Even though health care facilities are opening their doors, many patients are still wary of seeking in-person care because they’re afraid of putting themselves or their families at risk. To regain patient trust, health care organizations are turning to social media.

Patients are frightened to seek necessary care amid Covid-19. Here’s how to overcome their fears.

To see how organizations are surfacing—and addressing—patients’ top safety concerns, we spoke with leaders at two organizations that have rolled out comprehensive, patient-centered communication campaigns: Sentara Healthcare, a 12-hospital system based in Norfolk, Virginia, and Cullman Regional Medical Center, a 145-bed hospital in Cullman, Alabama. 

Based on our conversation, we’ve highlighted four ways you can communicate to patients about their top concerns and reassure them that they can safely seek in-person care.

1. Use patient questions to guide your content strategy

There is a lot of information—and misinformation—out there on Covid-19, and it may be unclear where health care leaders should weigh in to support patients as they navigate the health care system today. The best place to start is with the questions patients are already asking you.

When Covid-19 cases started to rise in their community, Cullman Regional re-deployed its marketing team to manage a call center. The outcomes were two-fold: it made it easier for patients to access a real person to field their questions, and it gave their team visibility into patients’ top concerns about the Covid-19 crisis. With their finger on the pulse, the marketing team was able to craft daily e-mails and Facebook posts responding to the FAQs they received on the phone lines, such as where to get tested and what level of symptoms warranted visits the ED or hospital.

Given the rapid pace of change, patient comments can also help leaders keep an eye out for emerging concerns they need to address or evergreen questions they need to cover in a different way. At Sentara, the marketing team uses patient comments on their “Safe at Sentara” video campaign to inform future content—both online and offline. When they receive many similar questions on a Facebook Live video, they use it as a signal that they need to cover the topic again, and likely in a different way. The Chief Physician Executive (CPE) also reviews patient comments before his speaking engagements and updates his talking points to reflect the most pertinent patient questions.

2. Show—don’t tell—patients that your facility is safe

According to a recent consumer survey, only 15% of consumers report that they would be comfortable entering their local hospital for a medical procedure immediately after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. One of the most powerful ways for health systems to communicate that it’s safe to seek in-person care is to demonstrate the measures they’re taking to protect patients. 

Leaders at both Cullman Regional and Sentara quickly realized that to re-earn patients’ trust they need to show patients how they’re keeping their facilities safe. At Cullman Regional, they posted a video on their YouTube channel, featuring their CNO, which shows clips of daily cleaning regimens, patients and staff wearing the required PPE, and the new entrance they created to keep folks coming in for outpatient procedures separate from the rest of the hospital. At Sentara, they’ve launched a “live format” weekly video series on Facebook to show tours of their facilities and answer questions about patient safety in real-time. Each session is hosted by a different clinical expert who gives their take on the safety measures in place, when it’s necessary to seek in-person care, and what to expect when returning to a Sentara facility.  

If you’re hosting video walkthroughs, consider showing the social distancing measures you’ve put in place for elevators and waiting rooms, featuring recognizable staff, and highlighting organization-specific details (e.g., an open-air golf cart valet option) to make the processes come to life for patients.

3. Start a conversation in the comments section to combat misinformation and surface new questions

It’s likely that after patients watch a video it will answer some questions—and bring new ones to light. After posting a video online, be on the lookout for patient comments and questions that you can address in real-time.

To facilitate a conversation between staff and patients, Cullman Regional recruited marketing staff trained in communication tactics to manage patient questions on social media. They provided this team with scripting for common questions and contact information for experts who could support clinical questions with accurate information.

To keep the momentum of the conversation, Sentara set a 2-hour turnaround goal for all patient comments during regular business hours. Although a 2-hour turnaround may not be possible for all organizations, the key is responding as quickly as possible to signal to patients that you are reading their requests and responsive to their concerns.

4. Work with community leaders to amplify your message offline

Even after taking all the above steps, not all patients will–or are able to—engage with your organization on virtual platforms. To keep messaging consistent on and offline, consider collaborating with community stakeholders to expand your reach. Cullman Regional did this by adding leaders from the chamber of commerce, city council, and local businesses to their daily email blasts sharing need-to-know information about Covid-19. At Sentara, their CPE regularly meets with church leaders, particularly those in underserved communities, to ensure the entire community feels comfortable returning for care.

Want to see how organizations are spreading the word about patient safety?

Across the last few months, patients have been inundated with information about Covid-19, and many are experiencing information overload. And it’s likely that the volume of email and posts related to Covid-19 will only increase as businesses share the safety measures they’re taking to re-open. To cut through the noise, the best thing you can do it keep it short, simple, and differentiated.

Click here to see how your peers are using their messaging to help patients feel comfortable returning for much-needed care.

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