COVID-19 pandemic spotlights hospital marketing challenges, opportunities: 3 experts weigh in

Hospital marketing and communications teams play a vital role during the pandemic, as they're tasked with getting information about COVID-19 to the public and sharing important updates among employees. 

The pandemic's effect on hospital and health systems' marketing strategies was one of the topics experts discussed during a session at the Becker's Healthcare Patient Experience + Marketing Virtual Forum on Sept. 2. The panel included Anne Ballentine, vice president of marketing and communications at Oconomowoc, Wis.-based Rogers Behavioral Health System, Mark Bosko, vice president of marketing and public relations at Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and Michele Szcypka, chief marketing and communications officer for Trinity Health Michigan, Florida and Georgia. 

Here's an excerpt from the conversation, edited for clarity. To view the full session on-demand, click here

Question: What marketing challenges and opportunities have been spotlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Michele Szcypka: We found a lot of opportunity in this particular moment in time, around growing our virtual visits in telehealth. Telehealth, the technology has been around for a long time and has been available to many on their phone or laptop, but most patients really didn't use it very much. And this became an opportunity for us to really point out the use of telehealth, and at one point of telehealth went up to about 1,300 video visits a day, which was huge for us. It's now settling down — it's between 500 and 700 a day —  but we started really marketing and advertising our telehealth platforms.

Another opportunity is developing a team whose main focus is on forecasting, and analyzing, and anticipating what's happening in the marketplace from a marketing standpoint. We tend to do some of that stuff in a really long range, but this was a short ramp up period, so we had to spend some time really making sure that we're keeping our eyes on what is next and not staying flat footed.

Mark Bosko: One of the challenges we found is the use of traditional media almost disappeared overnight. In our market it's very hyper-local and we do utilize newspapers a lot because of our senior populations and our senior patients. All of a sudden people did not want to touch newspapers, some of the publishing houses actually closed. So what did we do? We had to figure that out very quickly. How do we communicate with these folks that we've traditionally talked to via newspaper ads or inserts for so many years, and they were so used to it and loyal to us because of that. We had to shift all those strategies to electronic, to phone-based. We made phone calls to a lot of our patients and then started a top-down strategy beginning with the physicians to start the education going from the physicians, to the staff, to the patients, to start helping them realize safe care can be achieved at our facilities.

Anne Ballentine: From a marketing perspective, our biggest challenge was that a key strategy was all in-person. We have outreach representatives who build relationships with referral sources in-person at local state and national conferences, continuing education seminars all in-person, so all that had to go. And those referral sources are now in their own crisis of figuring out how they're going to provide that lower level of care, the weekly or twice a week therapy. We couldn't necessarily count on them — some of them had their businesses on hold for a while — so we had to shift to go more direct to the consumer. Big challenges, but big opportunities because we were able to do new things and shift to doing continuing education webinars instead of the in-person and virtual meetings and events for our referral sources. Then we really shifted to shore up our direct to consumer marketing. It's been very challenging, but in a way, extremely rewarding and fun.

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