A Different Kind of Recovery: How Hospitals Can Restore Patient Volumes Following The Latest COVID-19 Surge

How bad has the COVID-19 pandemic become lately? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of January 19th, over 394,495 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., with more than 23 million confirmed cases. More than 1.5 million cases were reported in the previous seven days for an average of 221,693 new cases per day. 

This is a crisis that challenges hospitals in terms of staff shortages, patient management, and more. In particular, this latest surge presents two challenges: 

  • In the short-term, hospitals are being challenged to overcome the immediate problems caused by COVID-19, including ICU bed and staff shortages, overburdened care teams, rapidly adopting telehealth and virtual health, restrictions on non-essential procedures, and more. 
  • In the long-term, hospitals need to get through this current surge and enact a recovery plan to deal with what is hopefully a waning pandemic, returning their services to a “new normalcy” while bolstering patient volumes and the hospital’s bottom line. 

The Latest Surge and What it Means for Hospitals 

As multiple vaccines began to be implemented at the end of 2020, we also saw a surge in cases. According to data from the CDC, there were 174,814 confirmed cases of COVID-19 coming in the U.S. on December 30th alone. That far exceeds anything witnessed during the initial summertime surge, which routinely saw new cases hit 70,000 daily. 

Beyond the toll that the latest surge is taking on hospital staff and physicians, due to and despite their heroic efforts, there are inescapable business challenges. 

Challenges Stacking Up for 2021 

As challenging as the present crisis is, the future poses a very different set of obstacles: 

  1. Patient volumes 
  1. Negative Financial Impact 
  1. Limitations of traditional hospital marketing 

Getting Ahead of the Recovery by Restoring Non-COVID Patient Volumes 

Even the COVID-19 pandemic will one day pass. But what comes next? Hospitals need a safe way to restore their patient volumes by resuming essential and elective care—which requires a restart of the patient pipeline. Marketing can play a key role in the solution because the marketing funnel—from awareness, consideration, and preference through “purchase” and “repurchase” (in the vernacular) applies to healthcare too, albeit with some significant differences. However, conventional hospital marketing is limited to just a few types. 

  • Brand advertising: promoting general awareness and consideration 
  • Open Enrollment advertising: running through the September-December season, with the objective of acquiring new patients 
  • Condition-specific advertising: promoting a hospital’s areas of expertise, such as cancer treatment, to acquire new patients 

Problems in Modern Healthcare Marketing 

Faced with the unprecedented challenge of restoring patient volumes, hospitals need to use modern marketing methods and tools rather than relying on mass media or disjointed tactical approaches. 

What does this entail? First, an acknowledgment: using the conventional marketing methods mentioned above, hospitals are limited. Relying on these disjointed tactical approaches will simply not have the same effect in the world of COVID-19 that it did in the pre-pandemic environment. What are some alternatives that hospitals can use to attract patients in a safe, sustainable way? 

Let’s look at some of the marketing strategies that offer alternatives for encouraging patients to get the healthcare they need in a COVID-19 world: 

  • Engaging with customers on their terms. Modern apps and smartphone capabilities have changed patient expectations. Can you find ways to engage with them on their terms, including marketing? Consider that 91% of U.S. adults keep their smartphones within arm’s length. Do your current marketing efforts reach people who are sitting at home, checking their smartphone? If not, consider engaging new campaigns in mobile advertising and social media. 
  • Community engagement. Mass media advertising can tend to reinforce the idea that large healthcare companies aren’t invested locally.  According to the National Federation of Independent Business, “In addition to reaching potential customers, community involvement can also attract press mentions for your business, which becomes free advertising.” Most health systems already have community engagement programs, but are yours fully integrated with your annual marketing plan?  
  • Data Informed Customer Engagement. Also known as DICE, this engagement combines two core needs: content marketing and marketing automation. This helps healthcare systems produce greater results in less time, at a lower cost than conventional annual marketing plans. 

Rather than focusing on mass media, it’s possible to leverage today’s modern media for a more targeted approach to marketing. Given the impact of COVID-19 and the need for hospitals to increase their patient volumes, there’s never been a more appropriate time to rethink how marketing is done. We’ll explore these topics further in our next email in this series.  

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