigns. We’ll help them pick the right keywords, all that fun kind of stuff, but that assumes that people are going to search for those things, right? Google has their estimates of this is how often this normally happens, but they don’t have a, hey, in the event of a brand-new pandemic, when everybody’s freaking out over things, this will be the new search volume.
So, you know, everything changed, and if we do go through another period where elective procedures shut down in certain areas, that sort of thing, I think some of these things that we’ve learned this year are going to be just as relevant, because a lot of practices found themselves without a good way to communicate to their patients, and especially prospective patients, because you may be able to reach out to, you know, depending on what your scenario is, if you have an EMR or whatever, that you can use to kind of get messaging out. But if you’re trying to help somebody figure out all these different questions that we’ve brought up, and you’re trying to get them in the door for the first time in the midst of all this stuff, people aren’t going to use those normal searches, right? They aren’t going to just look up how do I get this particular procedure done? So, now you’ve gotta find a different way to get that messaging out.
And I think that’s kind of one of the biggest takeaways from this year is that you can’t get so locked into one channel. And I know we’ve kind of said this in one way earlier, but not just for your current patients, but also the way that you’re getting out in front of new patients, there are going to be these disruptive moments, and we’re certainly nowhere near being done with disruptive moments for…even with COVID. And so, practices have to be ready to be able to kind of jump to other spaces. You know, Jared, one of the things that I’ve heard you talk about, I think we’ve discussed some before, is just how much voice search is becoming a thing. And that’s something that a lot of practices that we’ll end up talking to sometimes, like, just trying to handle regular search is something that they struggle with, but even thinking about where voice search is going and whether 2021 is the year where that actually really, really takes hold, or whether it’s five years from now, either way, like, you know, what are the kinds of things that people need to be thinking about around voice?
Jared: It’s pretty basic and actually similar to what you and Scott mention on a regular basis in terms of the easiest way to do it is just to ask the device, like do it yourself, you know. Pretend like you’re a potential patient and ask the voice device, ask the smart speaker, ask Alexa, “Hey, dah, dah, dah, dah, find my nearest orthopedic surgeon, you know, near me,” or whatever, and see what shows up. You know, see what the device tells you. That’s going to give your first indicator. But basically, if you realize, you know, most smart speakers are linked to locations data, which is stuff you should be keeping up to date anyway.
So, always keeping your Google My Business listings up to date, you know, especially around holidays, and when things have been changing because of COVID. If one location, one clinic, or one part of the office is COVID patients and one is not, you know, then those are just essential things to have listed correctly in all of your business listings, everywhere. So, it’s just one of those things that still doesn’t seem to resonate a lot with folks to realize, “Oh, that’s where that data comes from.” I just thought if, you know, the Google can find stuff and it’s like, “Well, where is Google finding stuff?” It’s the same way with the Amazon ecosystem. Where is it finding stuff? Well, in your business listings. You have full control of that, and that needs to be updated anyway.
Scott: You’re right.
Michael: Yeah. Business listings are so not…I’ll use the silly word of it’s not sexy, you know, from a marketing…
Scott: I was thinking the same thing, like I don’t know what you’re coming up with, but I’m thinking, “Yeah, it’s not a sexy thing.” You’re right.
Michael: It’s not the new hotness.
Scott: But critical.
Michael: It’s like, it’s kind of mundane work to do, in terms of content to keep up to date, but man, so many of these systems are now drawing from it. And there’s even rumors going around that Apple may be trying to make its own search engine, you know, all these different kinds of things. And some of these existing databases that are out there are the best sources of information for this stuff, and simply getting accurate information, and going back and updating it on a regular basis, like what you’re saying, Jared, like, “Hey, we’re going to be closed Christmas Day. We’re going to be closed New Year’s Day. We’re going to be closed,” you know, that kind of stuff, it’s such a… You could give that task to anybody in your office to get it done. So it seems like it’s not that important, and yet it’s so critical, and patients being able to find you at the right time, and find you on a variety of devices, you know, especially as those devices continue to get more and more diverse.
Scott: Yeah. I always describe what you’re talking about, like making sure your listings are correct, as it’s not exciting but it’s like putting primer on your walls before you paint, because if you don’t do the basics, everything else is just not going to look that good or work that well. And there’s just a lot of things you need to think about, but now we’re going down into this one little pathway of, like, guys, I’d go back to the big picture of…and I think you said it well, over-communicate, Jared. You were mentioning that earlier. Over-communicate how you’re taking care of your patients, how you want to bring them back, and what you’re going to be doing. I do think that people who are adapting well, who are listening to their patients, and trying to adapt their business model or their workflow and their systems for managing patients are all very important.
And, you know, it’s internal communication as well. And what I mean by that is so now you’ve got a whole new paradigm about what’s going on inside your office, right? About how you’re taking care of your patients, the fact that you might be going to ambulatory surgical centers more, that telehealth is available, etc. Everybody, please, if you’re listening and you’re managing a practice, train your staff. They’re on the front lines. Give them the information they need. You know, the person answering the phone, if they don’t know what’s going on behind, in those examination rooms and how everything is being done, how are they going to tell prospective patients on the phone or your current patients? Think about how many patients you could be losing just because you haven’t trained your staff well.
Michael: It’s funny, because the concept of “just communicate a lot” seems very simple. I think this year has just really, really opened up just how hard it is to do that. There really has to be some processes in place where you’re coming back to check on this on a regular basis, because even if you think that you’ve got it set for now, you know, you kinda caught up with, like, the next phase of it or whatever, how quickly plans are becoming outdated because of, you know, where we’re at with different diseases or just the environment at the time. Like, it’s something that we have to keep coming back, keep checking back on this. Guys, we’re getting ready to wrap up here. Anything else in terms of looking ahead this year, what medical practices should be thinking about? I think that we’ve covered quite a bit of ground here, but anything else that we should throw in there to wrap up?
Scott: No, I really…You know, my perspective on this is the takeaways from this conversation would be over-communicate, internally and externally, listen, so you can adapt accordingly, and then communicate it again, and start thinking about how to bring those patients back. Start putting aside the time for that. I think it’ll be critical to everybody’s success.
Jared: And I’ll piggyback on that, in terms of just thinking of every potential patient, everyone we speak to, as potentially somebody who is in a lot of trouble, possibly in a lot of pain, who one way or the other is looking for some help, and if we do all we can for every single person we communicate with, it’s going to make a big difference. It really does. We see those practices who prioritize communicating and customer service, and empathy is really what it comes down to. So, not just having those things be buzzwords, but really think about them, I think you nailed it, Michael, in terms of this is not as easy as it sounds. It is so complex to know where people are getting their communication from, how much they trust it, and so forth. So, just take it one person at a time and do our best to communicate, and things will improve.
Michael: All right, guys. Thanks so much, and as always, thank you, everyone, for listening.
Announcer: Thanks again for tuning in to the “Paradigm Shift of Healthcare.” This program is brought to you by Health Connective, custom marketing solutions for medtech and pharma. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.