Marketing Your Telehealth Services to Your Community
Good marketing is about understanding customers’ needs and offering solutions and services to satisfy their needs in a way that resonates with them.
In essence, though Marketing is first and foremost a strategy. Marketing itself is not advertising and cold-calling, glossy brochures and sweepstakes, although all of those could be good (or bad) marketing tactics that can be part of an organization’s strategy.
Marketing is the strategy for getting those who can benefit from your service to know you and trust you enough to become a customer (a.k.a., patient).
Healthcare is becoming an increasingly competitive space, especially since so many healthcare services are now available online, eliminating the traditional barrier to entry of a physical location close to the patients. In addition, the expectations of the Modern Healthcare Consumer have changed dramatically over the past 10 years and even more so in response to the Covid-19 health crisis.
Whereas it was previously sufficient just to be “known” in the community, the multitude of today’s advertising channels (TV and YouTube; Radio and Podcasts; Newspapers, Magazines and Billboards; Social Media) make it difficult for smaller health centers to budget and decide appropriately where to invest their limited “marketing” dollars.
Tactic 0: Internal Telehealth Marketing
As one of my mentors taught me many years ago: the first sale is to yourself.
The same holds true for marketing your telehealth services: You first need to convince your organization — your clinicians, staff, and leadership that the telehealth service offerings you have are valuable, clinically efficacious, and financially sustainable.
You can’t offer to patients what your organization does not believe in.
Thus, your first Telehealth Marketing Tactic is to ensure that everyone involved in telehealth (from the schedulers, the front desk staff to the nurses, clinicians, and billing team) is convinced that telehealth, under the right circumstances, is a valuable service to offer to patients.
This shift is best achieved by consciously following a change management approach to make sure that everyone is on board.
For clinicians, training on how to best use the technology to “deliver care at a distance” (e.g., on webside manners) is critical for successful marketing of telehealth. If your clinicians are not convinced, then no marketing dollars will help to increase utilization.
Tactic 1: Your Clinicians are Your Best Salespeople
After you’ve invested time and money to make sure that the organization is supportive of telehealth, the single-most effective marketing tactic to increase the utilization of telehealth is through your clinicians.
When clinicians recommend the use of telehealth for future visits to their patients, it is very likely that patients will take them up on their offer. Trust between clinicians and patients is typically very high, and consumers will “buy” from those they trust.
One quite conservative health system we recently worked with is delivering 80% of their behavioral health care virtually. Why? Because the clinicians think it is good care — and their patients love it.
If you want to increase the use of telehealth by your existing patients, then investing in making it easy for clinicians to recommend telehealth will provide you with the best return on your investment.
Tactic 2: Train Your Schedulers and Front Office Staff
Your second most effective marketing tactic is to train your schedulers and front office staff to consistently offer telehealth when it is appropriate.
Whether telehealth is appropriate, depends on the evaluations of four aspects:
- Is the patient interested in or open to telehealth?
- Does the patient have the technical prerequisites?
- Is telehealth clinically appropriate?
- Is it reimbursable?
Aspect #1 can quickly be confirmed while the patient is on the phone, whereas Aspect #2 can quickly be verified through an efficient Telehealth TechCheck process. Here, a staff person gives the patient a brief call to verify that they are set to conduct a telehealth visit.
Aspect #3 requires an ongoing dialog with the clinicians as to what constitutes a clinically appropriate telehealth visit. Some health centers may also decide to schedule the visit as an in-person visit first and then offer the patient to switch it to a telehealth visit after the review of the patient’s situation by a nurse or the clinician themself.
In order to implement this tactic effectively, you have to develop clinical guidelines, write specific call scripts, and train the schedulers and front desk staff on using the scripts. For decades the only option were in-person visits. But now that we have truly shifted in a here-to-stay hybrid care environment, it is time we adjust our care delivery paradigm to include video visits as a viable option.
Training, though, is crucial, as the example of this story shows, where a front desk staff did not even know that in their organization telehealth was an option to patients.
Tactic 3: Offer Telehealth Everywhere
Telehealth is simply a new, alternative care delivery modality and as such a “clinical tool” available to clinicians just like an X-Ray or a lab test. As such, it is thus both “here to stay” and also a viable alternative that improves access to care. But only if patients can easily find out about it.
Therefore, the third most effective marketing tactic is to truly embrace the hybrid care paradigm and go through all of your marketing materials to add an option to ask for telehealth everywhere. Telehealth should not just be its separate section. It should be on the front page and on the homepage of every specialty.
Telehealth has proven itself as a viable care delivery mechanism and should be promoted everywhere where you are promoting your services – in flyers, newsletters, patient communication, annual reports, advertisements, booths at community events, and other outreach activities.
Bonus Tactic: Word-of-Mouth referrals
As with any other business, word-of-mouth referrals are the cheapest and the most effective form of marketing.
In the telehealth patient satisfaction surveys we use, we always include the typical “net promoter score” question: “How likely are you to recommend telehealth with this provider to your friends and family?”, which is rated on a scale of 0-10. Just the mere suggestion of “recommending it” to friends and family can give patients that idea, which is yet another reason why periodic satisfaction surveys are highly valuable.
While you want to stay away from the drab “please recommend us to your friends and family”, by simply asking a patient after a telehealth visit whether they liked it can remind them to mention it to their “friends and family”.
All other “classic” or “traditional” tactics are oftentimes very unreliable, especially those involving social media channels like Facebook, Google Ads or others. Marketing campaigns in these media can get very expensive with very limited return on investment. Especially when campaigns do not have a laser-like focus on a specific patient population to get them interested in a unique service offering.
Developing your Telehealth Marketing Strategy can now be very easy. You simply need to
- flesh out the details behind the four tactics (0-3) above
- adopt them to fit your organization’s culture (and readiness)
- allocate resources (staff and money) to each tactic.
It may not be the most advanced telehealth marketing strategy, but it is one that should get you good results for quite a while.
Do you want to have a complimentary conversation with Christian about your care team’s telehealth marketing strategy? Set up a conversation through any of the options below.