With the initial shock of the pandemic behind us, many elective medical practices have had the opportunity to catch their breath and look to the future. In this webinar Etna Interactive’s CEO, Ryan Miller, guides practice leaders through 5 steps that will help ensure an appropriate and timely response today and through the next three months.
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- Report: Harvard Business Review, Roaring Out of Recession
Alright I wanted to take a moment again and welcome everybody who is joining us for the webinar today, we’re going to spend about 40-45 minutes going through some content together. We’ll have time at the end for questions, as much as possible for those that are participating in the live session. Please do use that Q&A feature that is a part of the Zoom Webinar tool set to ask questions in real time, we are recording today’s session, after roughly about 48 hours of processing time we’ll get this available on our blog so you can either watch it again of share it with a colleague or member of your team, and of course for everyone who is registered we’ll be sending out the recording as well.
A little bit about where we are today and what we’re hoping to accomplish. I want to acknowledge that we have a lot of our clients as well as our colleagues from industry on the line today and each of us is perhaps in a slightly different place but I think there are some commonalities. A lot of the initial fires of the pandemic, the prohibition on elective procedures, on forced office closures, a lot of those fires have been put out. We’ve made difficult decisions about human resources, we’ve taken a deep dive into our finances, we’ve hopefully started communicating with patients about what’s transpiring and we’re now able to catch a breath, a tiny bit, and start to look to the future. To stop and reflect on how exactly we emerge from this really unique period, ideally stronger. Able to not only to recover some of the revenues that were lost in the time that our offices were forced to close, but able to enter a period of time as we go into those summer months performing at, or in some cases as we talked with our clients and are learning already, above our normal capacity so we can finish the year out strong.
For those that don’t know me, my name is Ryan Miller, I am the founder and the CEO of Etna Interactive and while I’m the voice on the line today, I really have to credit my team. A lot of the information, the idea, the perspectives that I’ll share is directly from the sixty amazing men and women that I get to work with everyday to help our clients all over North America.
What we’re really going to focus on is five discreet vignettes, five things that you need to work through as a practice leader, as a marketing leader to get through what we think is really going to be a recessionary period when we are able to see patients again and then into a fairly strong recovery position.
Step One: Take a Stance
Now we’re going to jump right in, in respect for time and work through the five things and summarize at the end, and again don’t hesitate to use the Q&A to slow down and to take a deeper dive on something. The first thing ultimately that I want to make sure each of you does before we get too far into the future is ensure that for your content, is that you’re already taking a very clear stance on how you are responding to the crisis and that you’re actually getting that message in front of both patients and prospects. The author Diego Torres gave us a really great quote, I think we’ve heard other ideas that are similar to this, if information is the thing that gives us security, it’s absence, that’s the thing that gives patients doubts, fear, and ultimately cements panic. We want our patients feeling both aware and confident enough to find their way back into our practice and, also not to be pushed away by us at a period where we can’t readily invite them through our office doors.
Now my guess is for those of you that are involved in communications with your practice is that you’re already hearing a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions that sound like these. The basic ones: ‘Are you seeing patients right now, and if not what about a virtual consultation?’, ‘If I had a surgery on the books and maybe I can’t keep it anymore are you going to refund my deposit?’ and, ‘How are you going to address rescheduling?’. I think we all know, for a lot of you, you already had appointments booked into May and June, you’ve now got to accommodate patients from March and April, and who gets first dibs on any available appointments left?
What about memberships? A lot of you have loyalty and VIP programs, how are you addressing those needs and answering questions that come from members of those programs already, and still other patients who are really connected to the real people inside your practice are wondering what’s happening with that. These and more are representative of the uncertainty to what patients are feeling right now and the clarity that you need to bring.
Now what I’m not going to do for you today is tell you the right answers. I’m not going to prescribe that you have to refund deposits or that you need to adopt a new flexible schedule for the way that you approach patient appointments going forward, but I will tell you that you have to communicate to patients about what you’re doing. It needs to be proactive and honest, it needs to be empathetic and aware of what we’re all dealing with right now, and really be a true reflection of your brand. It shouldn’t feel different from how you communicated with your patients before the coronavirus hit.
Now I want to use an example to show you both the good and the bad, I’ve got a great relationship with United Airlines. I fly a lot because of the lecturing that I do, I live in a small town in California and it’s one of the few airlines with decent connections out of my town. Say what you will about my choice, that’s my go-to airline. I was actually on the East Coast when all of this broke out, I only returned to California, after being stranded out there for about a month, this last weekend. I chose to isolate out there rather than to brave the initial phases of uncertainty, and they were, United, from the very beginning very good about proactively telling me ‘Hey we understand that the world has changed and we are flexing. You are free to re-book your flight at any time and there will be no re-booking penalty’. In fact, it was great because I ended up re-booking my flight three different times.
