Planning Your Practice’s Communications for 2021

By Scott Zeitzer, President, P3 Practice Marketing
Twitter: @p3practicemktg

The past year has certainly been unpredictable. Many practices who had marketing plans had to drastically change or cut a lot of planned efforts due to COVID-19, either due to lack of budget or lack of time.

While we still haven’t returned to “normal” yet, you can certainly take cues from last year to plan your practice’s marketing for this year. In some ways, the pandemic has created a new normal, and some of the changes we are experiencing in healthcare may not go away. So, take what you’ve learned from last year and use that to plan your 2021 marketing initiatives.

Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from medical practices we’ve worked with over the past year, as well as the trends we’ve seen, these are some of the key areas to address in your practice’s 2021 marketing plan.

Reaching Patients Who Have Delayed Care
With the pandemic, there have been a number of patients in many different specialties who have delayed care. These patients usually fall into one of two categories: those who were forced to delay care because elective procedures were halted for some time, or those who chose to delay care because they were nervous about being in a hospital/healthcare setting during a pandemic. How you reach these patients will differ depending on which situation caused the patient to delay care.

If a patient’s surgery had to be canceled because elective procedures were halted for a period of time, make sure your practice has a plan to follow up with those patients as soon as elective procedures are allowed again. This shouldn’t be just a one-time phone call, email, or patient portal message. Your practice should plan to follow up multiple times to make sure the patient reschedules. Too often, we see practices follow up once, and then leave it up to the patient to get back in touch. While you don’t want to bombard your patient with messages and phone calls, this is important enough to follow up a few times.

For patients who delay care because they’re nervous about COVID, it is important to communicate what you are doing to keep everyone safe. Make sure you have a page on your website explaining your practice’s COVID-19 policies, and keep it updated as things change. This page should include any changes in normal processes related to COVID-19, as well as alternative care options like telemedicine, if available. If your practice uses an outpatient surgical center for procedures, that is also important to highlight, since a lot of patients have concerns about going to hospitals that treat COVID patients. Once you have the information on your website, you can send out emails to patients, post on social media, and even do ad campaigns to get the word out. This can go a long way toward reassuring patients that you are working to reduce their risks.

Every Patient Has Different Communication Preferences
When you are trying to get new information out to patients, especially with regard to COVID-19, don’t just put your message out in one channel of communication and expect all of your patients to hear it. It’s not enough to just put a page up on your website or send an email and assume everyone got the message.

When possible, try to put your message out on as many channels as possible. You can use your website as the “hub” for all important messages, but don’t assume that patients just check your website without being prompted. You should also send out emails and text messages, post on social media, post updates to your Google My Business listing, and even pick up the phone and call if it makes sense. Keep your message consistent across all channels, but do make sure you get your message out there. When you are sharing information that is important for your patients to know, there is no such thing as over-communicating.

Patients Expect Telehealth Options
The pandemic has really transformed the way telehealth is being used in healthcare. It has become much easier for providers in a variety of specialties to implement and get reimbursed for telehealth. While it’s true that not all healthcare appointments can be done virtually, many consultation and followup visits can be. We’ve even spoken to practices who offer virtual physical therapy appointments.

Because telehealth has become a more accessible option in healthcare, many patients are coming to expect it. If your practice already offers telehealth options, make sure you are communicating that to your patients (again, using as many different channels as possible). Communication about telemedicine should also include information on which types of appointments are eligible, how to schedule a virtual appointment (including online scheduling options, if available), and what patients need to be able to join a telemedicine call.

You can expect a learning curve as patients get used to new systems, so any information your practice can provide to help patients prepare for the appointment will be beneficial.

Keep Your Google My Business Page Up to Date
Google My Business has added several new options over the past year to help keep your patients informed. This includes a place to link your practice’s COVID-19 policies, let patients know if your practice is temporarily closed, indicate if your practice offers telemedicine options, and link to information about your telemedicine options, if available.

If your practice has already claimed and verified your Google listings (if not, you should!), it’s quick and easy to log into your account to make these updates, and most of these changes are live on your Google listing within an hour of updating.

You can also use the Posts feature in Google My Business to share updates with patients, much in the same way you can use social media. This is another channel that you can use to get the word out when you have new updates to share.

Consider Online Ad Campaigns to Get Your Message Out Quickly
These days, the online market is pretty saturated, and it can take months (if not more) for new information to start ranking in search results. If your practice has any messages that are time-sensitive, or you just don’t want to wait to build up organic ranking, online ads are your best bet.

There are different types of ads to consider depending on the nature of your message. If you are advertising a particular procedure or service, Google Ads may be your best option. If you are trying to build awareness or get new information out to your community quickly, social media ads may be a better option. If you’re not sure which ads are best for your message, read our blog post on selecting the best online ads for your practice.

You’ll also want to make sure that the landing pages for your ads are effectively conveying your message and guide patients to next steps, if needed. Need tips? Read our blog post on how to improve your practice’s landing pages.

The past year has thrown a lot of new challenges at practices, but many of these communication trends could be here to stay for a while. While we aren’t advising that you completely abandon all of your previous communication strategies, we do recommend that you look ahead to all of the new opportunities you have to reach patients.

Want to hear more about 2021 communication trends for medical practices? Listen to our Paradigm Shift of Healthcare podcast episode (#paradigmshifthealth), How to Plan Communications in 2021 below.

This article was originally published on P3 Practice Marketing and is republished here with permission.