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Setting the stage for rapid renewal

Setting the stage for rapid renewal By Brandon Edwards
posted Mar 18 2021

Rocky. Rudy. Miracle. What do these three movies have in common? Moreover, what do they have to do with healthcare? Adversity followed by an overwhelming comeback.

We haven’t tamed COVID-19, nor can we ignore its devastating impact on our lives and the lives of our loved ones. We are still, in fact, swimming in the No Normal, but we’ve made significant strides in the right direction. Now, it’s time to stay grounded, keep momentum, and prepare for what’s next – it’s time to set the stage for Rapid Renewal.

To plan for the future, we must first look to the past

History is the best teacher, and we’ve got one grueling year and several distinct COVID-19 phases to learn from. Here’s a quick recap.  

Phase 1 – Crisis responseHealth systems paused elective procedures and carefully stewarded PPE as COVID-19 forced the world to navigate the No Normal blindfolded. At the virus’s onset, we projected that the outbreak would calm in summer 2020, surge in early fall, and eventually yield to flu season. 

Phase 2 – Rapid Recovery: In late spring and early summer of 2020, health systems eagerly pursued rapid recovery efforts, seeking to regain financial footing following elective procedure shutdown. Those without supply chain or operational advantages throughout crisis response could not expand surgical schedules, turn ORs, or improve patient access, resulting in lost market share.

Phase 3 – Escalation: Then fall hit, and the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths outstripped the direst projections. Strangely, the flu and COVID-19 did not converge – likely due to mask and social distancing mandates.

From this escalation emerged a frantic race to accelerate a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and new communication initiatives to help populations understand how to access care safely. Finally, the FDA approved certain vaccines, igniting hope that we could return “back to normal” by summer 2021. No such luck.

Phase 4 – Vaccination: Today, healthcare’s biggest priorities include vaccine distribution, reputation management, and consumer education. The hospital industry continues to invest heavily in vaccine rollout, but distribution blockers, identity factors, and new variants could extend the No Normal by months, if not years. 

“It may take four to five years before we finally see the end of the pandemic and the start of a post-COVID-19 normal,” Singapore’s education minister, according to the Wall Street Journal

Trends shaping healthcare’s Rapid Renewal 

If COVID-19 shock waves ripple into the next few years, we must stop looking at the impact of COVID-19 as temporary. In this next era of rebuilding and reorganizing, health systems must continue the fast pace of innovation and transformation that COVID-19 helped accelerate. Marketing and communications leaders must accelerate their transformation as well, challenging long-held assumptions and radically shifting focus, tone, and approach. We call this Rapid Renewal. 

While the ground still shifts beneath our feet, we are starting to see societal changes that will impact how health systems must approach Rapid Renewal. I believe the following four trends, combined with factors addressed in the COVID-19 Consumer Trends Report, are examples of those societal shifts that will define the trajectory of Rapid Renewal in healthcare. 

  1. Dispersion 
  2. Mistrust of experts 
  3. Worship of crowds 
  4. Everything is personal 
Dispersion 

Activities used to require a specific location. Fitness at the gym, movies at the theater, work at the office. Now, activities are dispersed beyond a single location. Fitness is at home (shoutout to you, Peloton), movies stream online, and work happens on Zoom calls. 

“Work from home, telemedicine, and remote learning represent an impending disruption of over 25% of the U.S. economy. The largest sectors are about to leapfrog HQ, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and campuses.” 
 
– Scott Galloway 

Dispersion (driven in no small part by smaller life spheres) across industries is undeniable, but how will it specifically impact healthcare? At a minimum, dispersion means care will continue to shift to urgent care, telehealth, curbside service, and digital health. Beyond that, dispersion will expand “hospital at home” services, increase outpatient surgery center volume, and reduce inpatient hospital stays. 

If you’ve yet to start an aggressive strategy to “disperse” services to urgent care centers, telehealth, digital health tools, surgery centers, physician offices, and curbside assistance, you must act now. To realize this full potential, marketing teams need to meet people where they’re at – across platforms. 

Mistrust of experts 

Between today’s widespread misinformation, conflicting COVID-19 recommendations, and Trump’s efforts to belittle experts, mistrust of experts has become a cultural phenomenon. As healthcare marketers, we must adjust accordingly. 

If consumers mistrust experts like the CDC or CMS, health system marketers must find ways to demonstrate credibility and build trust beyond simply showcasing our doctors and capabilities. When hospitals market themselves and their physicians, they miss the opportunity to connect directly with the people they serve – their needs, wants, and health. (See more on the forces behind this mistrust and ways to respond to it in our Trends Report.

Worship of crowds 

We live in angry times. COVID-19 has wrecked lives and upended the economy, somehow making the uber-rich even richer. Civility is dead. Our politics are bitterly divided. Racial inequity is still thriving. This fuel can ignite an explosion.

There’s always been a strength in numbers. Maybe through strikes and protests, angry calls and letters, or bad online reviews. While such instances may feel like crises, their scale is minuscule. Our worship of crowds – our inclination to be influenced by numbers – means that social media is king now, and we should focus our efforts to maximize word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer referrals. 

The worship of crowds makes it even more critical that hospitals engage directly with individuals in a targeted, personalized way. If the “crowd” is with us, our success is much more likely. If the “crowd” is against us, if it isn’t engaged and finding value in our communication, we cannot succeed. 

Everything is personal 

Healthcare is personal – perhaps the most personal. Why shouldn’t our marketing also be personal? Just like Netflix predicts your next show to binge or Amazon suggests an irresistible addition to your cart, healthcare marketers must personalize the consumer experience to stay competitive.

Whether communicating online or calling in, each touchpoint with a patient offers an opportunity to listen and learn. Every time we ask for someone to repeat their name or their symptoms, we quietly say we weren’t listening the first time. Surely, getting your medicine right is more important than switching where the dog toy on Amazon is going. 

Rising from the ashes 

The lives we lived up until now are gone for good. Now, hospital and health system marketers must embrace Rapid Renewal and rethink every channel, message, and approach. Americans are different; the way they think about healthcare is different. But that doesn’t mean we can’t rise from the ashes and succeed in the No Normal.

After all, everyone loves a good comeback story.