Written by Mike Seyfer
Between now and the time when mass vaccination becomes a reality, the idea of keeping our audiences engaged, active and healthy has to become our purpose. So, as many of us find ourselves in the midst of another surge in COVID-19 numbers—and stress begins to build among our internal and external audiences—it’s critical that we reboot our engagement strategies.
Watch our Campfire Session, Engagement Reboot: Addressing Our Health Audiences’ Challenges. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!
On 11/12/2020, Steven and I welcomed:
- Cynthia Manley, Interim Director of Digital Engagement, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
- Curtis Munlin, Regional Vice President–Hospital Partnerships, Doximity
- Engaging patients—especially socially-isolated patients
- Strategies for engaging physicians
- Keeping ourselves and our teams engaged during this stressful time
A little background on our guests
Cynthia Manley started with Vanderbilt University Medical Center 20 years ago. She began her career as a print journalist before joining Vanderbilt. Since then she has had the wherewithal to reinvent herself within the Vanderbilt system every couple of years. According to Cynthia, “I held just about every communications/marketing type role that exists.” We were happy to hear that she is currently very busy with COVID communications, including starting to think about logistics and communications surrounding mass vaccination.
Curtis has been with Doximity for almost two years. The company is a professional network for physicians. “Think LinkedIn for doctors,” says Curtis. Prior to working with Doximity he worked in the marketing space for fifteen years for organizations on the leading edge of health care like Advisory Board, HealthGrades and Press Ganey.
Patient engagement: Through COVID surge 1 and 2
Cynthia told us:
- After the first COVID surge, Vanderbilt University Medical Center began reaching out to patients by sending a series of emails featuring videos from its CEO talking about the importance of coming back to care. “We used the slogan, ‘Safety is essential, so is your health.’” The slogan capitalized on the word “essential,” which has become a part of our COVID vocabulary.
- Since then Vanderbilt has seen ebbs and flows in patients returning to care. With this second COVID surge, patient numbers are ebbing. “If we start to see cancellations go up we do some work with getting safety messaging out.”
- One of the strategies Vanderbilt is using is giving call center folks talking points to help patients understand the need for their procedure and the consequences of canceling.
- “Now that we’re back in this surge, we are committed to staying open, to providing health care to everybody who needs us—COVID patients, as well as patients who have other serious health concerns. It’s a serious balancing act.”
- The Vanderbilt system has added another command center meeting to the calendar in response to this second surge.
Engaging isolated and at-risk patients
- A personal story about his father who had contracted COVID and has thankfully recovered now.
- One of the barriers Curtis’s dad had to seeking care was not engaging with or trusting communication that may have been sent from a health care system that had recently rebranded.
- Curtis suggested that material sent on behalf of his father’s physician from the system may have been a better way to communicate.
- “Engaging with isolated populations is really about education. I think it was always about education, even pre-COVID.”
- In talking about his dad, Curtis said, “At the end of the day, he wasn’t educated in terms of what were his options? What should he do?”
- “It’s more than finding a data set to identify them [isolated or at-risk patients] and letting them know about the great care you offer. Because I don’t think that’s where those patients are in their decision-making journey. I think it’s all about building the relationship, all about educating them on the measures being taken to make sure the environment is clean and safe and healthy in case they have COVID or another issue that they should see their physicians about.”
Research: Who patients want to hear from
Understanding what is of concern to your patients and who they want to hear from is important. Vanderbilt did some research directly with their patient population to ask them:
- How do you feel about coming back?
- How soon would you come back?
- What kinds of procedures would make you come back?
- Who do you want to hear information from?
Resoundingly, patients said they wanted to hear from their own provider. The medical center itself wasn’t at the top.
This is very similar to what Hailey Sault discovered in research we conducted pre-COVID. Without question, patients from across the country told us that their perception of health care was driven by their relationship with their physician.
The big question remains, how do we support physicians and integrate them into communications with patients when they are so busy taking care of patients right now. See what we’ve done.
Curtis told us:
- “COVID has forced us to put [health care innovations] in place that we’ve been looking at for years.
- “I see more scientific data approaches to marketing being used because dollars are short. And when you really need to be efficient with the dollar you’re going to look into the data in a way that you’ve never done before.”
Engaging burned out physicians: What’s working
Curtis informed us:
- Physicians are burned out physically, mentally and emotionally.
- We need to respect that, meet them where they are and we need to engage them at that level.
- We need to talk to them holistically.
- Above everything, physicians are scientists and we can’t engage them in the same way, or with the same content, we use to engage consumers.
- Instead of sharing a COVID-related patient success story, “Tell them clinically how that outcome happened. Engage the physician around the clinical process and protocols to get that patient to that good outcome.”
- Physicians are burned out on the general COVID discussion as well. “If you want to talk to a cardiologist about COVID explain how COVID affects the heart and then they will engage with those pieces of content or that conversation.”
- “Doximity has also seen a lot of engagement with physicians on moving on past their career. Looking outside of just practicing medicine.”
- Vanderbilt has seen success producing webinars for referring providers informing them about how they should approach their patients.
- They have also been recruiting virtually using video conferencing and Zoom calls for interviews.
Engaging your team
Cynthia let us know:
- Leadership has put an emphasis on mental health and well-being and it is a big piece of everything that is talked about with staff and faculty.
- Staff from Vanderbilt’s psychiatric hospital have talked to colleagues about stress response and how we’ve all been reacting in a fight or flight mode. “At first that was a good thing, but now we are in a marathon, so we need to find ways to break the cortisol flood that accompanies that.”
- Staff are encouraged to take a cortisol reduction day if needed.
- Because many staff members work remotely now and don’t run into each other in the office, Vanderbilt encourages leaders to check in with team members to make sure they are taking care of themselves, as well as availing themselves of the resources available to them if they aren’t doing well.
- It’s important to create internal opportunities to engage. Doximity has a happy hour that is working well.
- “These aren’t earth-shattering ideas, but with people it’s the small things that matter the most. Working for an organization that takes the time to do those small things is great.”
1. Now that we’re back in this surge, we need to remain committed to staying open, to providing health care to everybody who needs us—COVID patients, as well as patients who have other serious health concerns.
2. Resoundingly, patients want messaging to come from their provider.
3. Engaging isolated populations is about education—providing options and instructions about what to do.
4. Physicians are burned out physically, mentally and emotionally; we must respect that and engage them at that level.
5. We must speak with physicians as scientists and provide content that is relevant to them clinically.
6. To help team members stay engaged it is the small things that matter most, like checking in, happy hours and cortisol reduction days.
Join Us for Our Next Campfire Session
We started the Campfire webinars in the early days of COVID-19 so colleagues could discuss the issues and opportunities impacting health care marketers. That was when we thought COVID-19 would be “here today, gone tomorrow.” Clearly, there’s still a lot to discuss. Join us and your colleagues for an upcoming fun and informative session soon. Click the link below to view past Campfires and to be notified of future Campfires.