Background: Pandemic Impact on Point of Care Connections
The international impact of COVID-19 has majorly altered interactions between patients and healthcare providers. In March, when “shelter in place” orders were enacted across the United States, many people remained in their homes in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. As a result, healthcare consumers were forced to change their normal medical routines, and healthcare providers were faced with the challenge of how to adapt. Some providers kept their doors open, but as patients sought alternative ways of human interaction, doctors’ offices were hit with a steep decline in foot traffic and a significant rise in cancellations of non-essential appointments.
In the first month of shelter in place, the decrease of face to face appointments varied in degree by specialty and geographic region. Doctors’ offices treating less life-threatening conditions, such as Dermatology (nearly 80%), Pediatrics (66%), PCP (60%), were heavily impacted, as noted in a PatientPoint July report. Alternatively, Oncology providers saw less of a reduction of in-office patient visits, about 35-45% as one case study showed, as those patients often have no choice but to receive treatment in person. The in-person decline also varied across the country as the intensity of the virus peaked in different states on a week-to-week basis.
Since then, individuals and businesses have begun to adjust to life in a “new normal,” thanks to a better understanding of the virus and ways to combat the spread. Healthcare facilities have enacted safety measures that have limited the number of patients allowed in the office at one time, required everyone to wear masks and have their temperature taken prior to entering. Patients are beginning to reschedule non-essential in-person appointments, resulting in the increase of foot traffic to pre-pandemic levels. The industry remains cautiously optimistic that the numbers will continue to grow, despite a potential resurgence of the virus in various regions of the country.
How Offices are Changing Advertising & Educating
Advertising directly to patients in doctors’ offices has been an effective strategy of distributing key drug benefits and education to consumers who are at the exact point of needing medical care. It has been standard to see pharmaceutical ads featured in waiting room magazines, printed wallboards in exam rooms or industry wallboards in the back office for staff. Various digital offerings in the office have become increasingly common, like waiting room TV loops, interactive screens, infusion room tablets, exam room digital wallboards and back office news wallboards.
Today, the standard appointment experience is shifting. Strategies are being implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while keeping businesses afloat. Fewer patients are sitting in the waiting room and the total time in-office has condensed. Offices have reduced and, even in some cases, eliminated the amount of handheld magazines. There are also fewer product leave-behinds. Pharmaceutical companies don’t have as many salespeople calling on offices due to office restrictions or company mandates and decline in staff. Product messages are trending towards an increase of corporate communications highlighting ways that patients can navigate the company’s patient services and financial assistance solutions.
Marketing Offerings to Stay Top of Mind
While there has been a positive boost in the number of in-patient appointments, vast restrictions remain in offices. Many people are still apprehensive of the number of surfaces they might touch and interactions they could have in a visit to a healthcare facility.
There has been an increase of telemedicine options offered by providers, but it has not become universal. Not all patients have access to the necessary virtual platforms and some that do have expressed discomfort in receiving care over a digital device. As telemedicine advances, it may be an effective option for certain types of specialties. However, for more critical patients, those needing oncology treatments for example, visiting the office is unavoidable.
QR CODES – As an alternative “no-touch” approach, the utilization of QR codes has become more prominent. At the bottom of a digital wallboard or an exam room tablet, the patient can scan a QR code and view all the same information (including branded product display banners) from the safety of their personal device. This allows the patient to keep a safe level of distance and still participate in the interactive experience.
GEOTARGETING – Since patients are going back to their doctors’ offices, the option of geotargeting mobile devices has come into play. Some offices have reduced waiting room times by requiring patients to wait outside or in their cars before being brought back to the exam room. By geotargeting those priority offices, you can serve your brand’s message at the convenience of the mobile device. Some offerings can go as far as to layer on prescription data and HCP target lists to narrow down to the optimal patient targets. After the patient receives the initial message, there is an option to retarget and serve messages to their device at home or the pharmacy. This creates a surround sound message to the most valued patient targets.
At the point of care there is an opportunity to integrate the brand’s message that both the patients and HCPs are receiving. As marketers, we provide HCPs the crucial information needed to serve their patients by reaching them via different vehicles and channels (in-office printed materials, digital and mobile ads). This allows HCPs to be armed with those product benefits, whether that be safety, efficacy or newly approved indications, as they treat patients and prepare to prescribe medications.
From the patient’s perspective, their health is top of mind as they come in for their appointment and at this moment, they are more apt to absorb messaging related to their condition. Moments before they go to visit their physician, brand messaging could be served while they are browsing a medical website on their phone or from waiting room displays or printed ads in the office. Some patients can be targeted with branded ads while they browse social media near the time of their visit (either while waiting in their cars outside of the office or at home in a digital telemedicine waiting room). By receiving brand messaging at this crucial time before their appointment, the patient is more likely to recall those ads and ask their doctor more information. The doctor would then have the correlating brand information in his or her arsenal, bringing the message integration full circle.
Overall, patients are cautiously getting back to their normal routines and visiting doctors’ offices in person. From a media perspective, there are still opportunities at the point of care to educate patients and HCPs alike on important brand features and benefits. Marketers will have to engage in new and innovative ways to spread a brand’s message. Agility and flexibility to changes in the environment are keys to success in uncertain times.