By Erica CampbellWith traditional restrictions lifted at the onset of the pandemic, telehealth has become more useful for all healthcare physicians in practices large and small across the country. The stay-at-home orders in March and April fueled its rapid, widespread expansion.
Now that telehealth technology is in place, practices have a choice about how to use it to both better serve their patients and maintain a sustainable bottomline. While the concept of telehealth virtual appointments with healthcare professionals is not entirely new, it’s new to most practices and their patients. Telehealth appointments may never replace in-person visits, but it can be layered onto a practice and provide flexibility for existing patients or bring in new patients. Unfortunately, just offering telehealth is not enough for practices to reap the benefits.
People aren't thinking about virtual appointments most of the time:
When the pandemic began and stay-at-home orders were set, cities shut down and people stayed home. The use of telehealth experienced a sharp increase in mid-March to early April but then began to decline in mid-April, leveling out in May. (1)
Notes: Data are presented as percentage where the numerator is the number of telemedicine visits in a given week and the denominator is the number of visits in the baseline week (March 1–7). Telemedicine includes both telephone and video visits.
(1) Source: Ateev Mehrotra et al., “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Outpatient Visits: A Rebound Emerges,” To the Point (blog), Commonwealth Fund, May 19, 2020. https://doi.org/10.26099/ds9e-jm36
The onset of the pandemic increased the buzz surrounding telehealth, it was short-lived. While telehealth visits can be tremendously valuable to many people in their normal everyday life, they need to be informed and reminded about its relevance in a reopened America.
Marketing To Do: Don’t be afraid to repeat your marketing tactics encouraging telehealth visits every few months. Email, website, social media and piggybacks in your billing documents are cost effective ways to repeat this invitation to make a telehealth appointment over and over again.
Changing your most frequent patient's habits makes the biggest difference:
With the implementation of telehealth visits at your practice, you have the opportunity to teach your current patients to interact with you in a more efficient way. Increasing the use of telehealth at your organization can increase profitability, allow for more appointments to be available for new patients, and more time for physicians to spend with patients.
Marketing To Do: Train your staff on how to book telehealth appointments and how to discuss this type of appointments with patients. Provide patients with simple booklets on how telehealth appointments work and what steps they need to take when using this method to ensure the best patient experience.
New patients are overlooked:
When a practice markets its telehealth services to only their current patients, they are missing the opportunity for a new service to attract new patients. Telehealth should be layered on as an additional service offered and should increase patient acquisition. Here are some key target audiences:
- Better access for people in rural areas- People who reside in rural areas often lack the resources to visit physicians and specialists without driving long distances. With the use of telehealth, rural residents now have the ability to access best-in-class care with just the click of a button. Without the lengthy travel times, they will be able to “visit” doctors more often and receive better quality care that they might be lacking in their rural towns.
- Easier for people with disabilities- Living with a disability is already challenging enough, and the ability to visit a doctor’s office on their own is sometimes difficult. In addition, some disabilities require frequent visits to the doctor. Telehealth provides the perfect solution for this population with it’s quick, convenient, and easy to navigate service model. Telehealth allows people living with disabilities to have more access to the care they need and the ability to see the doctor without needing the help of a caregiver.
- More convenient for people who are too busy to see a doctor- Research shows that many people skip out on visiting the doctor because they feel their life is simply too busy. In a survey conducted by the CDC in 2018, 15.7% of adults had zero contact with a healthcare professional that year, with 3.8% having not been in contact in over five years or having never visited a healthcare professional. Neglecting to visit the doctor is dangerous for one’s health and can have life-threatening consequences. These individuals could benefit from being aware of telehealth and its convenience.
- More attractive for the younger population- As digital natives, telehealth is more appealing among Millennials and Gen Z. Unfortunately, these younger generations are less likely to regularly visit the doctor. In Accenture’s 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey, it was found that only 67% of Millennials and only 55% of Gen Z have a Primary Care Physician, compared to 85% of Baby Boomers. Through marketing the convenience telehealth provides to digital savvy Millennials and Gen Zers, they might be encouraged to visit the doctor virtually.
Marketing To Do: Develop a pay-per-click and social media campaign.This allows you to market to people who are actively searching, while intercepting new audiences as well.
There is a lack of trust regarding the quality of care:
People tend to shy away from telehealth due to a lack of trust in the virtual environment. How can doctors provide the same type of care from a computer screen? Don’t they need to be next to me to see if anything is wrong? People have a lot of distrust in telehealth services and are reluctant to change how they are used to receiving care. Messaging can help ease fears and increase the credibility of virtual patient care.
Marketing To Dos: Market to audiences that already have trust in virtual healthcare services. Communicate with your current patients and address their concerns straight on when you communicate through email, social media, and on your website. Reassure patients that they will receive the same high quality care that they are accustomed to in person.
It's simply intimidating to many:
Many patients don’t believe they can do their part virtually. For example: logging in correctly, setting the appointment without talking to someone, and getting lab work performed. While it may be scary to do new things, it really shouldn’t be. Strategic marketing can help patients feel empowered to participate in their healthcare instead of intimidated.
Marketing To Dos: Train your staff to provide guidance and to empower patients who are wary of the responsibilities they may have in regards to following their doctor’s orders. Provide handouts/downloads with a roadmap displaying how simple it is to move through the process of virtual care.
There is confusion about what types of appointments can be done virtually:
People simply don’t know what health care services can be delivered through virtual appointments. Therefore, it is important for practices to provide examples of all the services that can be utilized and when it is appropriate to use telehealth rather than in-person visits. For example, if you are OB/GYN, you can manage medications, discuss gynecological problems, provide postoperative care, go over lab results, perform check-ups for Hypertension and preeclampsia, and observe treatment plans for conditions like gestational diabetes and postpartum depression. However, you cannot perform physical exams such as ultrasounds through virtual appointments. With proper marketing, people can become more informed about the services telehealth can be utilized for, and when going in-person is the better option.
Marketing To Dos: On your website, specify which health care services can be delivered through virtual appointments. Create an email and social media campaign about the services offered to send to existing and prospective patients.
While many originally assumed the use of virtual appointments would take off because of the digital landscape we are living in, it just isn’t the case. Only implementing telehealth is simply not enough to bring patients in, and especially not new patients. The current issues surrounding telehealth can be improved because marketing works to create awareness, target specific audiences, shed light on key information, and ease fears. When done right, there are ways to work with your existing and new patient base to incorporate telehealth profitably and sustainably into your organization.
If you would like to discuss your marketing strategies around promoting your in-person or telehealth services, please reach out to us at Steel Advertising. We would love to help you get started! Read more about our specialties in healthcare.
Based in Austin, Texas, Steel is a full-service integrated ad agency that uses a deep understanding of how families make purchase decisions to deliver brands that families love. In close partnership with our clients, Steel unites data, technology, creativity and influence to produce more stunning growth for brands in health, education, food and fun that serve the American family.