When I went to their site, that message was echoed, so there was consistency and clarity. We have some really clear instructions on how you need to change or cancel your flight and sure enough they has adapted their programming, it was very easy for me to alter those flights and they went so far as to anticipate one of my concerns. Some of you on this call today will be frequent flyers, you know how important status is, and they went ahead and they sent a message out saying you know, ‘Here’s something we want to reassure you about, we get it that you’re going to have a hard time accumulating status this year because of the prohibitions on flying in certain areas, so don’t worry, we’re extending that status all the way out to January 31, 2022’. Great, this is making me feel better, I’m having positive experiences with this brand, rescheduling has been easy, and I’ll share a little bit later on, they didn’t get everything right but the early messaging was handled really well.
What we have to acknowledge right now is we can’t just think about one form of messaging. To be good leaders we have to have messaging prepared for at least three distinct phases of operation that are going to come over the next few months. Right now many of us are in areas where there is an enforced shelter at home order, there are prohibitions against nonessential medical procedures and we are not, and cannot actually come in contact with our patients. That will I think for many of you, we’re in contact with our clients who are already fairly confident that somewhere between May 1 and May 11, that they will be able to see patients while safe social distancing orders are observed in some level of staged re-entry. That there will be some relaxing as we find an individual market that hospital capacity and such, that it is safe in that region to conduct nonessential medical treatments and visits, and we’ll be able to see in some metered way, we’ll be able to see patients again. Then we will be back into a stage of full recovery, but as we’ll talk about at the very end, that full recovery will probably be a full restoration of normal operations in the middle of a recession. We need to have anticipated messaging for all of these stages and let’s talk about where we are right now in the shelter at home idea.
Now obviously we have a lot of ways we can communicate with patients, some will be more efficient than others. We can get an update on our website, we can go to our own homepage URL property we control and get very clear messaging all across that site, remembering that a lot of people who will find you won’t start just on your homepage. Their point of entry may be one of your procedure pages on your site, or the contact page. We can email patients, if we’ve been diligent about getting permission and building a list we can send proactive notifications there, but what is really fascinating is that all of the major portals that in many cases serve as an intermediary between us and our patients, or are simply representative of the patient’s preferred communication platform, that they’ve created new tools to allow us to talk about what it is that we’re doing, how we’re reacting right now to COVID.
The idea here is that no matter what your message is about what you’re doing and how you’re responding, that you do need to get the word out there and you need to get it out far and wide. Google My Business is a great example because if they very often have a question, are you open, are you seeing patients virtually, Google My Business is a great tool and they’ve introduced two new features that you can add to your profile just in the last week. One is your COVID-19 info link, this would be the place that someone would go to get the latest information on how you’re addressing COVID-19. The other would be a link to your telehealth program, so if you are actually participating in telemedicine, or just offering virtual consultations, whichever it may be, you can link to that information from Google My Business and give people access to that information even if they haven’t yet made it to you site.
Now I want us to stop there for a second and want us to go through a little thought exercise together about the complexity of the messaging that we’re going to have to work with. For a lot of our clients, especially in the Northeast, we’ve also seen this fairly common among our clients in Canada, they very generously in some cases and in other cases it was equipment that was commandeered and confiscated from the clinics, but many clinics are today without their ventilators. Where that’s critical for certain operation, we may have a very complicated story to tell when we can start seeing patients again. So imagine this scenario: Mrs. Smith had a tummy tuck scheduled and your office finds itself without a ventilator. What is the conversation that you and your staff need to have with Mrs. Smith right now about her expectations about rescheduling her surgery if you don’t know when you’re ever going to get that equipment back? The reality is, that answer is probably going to come from or through your people. What we’ve seen right now as staffs are distributed, offices are trying to learn to operate remotely, is that the staff that remain on board perhaps aren’t getting all of the direction and they’re not getting the help anticipating the kinds of problems and questions they’re going to have to solve.
I’ll use an example here, as I mentioned I flew back to California from the East Coast just last week, I was covered in masks and gloves as I left out of the Newark airport in New Jersey. I boarded a flight, I was fortunate to get upgraded so I was sitting in row number one, two feet away from the galley. In front of me are two United Airlines employees who are in positive spirits, having a good time, and I am surrounded in first class by other airline staff. I was guessing, I saw pilots from different airlines, I saw flight attendants both from United and other airlines, clearly some of them had relationships with our flight crew because about 45 minutes into the flight six of them had gathered in the galley about two feet away from me, not one of them was wearing masks, the only one wearing gloves was the person serving beverages, and they were talking and laughing and touching each other and I can’t even begin to tell you how uncomfortable that flight was for me because the staff wasn’t really reflecting the sort of conscious and aware brand messaging that I was getting in my emails and in my site experiences from United, and we don’t want that kind of thing happening with your brand.
