Innovative steps healthcare practices are taking during COVID-19

 
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This past week has been tough for everyone.  We are in a situation where there are little to no past experiences to lean on as COVID-19 has disrupted not only businesses but everyday life.  Many are experiencing a high level of anxiety due to the uncertainty of what’s to come over the next few weeks or months. 

You might be thinking: how will this impact my practice?  What should I be planning for? Are we heading into a recession?

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the strategic and tactical recommendations we are making to our healthcare clients.  Hopefully, this will give you areas to focus on during this time of uncertainty to position your practice not only to survive but thrive once this is over.

Communicate. Communicate. And Communicate Some More.

Part of the reason there is uncertainty is due to a lot of mixed messages being communicated from the government at all levels.  What businesses are closed? Which ones can remain open? Can I leave the house?

Having a clear and concise communications plan is simple but a powerful step you can take to help alleviate some of the fear that exists with patients and clients.

Tips for an effective COVID-19 communication plan:

  • Detail how your practice is managing the disruption and the steps you are taking to ensure the safety and well-being of your patients, staff, and the population as a whole.  Think about the questions that you or your staff are currently receiving from patients and ensure you are addressing any concerns.
  • Have a proactive plan for rescheduling appointments.  While we may not know when this is going to be over, it is important to have a business continuity plan for your current patients. They will appreciate the approach and it will ensure you are set up for success when things begin to normalize.
  • Communicate the message out across multiple platforms:
    • Website:  Place a message or pop-up banner on the home page that indicates how you are currently serving patients.  This should be placed on the “hero image” or directly below the menu navigation.  There are plenty of good options available to help you easily implement this functionality.  Keep the messaging clear, concise and focused on how you are operating your practice. Currently, most of our clients fall into 3 categories:
      • Still seeing patients as normal or on a limited basis.
      • Medically necessary procedures only.
      • No longer seeing patients for a period of time.
    • Email: Utilize your database of patient email addresses (that have opted-in for email communications) to keep your patients updated.
    • Social platforms:  Since March 1st, time spent on social media is up significantly (more on that in a minute) so this is a great way to communicate with your patients as well as potential future patients.

Where Are Your Patients Spending Their Time?

As the country continues to adopt “social distancing” and more individuals begin working from home, the question becomes where will your patients be spending their time?  You guessed it – on digital & social platforms.   

The Social Media Surge

  • Since March 1, social media usage has increased by 50%.
  • Engagement on social media has risen 76% over the last 2 weeks.

When you consider that 55% of US adults use social media as their primary news source, having a consistent presence on social channels is crucial in maximizing your practice’s ability to reach and inform current and potential new patients.

People Are Still Searching For Your Services

While we are likely still in the early stages of dealing with COVID-19, prospective patients are continuing to search for your products and services.  

In an effort to better understand how this is impacting our healthcare clients, our team ran an analysis of Google search performance.  We compared the last 7 days (3/10 – 3/16) vs the previous 7 days (3/3 – 3/9) and examined search demand, engagement, and conversions.

Here’s what we learned:

  • Demand (search impressions) was up 4.25% while engagement (clicks) were down 4.93% 
  • Form submission conversions were up 8.51% while phone calls were down 15.41% – putting overall outreach to practices down by 13.42%.
  • After spot-checking 60 call recordings, we found that 76% of the calls were to confirm/scheduled appointments, while 24% of the calls were to reschedule/cancel appointments.

We expect these numbers to continue to rapidly evolve and change.  Our team is committed to running this analysis daily to ensure we have a firm grasp of where the market is and how it is responding to the situation.

How To Position Your Practice To Thrive When This Is Over

As our CEO Scott Bell said in a blog post last week, “This Too Shall Pass”.  This event is unprecedented for sure.  However, we have dealt with significant challenges in the past.  There were pullbacks in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s and the history is clear – businesses that continued to invest in their marketing during these downtimes rebounded faster and stronger than those who cut or scaled back their efforts.

Companies don’t typically gain market share when times are good; they gain market share when times are tough and the competition is pulling back and/or failing. 

Areas of focus to set yourself up for success

Focus on your digital foundation & company-owned assets by doing the following:

