This article was previously published in PM360 on April 15, 2020.
This is part 3 of 3 in the article series: Thinking More Digitally in the Age of Coronavirus
“As hospitals struggle with a surge of coronavirus infection patients, a second crisis is brewing in physicians’ offices… steep drop-offs in visits as patients stay away, fearful of getting ill.” The LA Times recently reported this fact familiar to every HCP in America, and in many cases, around the world: We call this trend reluctance/reduction.
Brands have an important role to play in continuing to ensure that all patients are able to see their physicians – and that physicians get the support they need to diagnose and treat everyone in need. But not everyone is getting it right: as one cartoon making the round on social media put it, “some company we gave our email to a few years ago wants us to know they’re doing everything they can.”
So when it’s clearly not a moment for “business as usual,” here are our top options to consider, to help your HCP stakeholders continue to do their jobs with the help of digital tools and platforms.
Of course, telehealth is being increasingly adopted, but what may seem like a simple solution is in fact complex. While 80% of hospitals have telehealth solutions, a 2019 survey by the American College of Physicians (ACP) found that adoption among individual physicians may still be relatively low – though in areas under isolation orders, HCPs, like the rest of us, are no doubt adapting rapidly. Among other factors, the survey revealed that HCPs don’t always have the technology available, and when they do, they’re not comfortable using it regularly. For instance:
- Only a quarter of survey responders (24%) had technology for remote care management, and of those, only half used it weekly
- Less than one-fifth (18%) had technology for video visits, but of those, only 19% used it weekly.
The good news was that half of the survey respondents – and we imagine more today – want to do know more about the technology they can implement today – and how to help patients use it, too. It may seem like a big leap for brands to help doctors gain access to telehealth platforms, or even educate them on how to use them more effectively. But we think brands can accelerate education and adoption of digital tools for doctors, and by doing do, both set the stage for the future, and demonstrate a strong sense of community and purpose at a time when doctors and patients are struggling to connect:
- Help professional associations, such as the AMA, ACP or the specialty associations associated with diseases your products are designed for, help their members increase their familiarity with new technology. Brands have the opportunity to demonstrate both their leadership and partnership by widely disseminating information and instruction on topics such as effective, efficient, and compassionate ways to use telehealth, integrating other systems practices and coding, and maintaining remote patient management. You can see the AMA’s current guidelines of telehealth here.
- Help your HCPs and hospital systems stakeholders keep up to date on what technology platforms can provide. For instance, clinical communication platform TigerConnect is currently providing U.S. hospitals and health free use of its text messaging network for COVID19 -related communications.
- Create a telehealth toolbox that can be sent and downloaded via email directly to HCPs
- Offer on-demand videos or podcasts that feature experts offering step-by-step instructions for setting up HIPAA-compliant systems like Zoom and Doxy.me, implementing and integrating telehealth into daily practices – something more needed now than ever.
Digital Patient Education Resources
Virtually everyone in the US wants to find out more about their health: Google Trends showed a worldwide spike in searches for health-related terms, from under 50% in December, to 97% in March. Two of the top topics in the US, interestingly, are health insurance and mental health. As a brand invested in healthcare, you can help people both directly affected by the conditions your products are designed for, as well as every adult striving to cope:
- Make sure your HCP stakeholders have current and working links to all digital patient education, and offer printed materials for HCPs who want to provide them by US Post to their patients without access to computers or broadband.
- Contact patient groups privately to ensure their members have the same access to information, and support them by both buying ad space if available on their platforms and contributing to their fundraising efforts. Use your own social media handles to repost and share credible patient information, as well as helpful tips about health insurance and mental health resources, from groups like these and other disease experts.
- Pivot your regular US brand advertising, social media and other consumer outreach to informative, compassionate patient education, with links and 800 numbers available for people who want to know more. Consider running ads in hard-hit local news outlets, as well as on your usual channels.
Social Media Support Groups
As we all know, people are connecting online in ways old and new: Even while coronavirus rages, our need to find community and information for all of our interests – and health concerns — continues. This is the time to ensure that your social media presence is informative, educational and readily available. And inspiration for new types of outreach and community are everywhere, from online college classes on Zoom to Facebook live concerts, to watching movies together while apart with apps like Netflix Party. Your brand can use similar tools to create support group meetings, group information sessions, town halls with HCPs, or even patient video viewing sessions, with experts available to answer questions in real time. You can even host individual sessions for HCPs to reach out to their relevant patient populations. A powerful approach that the brand can drive is to create and manage Facebook or LinkedIn groups dedicated to healthcare provider discussions on specific disease states or how Covid-19 affects treatment for those disease states.
Remote Social Customer Service Engagement
As much as its vital to ensure people have access to information in a timely and relevant way on channels they enjoy – or can learn to be comfortable with – it’s just as important to make sure that the information you provide is built for maximum engagement. Consider re-imaging your social media presence to a Q&A format, like Humira’s Complete Answers Facebook page, which invites both HCPs and patients to ask questions – and then provides answers. Digital-friendly tools like surveys, quizzes, and games can provide both welcome distraction – and engaging education.
As we all learn new ways of connecting, and elevate our ability to connect using tried and true and emerging digital tools, pharma brands are uniquely positioned to continue to educate and inform HCPs and patients alike, while amplifying ways that HCPs can connect with each other – and your brands.
Danny Flamberg is VP, Strategy – HCP at LiveWorld
- LA Times https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-03-24/coronavirus-outbreak-primary-care-doctors
- WSJ https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-you-need-to-know-about-telehealth-during-the-coronavirus-crisis-11584874801
- Becker’s Health IT https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/tigerconnect-extends-patient-communication-platform-tools-during-coronavirus-pandemic.html
- ACP https://www.acponline.org/acp-newsroom/acp-releases-survey-results-about-telehealth-technology-availability-and-use-among-internists