You need to help your team anticipate one of the challenges, one of the questions that we’re going to face as we look at some of these things, like the re-entry to practice. What are the questions and problems we’re going to face like difficult questions about refunding surgery deposits and that kind of thing for patients who find themselves coming out of COVID unemployed or unable to get the coverage for their childcare, their family that they had previously planned for when scheduling their surgery earlier this year, and also ensuring that your team is able to come back to your brand so that even if you haven’t prepared them, they have the awareness, the sensitivity and that they are in the right mind to be able to respond to really complicated questions on the fly.
As we talk about getting that word out, first and foremost be sure that you, if you haven’t spent much time with them recently, go back to those core values, dust them off and make sure that your remaining team knows what they are, what they stand for and ensure that the people that are trying to get answers, that they can find them. That’s probably going to mean that you have a blog post on our site that reflects your current position, how you’re operating as a business in the face of today’s developments that relates to the coronavirus, that there are banners across your site drawing people’s attention to that one page where your primary answers are met, it might meant that you reflect on and revisit your policies, and help your staff anticipate the key communication challenges that are coming down the line. The policies that I mentioned might need to be adapted, and where you’re making those adaptations, it doesn’t need to be a secret, go to your website and adapt your policy pages to help give people ready access to self-service and to feel more confident about the response and reaction that you have right now. Finally, of course, taking the time to align your team, all important there, we all want to be playing from the same playbook.
Step Two: Check & Reset
The second section here is a fairly short one, I’ll remind everybody on the call that if you have questions about what we’re talking about today to use the Q&A toolbar that is there, I’m happy to get those questions answered in real time, and where appropriate we’ll save them for answering at the end. What we want to do now is check and reset any of the marketing that may be on autopilot, and some of you may or may not be aware that a lot of what we are able to do with digital marketing, we can pre-program and then have that run weeks or months into the future. But I actually want to go a couple of years in the past right now, some of you may not remember a couple of years ago, 2018, Areatha Franklin died, and hosted at a very conservative church a number of stars were asked to perform in her honor. Ariana Grande was one of those, and following her performance there was a fair degree of backlash that she was perhaps not sensitive in how she chose to dress for the occasion. Now without getting into a deep conversation about the shaming that happens for such silly decisions as this, the reality is that right now patients are watching what you’re wearing, they’re looking to see if you’re dressed appropriately for the occasion that we’re all experiencing right now.
The first thing that we want to make sure you do is take a step back, whether it’s talking with your internal marketing team, agency that you’re working with, and just asking the question, ‘Have we checked all the stuff that’s scheduled?’. Maybe with a blog post that was scheduled to be released, maybe it was social media posts that were scheduled to go out, and either paused or re-tooled those things that would not sound appropriate right now given what we are as a world dealing with. At the same time, we want to take a look at the last things we posted and ensure that they’re still the first things we want people to see today. I don’t think this is actually what Douglas Fairbanks meant when he said ‘A man’s only as good as his last picture,’ I would say a clinic is only as good as their last blog post or social media post.
Imagine this, you’ve got a newer prospective patient who finds their way to your site because they have free time right now, they’re contemplating procedures and they stumble into your blog and the last post that they find feels just very wrong given where we all are today. I would argue that the last post they find, probably right now, needs to be a very clear update or message, a post in fact that you’re probably updating on a weekly basis, about how your office is adapting to serving and supporting patients during a time of crisis. Check your ‘lasts’ and make sure that those things are appropriate for where we all are today.
So here is that quick checklist to summarize the short section. You want to replace any of those automated or scheduled marketing activities that could be tone deaf with something that perhaps is more aware and empathetic. At the same time we want you to go back and look at things like page search, social ads and make sure that the messaging, the copy, any offers that may be out there are appropriate today. And finally, reviewing those last things that you put out there on the web. Your last blog, your last post on Facebook, your last post on Instagram because we’ve seen a lot of clinics that just shut down fairly quickly and left stuff up there that ignored that fact that you’re still seeing patient prospects coming through your site, you social media, even today.
