As the status and aspects of the pandemic change frequently — COVID-19 case numbers, testing, vaccination availability, symptom treatment — just about everyone is seeking information on COVID-19.
According to a public affairs poll conducted by the Associated Press, people trust their local healthcare providers for the most up-to-date information: two-thirds of patients said they look to their personal physician for accurate information about COVID-19, second only to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While practice staff are busy managing day-to-day operations and all the changes COVID-19 has brought about, too many are ignoring their patients’ thirst for knowledge (28 percent of patients told us their provider has not shared pandemic-related information). Those practices may be missing out on more visits and potential new patients.
It’s not easy to bring clarity and convenience to one of the most stressful situations in modern healthcare. But the right communication tactics can help you:
Any healthcare practice can tell you patients have a lot of COVID-19 questions. While many search online for answers, they’d feel better hearing from you, their trusted healthcare provider.
Take advantage of both opportunities. Be proactive by providing timely, relevant, local COVID-19 information — the more local, the better. By following these tips to execute on that plan, you’ll educate your current patients and community, while also helping your practice rise to the top of search rankings for COVID-related information and services.
Anticipate patients’ questions.
When deciding which COVID-19 information to share, think like a patient. As with any healthcare interest or concern, ask yourself what patients most want to know about. It may be a rapidly evolving landscape, but stay in tune with what your patients find most important.
Earlier in the pandemic, patients searched online often about COVID-19 testing. Today many people also look for information on the vaccines (as shown in the Google Trends chart below). Determine the most common questions your scheduling and front desk staff receive, what patients ask providers, and other information patients would consider essential.
Here’s a true-life example: An eastern Massachusetts town of about 25,000 announced they’d run a COVID vaccine clinic — unfortunately they’re allotted only 100 doses per week. You can imagine the value of sharing that information with local patients as promptly as possible (text messaging and email are both excellent channels in this case). That message from a provider could inform people to help register at-risk neighbors, and reinforce the provider’s critical role in the community.
Whether it’s questions about signs and symptoms, testing, vaccines, virus transmission, or treatment options, compile and organize a list of questions and answers to address each topic. Feature this information prominently on your website, and include links within your Google business profile and other listings. Not only will this give more local patients an opportunity to find your practice online, it can also help take a load off your front desk staff: good online information can help reduce calls, and your team can direct callers to your website for COVID-19 updates.
Use a multi-channel approach.
To increase visibility across a wide audience of current and prospective patients, use a broad-stroke approach that includes numerous channels.
This could include a combination of optimized website content on COVID-19-related services you may offer, timely blog and social media posts, and outbound email campaigns. This complement of communication will allow you to reach and connect with both current and future patients.
Engage your providers and feature them prominently in COVID-19 content to position them as experts, and your practice as the go-to community resource for questions about the pandemic. This goes a long way in keeping your practice top-of-mind for patients seeking a test, vaccine, or “usual” care service at your practice.
Optimize for search engines.
Today’s patients spend more time online than ever, with recent research indicating 39 percent of consumers are relying on their phones more during the pandemic due to social distancing. More people online, and an increased desire for information, means greater opportunities for connection.
Start by adjusting your website to meet that need for COVID-19 information. (First, ensure your site is optimized for mobile users and loads quickly.) If you offer testing or plan to administer a COVID vaccine, make that clear on a separate web page, and consider adding a “sticky” banner or pop-up module to share that message across your site. Be sure to make it easy for patients to schedule an appointment online, if applicable.
If you don’t directly provide testing or vaccines, you (and your website) still play a vital role in sharing information relevant to your specialty. If you’re an OB/GYN, consider a section about COVID-19 and pregnancy (a Google Trend topic in January), and whether it’s safe for pregnant women to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Cardiologists can share content on how cardiovascular disease may impact a patient’s risk for COVID-19. An urgent care provider can talk about COVID-19 signs and symptoms, and when to seek care.
All this content will naturally feature search keywords that can help deliver the right patients to your web pages. Don’t forget to seal the deal — be sure to feature a prominent call to action on each page, such as scheduling a virtual visit or following you on social media for relevant COVID-19 information.
Finally, with Google maintaining 88 percent of the search engine market it’s imperative that you make the most of your Google My Business profile. Claim your profile (if you haven’t already), and enter updated, accurate, and detailed information about your practice. Of course, include any COVID-19-related services you provide. Google offers practices and businesses this form to identify if you’re a COVID-19 testing site. If that’s you, place a high priority on filling it out.
Instantly see how you compare to other practices in your local area and specialty.