As access to in-clinic health care begins to open, service lines begin to accept patients once more, and elective procedures become available to patients, we asked: 

  • Are patients ready to return for care?
  • What do they need to hear from us? 
  • How has this pandemic changed them? 

Watch our Campfire Session on What COVID-Era Patients Want To Know. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 5/08/20, Ann, Stephen and I were joined by guest panelists: 

  • Mike Dame, Vice President, Marketing and Communications at Carilion Clinic, which serves more than 1 million people in Virginia and West Virginia.
  • Carl Maronich, Marketing Director at Riverside Healthcare, a fully-integrated healthcare system based in Kankakee, Illinois.

This week, the fire was stoked for a discussion around:

  • The question on every health care marketing professional’s mind right now: “How do we let patients know we are open and help them feel confident in returning to our facilities for care?”
  • Quick takeaways from Hailey Sault’s newest patient listening research.
  • Four COVID-era patient personas by generation, along with their current emotions, challenges, triggers and how to reach them.

Here’s a summary of this session:

Mike Dame and Carl Maronich shared the “state of their states” in the realm of ramping up testing, opening up elective surgeries, the return to nonessential services, and the protocols in place for patient and provider safety.

Mike described this period as having one foot on the dock (or in the COVID world) and the other in the boat (the ramp-up world). “We are all trying to keep up with that boat that wants to speed off as fast as it can so that we can take care of our patients and restore our financial health.”

Safety inside and out

Carl brought up the keyword in COVID-era patient messaging—safety. He shared what many of us have been hearing: that patients are delaying medical care because of concerns about safety. He reiterated the need to make people feel confident that they are safe in our facilities, as well as the importance of ensuring internal, operational folks are able to inform patients about safety protocols and what to expect at their appointments.


Extreme transparency and the need to show rather than tell was discussed. Show patients what it will look like when they pull up, what steps they will take, what steps their provider will take, etc. It is our job to ease the fears of our patients and their family and friends who are bringing them in for these procedures.

The blessing and curse of social media

The need to spread facts not fear was examined, as was having social media conversations that ensure good information is being provided to our communities.

Fresh Hailey Sault research

Verbatim answers were shared from the research Hailey Sault conducted last week on how consumer sentiment has changed since the COVID crisis began and what people need to hear to be ready to come back into the health care system. An invitation to access the research was extended by Ann.

COVID-Era personas

We presented four personas developed by Hailey Sault, specific to meeting health care audiences emotionally and logically right now. The personas were divided generationally to speak to the life stages and characteristics unique to each generation. Because women are the health cares decision makers for their families, each persona presented was a woman. The personas covered Generation-Z through baby boomers, outlining each persona’s:

  • Current emotions
  • Service line needs
  • COVID-19 challenges
  • Triggers
  • What the persona needs to hear from you
  • How to reach her


1. Safety—We must ensure that the fearful patient (the one who is driving around with the windows rolled up, a mask on and all gloved up) feels safe and confident coming back into the health care system. Effective messaging to each COVID-era persona must be infused with reassurance and empathy and must acknowledge the anxiety people are feeling right now.

2. Communication—Patients must be reminded to not put off their health care at this time. The message of safety needs to extend to all of our service lines. “It’s not just a COVID world, it’s a health care world,” says Carl. “So how do we continue to message that at this time.”

3. Transparency—We must show, rather than tell, patients about the safety protocols we have in place. “We must remind patients that we treat infectious diseases all the time,” says Mike. “This is a new virus that is still very mysterious. We are just adding this to the couple hundred other infectious disease states that we treat on a regular basis. Yes, we are isolating in different ways now and we’re gearing up PPE-wise in different ways, but those patients are still isolated. So if you are coming in, you are going to be physically distanced quite a bit. It is getting back to showing. Showing that and what the experience is going to be like.”

A parting thought: the good will of our communities

Right now we as health care marketers find ourselves in a position like no other. 

“All of us as health care professionals have built so much good will,” says Mike. “If we’ve done our jobs well, we’ve built a lot of good will and a lot of trust and we have the ear of our communities more than ever. That is one of the opportunities that is going to come out of this, is the ability to really advance public health in new ways by being able to engage with our communities in ways that we didn’t before.”

We must be extremely vigilant and careful with that trust and good will.

We’re in this together

As we think about this time we’re in, now more than ever, we need ideas, insights, and community. We hope our Campfire Sessions are providing the conversations you are craving about the issues and opportunities facing your health care organization and its leaders. 

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