By Belle Frank, Chief Strategy Officer, Health, and Miriam Raisner, Group Director, Strategy & Insights
We used to find it quaint when our grandparents said, “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.” But as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, it is showing us that health really is everything — in ways we couldn’t have imagined or planned for.
For health care marketers, we’re witnessing dramatic changes in how people think about and behave toward their health now versus pre-COVID. And how they will think about it moving forward is creating enormous change. We must acknowledge the change in the work we and our clients do to help create a healthier world. Devi Sridhar, public health expert at the University of Edinburgh summed up our challenge when he said, “Everyone wants to know when this will end. That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”
The answer for marketers is to work against three phases of COVID recovery: the now, the near and the next.
Each recovery phase has implications for our key audiences: patients and HCPs. What follows is a discussion of each phase with takeaways for health care marketers for strategies moving forward.
As daily life grinds to a halt while we work to “flatten the curve,” HCPs and patients are facing unprecedented pressure and stress. Marketers and academics all over the world are working on and learning about treatments and tests. Lives have been disrupted, and the medical care environment is dramatically different. For instance, patients are delaying discretionary care or moving online. People are afraid to go to doctors’ offices and be exposed to others who are sick, and nobody wants to go to a hospital, so telemedicine is being used by critical and noncritical care physicians alike.
Health care marketing in the now must acknowledge patient and HCP concerns. Patients will not totally embrace sole control of their conditions, especially when they struggle with serious illnesses. Alternative ways of connecting have expanded, and we will continue to see rapid adoption of virtual health solutions.
Patients worry about COVID-19 as well as other conditions.
- Chronic treatments are being scheduled carefully, and people worry about how their medications will interact with COVID-19 treatment and preventive measures.
- People need to know what to do if they don’t feel well and are scared of going near a hospital right now.
- There is increased anxiety about insurance coverage, especially among those whose jobs have been compromised.
HCPs want to do right by their patients and stay safe.
- The first priority is understanding how to treat/manage COVID and non-COVID patients.
- There has been an increase in refilling prescriptions without visits, and some reluctance to start people on new medications.
- HCPs are scheduling patients carefully, including dialysis, maternity and other time-based visits.
Creative implications for the now: The experiences marketers build must strike the right tone, and our content has to address people’s real questions. We must consider what people truly need and want to hear, how we message, and how we showcase social lives.
The near will be a time of gradual reopening, with some wariness when it comes to public spaces, transportation and spending. But people will seek real-world experiences with friends, family, community and their HCPs.
In this phase, which will roll out at a regional level, many schools and businesses will be allowed to reopen, with occupancy limits. Older adults or those at higher risk for COVID-19 will continue to practice stricter social distancing.
There will likely be a push to identify those with immunity so they can participate more actively in the reopening. Doctors will open their offices again for monitoring and critical care visits, but telemedicine will be more accepted. Wellness visits and checkups will resume as well as elective procedures. Masks will be worn by patients, HCPs and office staff. We will see sanitizing products prominent everywhere, and people will be more cognizant about how to get to their visits.
In the near, health care marketing must reflect COVID-19 anxiety in combination with people reengaging with their previous concerns and behaviors.
Patients will continue to worry about how to take care of themselves and not get sick.
- They will consider COVID-19 prevention and treatment in concert with health and medication routines.
- Many will wear masks in ways never seen in the U.S. and will use sanitizer will taking public transportation.
- People will reengage with physicians for conditions that aren’t associated with COVID-19.
- Wellness will take on a new cadence; dental visits and even hair or nail salons may open for one customer at a time.
- Some psychotherapy and physical therapy may continue to happen virtually.
- Pharmacist advice may grow in importance to support wellness and treatment.
HCP practice approaches will change.
- They will make the changes necessary to address conditions unrelated to COVID-19 while keeping everyone healthy.
- They will consider how to best pace drug therapies and reduce visits.
- They will determine what they can keep doing by phone versus in-office versus hospitals for diagnostic procedures.
- They may adopt new treatments more slowly based on a heightened degree of caution, as well as shifts in clinical trial and launch schedules.
- They will expect personalized yet nonpersonal promotion and education.
Creative implications for the near: Content for both patients and HCPs needs to acknowledge the interactions between COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 treatments. People want to reengage in their lives and experiences that they have missed. Wellness behaviors will reemerge and preventive behavior may be more appreciated. Staying strong and healthy has new meaning, and aspirational pictures for DTC brands should offer a combination of reality and hope.
As we leave “survival mode” for “living mode,” people will rebuild their routines and lives on new terms — seeking new experiences and inspiration that will affect their relationship with health.
At this point, a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 will be available, and we expect mass vaccination and a lifting of most physical distancing measures. Large gatherings will become a part of life again, sports will resume, businesses will open with more freedom and travel will resume more fully. In this new normal, COVID-19 will remain top of mind and conversation about the fallout from the virus and the threat/prevention of another will continue long after social distancing restrictions pass.
Health care marketing in the next will be different from what it is today.
Digital transformation changes that were slow to be adopted will be commonplace. EMRs and the ability to talk to doctors will be permanently affected. There may be new protocols for sharing tests and info across specialists, as well as different regimens for ongoing monitoring and treatment.
Patients will expect digital tools to work seamlessly with real-world tools.
- There will be greater reliance on digital forms of communication with physicians and alternate delivery mechanisms beyond telemedicine, e.g. store-and-forward technologies that collect data and images for interpretation later. Use of remote blood pressure monitors will expand.
- Some nonpersonal experiences such as follow-ups, PT and others may continue to be delivered via digital/telemedicine channels.
- While spending on discretionary and luxury items may decline, the nonessential medical/health and wellness market may enjoy a resurgence.
HCPs will have adjusted practices to reflect greater consumer centricity.
- Interactions with patients will be streamlined and rely more on digital mechanisms.
- There may be a looser regulatory environment as demand drives resurgence of clinical trials for new drug launches, creating an increase in treatment changes.
- Education for physicians will be transformed with shorter, digitally enabled sessions replacing many face-to-face visits, congresses, etc.
Creative implications for the next: The regulatory environment and potential shifts will inform the creative experiences we develop for clients. There may be a greater ability to connect physicians and patients if privacy restrictions have morphed. Social media constraints may shift as new tools emerge, and it may be possible for companies to reach out differently from the way they do today.
After COVID-19, two major health care implications are critical for marketers to appreciate. The market will continue to evolve, and the jobs for health care brands and marketers will only get more complex. Those who succeed will balance the current context and brand needs correctly and will be set up for dynamic solutions as the world continues to change around us. We have learned that health truly is everything. Truly understanding the health context will enable us to support patients, brands and clients in the right way.
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