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Healthcare Healthcare

How Hospitals Should Roll out Telehealth & Prepare for a Digital Future

Women talking to a telehealth doctor.

Everyone’s talking about telehealth lately. First the president, then consumers, and finally, healthcare organizations, too. Within healthcare in the last 30 days, telehealth has moved from the realm of “we need to see about putting that on next year’s fiscal plan” to “we need it next week!” and this Google Trends data shows why:

An image of a graph: Telehealth interest over time.

Yup — everyone’s talking about telehealth. But the reality is, there’s more to practicing telehealth than simply deciding to do so.

For many years, most consumers’ experience with telehealth (if they had any at all) was through a payer-driven triage service. A patient would consult with an unknown healthcare professional in an unknown location, which isn’t an optimum experience. I was personally told on several occasions that my doctors wouldn’t/couldn’t talk on the phone with me. If I wanted any kind of service, I needed to make an in-person appointment. I’m well aware of the constraints that HIPAA rules place on the healthcare industry, but there sure were a lot of times I wished I could just knock out a quick question over the phone or via video.

So when President Trump announced a loosening of the HIPAA restrictions on telehealth, dreams of a same-day telephonic consult danced in my head. But healthcare professionals knew that it wouldn’t be as simple as FaceTiming your doctor the moment you feel the first hint of a cough coming on. Is she going to just have you Venmo $50 over after you shine the phone camera down your throat?

Start Building a Plan by Asking These Questions

No — there are a lot of operational questions that have to be answered before a legitimate healthcare organization can offer legitimate telehealth services, such as:

  • What platform will you use?
  • How will you schedule appointments?
  • How will you bill for telehealth appointments?

If your organization has already answered those operational questions, congratulations! Most consumers and patients are pretty motivated to NOT go to a hospital or even to a doctor’s office right now, so providing an alternative is important for capturing the attention of current patients and the rest of your local community.

So, when you’re operationally ready to run telehealth services, the next question needs to be, “Who cares?” I don’t mean this in a snarky way — your health system should consider the types of patients you’re best-equipped to handle, and then focus on messaging tactics that make sure they know you’re offering telehealth services. Who do you want to target?

  • Existing patients only?
  • Prospective new patients?
  • Primary care only?
  • Other service lines?
  • A combination of these?

The importance of educating current and potential patients about telehealth services underscores how vital the healthcare marketer’s job is in the current climate. As with any emerging technology, but particularly when dealing with people’s health, patients need to be clearly told how and where they can access the services you’re offering.

Filling the Information Gap

Our preliminary spot checking revealed that virtually no healthcare organizations who we knew to be running telehealth services were showing up for local telehealth searches. Instead, national telehealth technology companies and apps dominate the results, with news stories and governmental information following.

There’s an increasing sense of duty among healthcare providers and organizations to broadcast information not only about COVID-19, but also about how patients can stay safe and healthy within their local communities. Telehealth is a fantastic opportunity for providers to be at the intersection of need and access, and all of your marketing channels need to be aligned in order to provide sufficient information to as many potential patients as possible.

Does your organization have an advertising plan built around ways you’re innovating patient care?

Are your physicians’ profiles and location information settings optimized for ease of access via directories like Google My Business? Google recently noted that providers who offer telehealth can feature this information on their GMB profile.

The Healthcare Landscape Has Permanently Shifted

It’s our strong opinion at Scorpion that telehealth is a genie that won’t easily go back into the bottle. When the pandemic is over and we start figuring out what the new normal is, it’s not likely that consumers and patients are going to want to go back to sitting around in waiting rooms unless they absolutely have to. That means that the early adopters and the early promoters of telehealth services will be the ones who are servicing consumers and creating relationships that have the strongest chance to turn into long-term, repeat patients.

If you’d like to learn more about the ways Scorpion can help you build a strategy to foster long-term success, contact us here. For more information about how hospitals and health systems can respond to COVID-19, visit our resource page.