    • Website:  For most businesses, our websites are the new front doors to our business.  It is usually the first contact that a prospective patient has with your practice.  So now is the time to ensure that your content is up-to-date and relevant. This is especially true for all of your service pages.  Use this time to review and update your content and images to make sure your website communicates your leadership and expertise. Studies show that patients visit 12 websites before selecting a healthcare provider.  They expect a fast, frictionless experience that answers their questions quickly and thoroughly. Make sure your website is setting you up for success today and in the future.
    • Branded Content:  Beyond website content for your services, now is a great time to develop blogs and whitepapers for your practice.  Patients are looking for best-in-class care so having content that positions you as a leader in the space is super important. Moreover, adding frequently updated content can have a positive impact on your organic search rankings.  Better rankings = more website visitors = more consults = more patients & procedures!
    • Be Social: Since social media usage is up, make sure you have a plan to be active across your social media platforms.  This is a great opportunity to provide leadership and set your practice apart from the competition. Voice and tone will be important so here are a couple of ideas to help you get started:
      1. Post your communication plan and keep your patients updated – they will appreciate it!
      2. If your practice’s social media team schedules posts in advance, make sure they take the time to review what they scheduled to run in the future, making sure it’s still relevant and isn’t “tone deaf” in light of recent events.
      3. Highlight ways you are uniquely adapting to current conditions. Offering to let patients sit in their car until you are ready for them? Operating curbside service for aesthetic & cosmetic products, curbside medical consultations, or in-house prescription dispensing? Make sure to communicate this early and often on social media.
      4. Give tips on how to stay healthy while working from home – these could include basic reminders to wash your hands all the way to home facial ideas.
      5. Run a fun contest or promotion – people want to be entertained and are certainly looking for any welcome distraction.  And who doesn’t like to win something or save some money?
      6. Not everyone on your social media pages will see your posts when you make them. So liberally repeat your messaging every few days for maximum reach. The most important thing is to be creative and have some fun.  Current and prospective patients will remember and appreciate the effort.

Lead Management Optimization

I think we can all agree that acquiring new patients can be a challenging proposition.  The market is competitive and there are lots of options available to consumers who are in-market for aesthetic services.  Practices that want to grow are investing heavily in marketing to drive new patient inquiries or leads.

Marketing, or more specifically lead generation, gets the lion’s share of attention in most practices.  And it should – it’s important. However, it’s only one part of the equation. Having an effective process to maximize the opportunities created through marketing is often an overlooked yet critical component to your overall success. 

How your clinic handles and manages leads can be the difference between marketing efforts that are successful and efforts that fall short of expectations.

Here are some best practices you should implement at your practice to capitalize on your marketing efforts.

How to handle inbound phone calls

  • If at all possible, answer inbound calls instead of sending them to voicemail.  Calls that are answered by a live person have a much higher conversion rate.
  • Don’t put inbound calls on hold for longer than 30 seconds.  Studies show that customers don’t like to be put on hold and more than 60% will hang up if left on hold for longer than 1 minute. Make sure that calls are being routed to staff who are trained to answer questions and schedule the consultation.  Conduct regular training, create call scripts and measure performance.
  • Convert more web inquiries into procedures & patients
    • Follow up fast – The Harvard Business Review reports only 26.1% of inbound leads are followed up on within 5 minutes, and upwards of 50% of sales go to the company that responds first.  So if you are the 73.9% that’s taking hours or days to respond to leads, you’ve got work to do.
    • Implement a lead nurturing program – In addition to not following up fast, the other issue we see in the industry is related to follow-up.   Practices will reach out to leads only 1 time via email and maybe 1 time via phone. Frankly, that’s nowhere near enough.  You should have a lead nurturing program that will touch a prospect 8 – 10 times through multiple channels – phone, email, and text.  Practices that take the time to implement a robust lead nurturing program will see lead-to-patient conversion rates increase significantly.  That means more consults, more procedures, and more revenue!
    • Track everything – We have a saying at Bell Media – if you can track it, you can improve it.  There are lots of options available to help you organize your efforts ranging from Excel or Google Sheets to your EMR platform to standalone lead management software like MyMedLeads.

Spend the time to evaluate your current intake process to make sure your practice is set up to take advantage of demand once we get through this disruption.

Adjusting To A New Normal

One thing that history tells us is that when disruptions take place some business dynamics will change.  I’m not suggesting that your entire business model will be impacted but this will create opportunities for business model “optimization”.

Telemedicine

While telemedicine isn’t a new concept it has gained higher adoption rates in aesthetic practices as it has in other healthcare specialties.  That will most likely change.

There are multiple avenues you can explore to move your practice into the telehealth space. As a result of the recent announcement by the Federal government relaxing guidelines as part of the coronavirus response, you might consider temporarily implementing platforms that are healthcare-focused (HIPAA-Compliant) or others that are simple video conferencing platforms.

Here are some of the solutions our clients are implementing:

Obviously, any long-term solution will need to be HIPAA-Compliant.

Think Outside The Box

  • Use Prepaid Gift Cards – this is a great way to drive sales in our current environment for non-surgical procedures.  Some of our clients are offering promotions to encourage patients to purchase services now – they can save some money now and schedule the visit in the future.  Some practices are using VIP cards to further brand the experience.
  • We’ve set up clients with really simple e-commerce platforms so patients can buy services as easily as they can through most major retail outlets.  Some clients have taken the next step of setting up membership programs to drive recurring revenue (Luxe Membership).

Engage Your Team + Brainstorm

No one knows your practice better than you and your team.  Engage them and have regular brainstorming sessions on how you can differentiate your practice and stand out.  There are endless possibilities. You have a unique voice and your patients want to hear it. Be creative and have some fun. You will be glad you did.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is people are going to continue to invest in aesthetic services.  They want to look better and feel better even when things are tight – the lipstick theory is real.  Make sure you use this time to set your practice up to take advantage of the consumer demand that is going to happen when this is over.  This too shall pass!

If you need any help or have any questions, let us know – we are here to help!