Using communication tactics to improve patient experience

February 5, 2019
Colin Deval Senior Communications Strategist

Follow the user to understand all of the ways you reach them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about communication opportunities that can augment the patient experience. In fact, ever since Ward Alles, president at Core Creative, shared the story of his patient experience through his eyes as a healthcare marketer, it’s been rattling around in my head.

Health systems and hospitals may already be doing many of these things. They amount to table stakes communication tactics in our digital age. Still, if you are doing this, and for your patients’ sakes, I hope you are, there are two pressing questions I want to ask of you.

  1.     Are you following your patient’s (audience’s) experience from start to finish, defining “start” well before they are a patient and “finish” well after they have been treated?
  2.     Have you defined your approaches as a part of your messaging, equipping your health system or hospital to market patient experience as a consumer advantage?

If you have built a clear and effective structure to communicate with your patients, using it in your messaging, particularly in social content (where you need to provide value for your audience to make your content worth anything) can help you reach the hearts and minds of your audiences. If your brand is built around an experience, don’t assume your audience knows about that experience. Don’t assume they know about all of the wonderful things you’re doing for them.

You must teach them about your advantages.

It may sound simple, but if you want patient loyalty, one of the ways to get there is to earn it. You do that by being good to people. As the brilliant Kristin Baird said in one of the Core Exchange podcasts, “it’s more than just smile lessons.” I love that quote for the implication and everything behind it. Patient experience is more than being nice to people. It’s more than creating a warm and fuzzy experience because people expect it. If they don’t get a good experience, they very well may go elsewhere. But patient experience can be much more tangible than that. It’s how you communicate with your audience and, as I noted before, if you’re doing that right, you might as well shout it out loud because it certainly means a lot to people. You can’t lead an ad or your content marketing with the fact you’re being nice to people. It’s not enough. But if you’ve operationalized more sophisticated communication tactics, say so. Let people know how.

Here are some ways to consider how you can meet your audience’s need with sound communications tactics, based around the experience as noted in Ward’s article.

Diagnosis

Audience State: When a patient is experiencing a diagnosis, they will likely be feeling anxiety, needing confidence in their provider and information about whatever it is they are facing.

Communication Opportunities:

SEM – Setting up long-tail search keywords around common conditions or, even better, service lines featured in your campaign or of strategic importance to your health system or hospital can make sure your patients are finding the right information when they are searching for it. You’ll be meeting patients in need, when they are feeling anxiety and need answers. Of course, to do that, you need to have developed content that serves their need ahead of time, and it’s not just a page of bullet points buried deep on your website.

Content – Speaking of that content, this is your opportunity to feature information for the audience on the service line and the physicians. That content can be on your website or (and!) distributed through social media to be available for those searching for an immediate answer and those doing more detailed research.

Technology – Do you have online booking set up? If patients have already booked appointments, do you provide automated calendar updates? Those are becoming expectations in our digital age. There are simple digital solutions that can create a better healthcare experience for patients. And, again, become valuable messaging points in communication if you get it right.

Follow-up – There’s a theme building here. People expect digital follow-up now. It’s how the world works because it’s how the Internet has come to work. People expect automated phone calls, emails and text messages. Make it easy for your audience by asking their preferred method of communication and giving it to them.

 

Pre-Appointment/Operation

Audience State: Nervous about results. Pleased that they are moving on. Ready for what’s next.

Communication Opportunities:

Content – It is useful for the audience to have access to content that addresses their safety concerns. It doesn’t have to exist in article form on your website. You might be able to, and should, tell them all they need to know in an email, but that can always link back to more extensive information on your website. Provide them with content for caregivers for more complex procedures. What do people need to know? What is helpful for them? How can you inform them so you can provide a better experience? This is a good opportunity for video content, short and easy-to-understand explainers that help the patient, and their caregivers, understand what they’re facing and how to deal with it.

Advice – Be sure you’re preparing the patient by helping them understand how to arrive, what to do, what comes next. Those are all topics around which you can craft content to communicate with the audience.

Technology – If they need multiple appointments or follow ups, give them the chance to do it, automatically, through email communications to text messages. Digital solutions exist to connect with an individual’s calendar through their email, smartphone and whatever else they may be using or need so they can commit to their schedule easily and feel empowered to take control of what’s next.

Make it easy – Speaking of making it easy for them. When patients are approaching surgery, they need leadership. Prepare them every step of the way with email and texting if they desire. Valet services with simple directions will help them feel comfortable and taken care of. Many health systems and hospitals have figured this out, even offering rides through Uber or Lyft. What truly makes a difference, though, is letting the patient know ahead of time and integrating technology. Working with a digital team can uncover solutions even the most astute healthcare marketing leader wouldn’t have thought of. Focus on the journey. Build an experience. Turn it over to the experts to find the best ways to build it.

 

After the visit/Post-op

Audience State: Hopefully they’ll be feeling relieved and confident.

Communication Opportunities:  

Follow-up – Email will keep them informed about the next steps and recommendations for self-care. It will continue to build that experience and it will continue to make them feel like you are partners focused on the individual, not just on a moment of care. That is how you can build on this experience to continue to build loyalty with your patients.

Direct Mail – It’s the simple things. Consider sending a card that is solely focused on the patient. Nothing that has to do with next steps, follow-up appointments or even bills. Just send them a card. Include personal signatures. Make them feel like they are a part of the family and they will feel valued. It’s another opportunity to empower your patients and help them feel like they are in the right place.

The takeaway?

As I noted right up front at the beginning, these opportunities present themselves when you assess the entire experience of your patients. Build and follow their journey and audit the ways you are communicating with them. If you have simple pamphlets and handouts, toss it over to the team to explore a digital solution or a content solution and the best way to deliver that to the “user”.

But with that in mind …

If you are doing these things right, building a stellar experience for your patients with more than just smile lessons, ask yourself, are you telling people about it?

It doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, the lead message in your big advertising campaign, but you know what? A little bit of messaging to tell people that with your system, they get taken care of every step of the way, will go a long way toward helping them feel empowered and building patient loyalty while increasing patient acquisition.

 

Colin Deval is a Senior Communications Strategist at Core Creative.

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