Like most businesses, healthcare practices have had to reimagine how they operate in a post-COVID-19 environment. Virtual patient visits, staggered practice hours, group mergers, and the addition of new services (along with the elimination of others), are a few examples of how physicians are adapting to ongoing business disruptions caused by the virus.
Digital channels have been vital in communicating with patients during COVID-19. Practice websites, social media accounts, and email newsletters help keep your patients informed, maintain patient engagement, and promote your services and physicians. The pandemic accelerated a trend that was already occurring in the healthcare sector—the growing use of patient portals, SMS messaging, social media, and websites to communicate with patients and facilitate care is the norm for many healthcare providers.
Patients are becoming more comfortable using technology to communicate with providers and manage their health thanks, in part, to health and fitness apps and devices. Deloitte reported that 42% of US consumers used tools to measure health and fitness in 2020, up from 17% in 2013. Nearly 30% of consumers with complex conditions used technology to monitor their health issues, up from 15% in 2013.
Age is also less of a barrier when it comes to reaching patients digitally. Deloitte found that Gen X and Baby Boomers showed the largest increases in the use of virtual healthcare services in 2020. Likewise, more consumers are getting prescriptions and prescription info from virtual visits.
Digital channels are at the forefront of the way consumers communicate with providers, so it’s important to ensure you’re leveraging the right tools. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of five digital marketing channels that can help you proactively engage with patients to keep them informed about new services, practice news, safety measures, and more.
#1: Your practice blog
Blog posts are a great \way to keep patients informed about practice news and updates. You can use your blog to announce physician hires, elaborate on pandemic-related safety protocols, introduce new capabilities like virtual visits, Post updates on relevant health issues (e.g., the availability of COVID-19 tests and vaccines). If your providers are tech savvy, promote the patient portal as a perfect way to get directly to your provider, even outside office hours. Most patient portals are under-used and yet usage fosters higher patient satisfaction.
Your blog is also a great place to announce new health services that you’re offering. Comprehensive, evergreen posts can also attract new patients if they are search engine friendly and address popular health conditions, topics, and treatments. Updating your blog with high quality content is a powerful SEO strategy since consumers tend to begin their healthcare research by searching on Google or another search engine.
In many top healthcare verticals including clinics, dentists, hospitals, and surgery, more than 60% of consumers conduct a search prior to scheduling an appointment.
#2: Leverage email to reach patients and share blog posts
Email is the perfect way to enhance your blog content strategy and make sure patients are reading what you post. Your patients (and prospective patients) won’t necessarily see the content on your blog unless you promote it. You probably already have an email list comprised of existing patients to draw from. You can also begin building a list of potential patients who subscribe to receive targeted blog posts based on their interests and profile. At Ashworth Creative we use a tool called SharpSpring to automate the process of emailing blog posts to segmented lists of clients and prospects. SharpSpring enables us to segment our email lists so that content is personalized based on user interest (e.g., parents of small children might get vaccine information while Baby Boomers might get flu shot information).
#3: Leverage your practice website
Your website is the virtual home of your practice. It’s often the first impression new patients have of you prior to making an appointment. A practice website is a powerful engagement opportunity keeping patients informed and providing tools to help them communicate with you and better manage their health. Functions like physician finders, visit planning guides, and links to your patient portal should be easy to find and intuitive. Updating your practice website and ensuring it’s mobile friendly can be daunting and time consuming, which is why we recommend using a flexible and scalable content management system like WordPress is essential.
#4: Use social media to promote your practice and share content
Even if you’re not directly communicating with patients on social media, you should have a presence on all the major social media platforms—Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram (in that order). Think of these platforms as an extension of your website and blog. You can share content, make announcements, and maintain a steady flow of information for anyone who may want to check in prior to a physical or virtual visit. This is another area where tools like SharpSpring can automate rote tasks and help you keep your social presence current by planning content, scheduling posts, and managing multiple social accounts in one place.
#5: Use SMS texting to foster patient engagement
Text messaging, particularly in the context of virtual treatment and care, is an incredibly effective way to keep patients engaged. 62% of patients prefer receiving texts on their mobile phone. Text messaging has also been shown to influence health behavior and decisions. Platforms like PatientTrak are HIPAA compliant and enable physicians to engage with patients using SMS appointment reminders and text-based in-care management tools that enable patients and family members to receive text messages during care.
The complete digital picture
Patients use the internet to get health information and communicate with physicians. It’s the new normal. The CDC reports that of the 74% US adults who use the internet, 61% have looked for health or medical information online.
Consumers are using healthcare apps and devices and smartphones to actively manage their health. They expect to be able to communicate with physicians via digital channels, and they’re increasingly researching providers and conditions prior to scheduling an appointment.
Your website, blog, social media profiles, email lists, and text messaging strategy should all work together to promote patient engagement and provide up-to-date, relevant information for your patients. These digital channels have been crucial throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and will continue to be an important way for patients to communicate with healthcare providers for the foreseeable future.
Contact us to discuss how we can help you create a comprehensive digital marketing strategy that focuses on facilitating patient engagement and growing your practice.