Here’s the thing, we’re getting this a bunch right now from our own clients, we’re sharing it not only with our clients but the industry at large, many of our clinics are asking us, ‘What is a COVID appropriate blog post? What should we be putting out there on social media?’. We formed a team internally just to create a series of free tools that our clients and partners can use as guides, there are a lot of scary and uncertain things happening right now and as much as we can make things a little bit easier for you, we’re trying. They are now weekly and bi-weekly releasing new tools for you to DIY, because obviously a lot us are concerned right now with managing expenses, and creating the last two, the first one was ideas for social posts that were appropriate, the second tool they released was ideas for COVID appropriate blog posts. You can go to etnainteractive.com/diy and register there. You’ll gain access to the tools that have already been released and it will put you on a list so as we release each new tool, that will come straight into your inbox.
Step Three: Build a Pipeline
Let’s take a pivot now, we’ve dealt with messaging, we’ve dealt with that look back and making sure we’ve got a safe platform to build on going forward, the third project we want to start working on is building that pipeline. That pipeline of both patients and prospects that we can start talking to, that we can market to, I say after the pandemic but I would say probably a more appropriate title for this section is as soon as we can begin treating patients again at some level.
I know that for many of us we really don’t like to think about what we do in elective healthcare as sales but it is and, we’ve probably seen this idea of the sales funnel in a bunch of different formats before. Some of you may have even heard of the acronym there on the left side, awareness, interest, decision, action, the AIDA model before. At the start of it, awareness, I’m generally aware that a solution exists but I may not actively be considering it. As I move into that interest phase I’m doing more active research and perhaps even requesting consultations, and the decision phase I’ve narrowed myself down to a couple different options and I’m actively working to decide on a provider or practice to help me with this, and then of course I become a patient or client of your clinic. Right now it’s difficult to work in the bottom of that funnel because we’re not able to take those opportunities to help them become our patients. So where we’re working today, and it’s really clear, I’ll give you some strong evidence as to why we should be doing this, is we can be executing campaign activities that help us to generate leads, to get permission from people to communicate with them, to market to them when this is all over. In the area of virtual consultations, we can then take those leads, qualify their interest and in many cases, we hear them daily, our clients are booking procedures not to a specific date but as soon as possible after they can begin to see patients because they are conducting those visits virtually today.
Now we have to acknowledge, I think it’s something that is tough to talk about right now, talking about marketing conversations when we’re making tough decisions about our staffing and our human resources, when cash flow is a concern, it can feel insensitive and it’s not. I have to acknowledge the truth is that is when we come out of this, engaged subscribers, followers, people who have connected with you and your brand, expressed an interest in your services, who’ve given you their contact information and are willing to receive communications from you, they’re going to be your lifeline when this is all over and done with. Really all that means is that we need two different things, we need contact information from them and we need permission.
Some of you will have blogs and blogs where people can subscribe to receive content. Now promoting people to subscribe to your blog, to receive an automated alert when you release a new post is a form of permission-based marketing, it’s a list you can consider to be an asset when this is said and done. Some practice’s advance to the point already where they’re doing SMS messaging, they’re text marketing to people and are building text lists. The more people that are on that text list that you can announce, ‘Hey we’re seeing patients again’ the better position you’re going to be when this breaks. The same thing is true, your followers on Facebook, although we have to acknowledge if you’re not paying on Facebook today it can be very difficult for your message to be seen, so at the very least you may have to plan to boost that message. And of course, email marketing, and I can’t stress enough how valuable email marketing is going to be to you as we come out of this, and I want to argue as we move through this particular period as well, if you think about why you’re here, my guess for this webinar and others like it that you’re attending right now, that you responded to an email invitation. That was the thing that made you aware and catalyzed you to action. Not to diminish the text messaging or what you can do on social media today, or the possibility of having followers on your blog, it’s still perhaps going to drive the broadest reach and the highest response rate that you’re going to get.
I get it, I’m teasing email marketing, that this is really important, what are you going to do to grow your list? Well let me give you an example of a campaign we ran just last week for some of our accounts. It was Easter over the weekend and we knew for a number of our accounts we’ve been tasked specifically to help them grow their email lists, expressly so that we would have many more patients that we can communicate with on the other side of COVID. So we ran social media ads for the week leading up to Easter stressing that you need to subscribe to our email list because we’re running a big contest on Easter day. And what did we do on East day? Well, we hid graphics, pictures of Easter eggs across their site and challenged patients who were on the email list to go and find six Easter eggs, send us back the names of pages where you found them, and in return, one person who found all six eggs would be selected to receive a gift certificate, most of them were nonsurgical services.Looking at that particular example, the focus there is that it’s fun, it gives me something to do, it is sensitive to the fact that we are, were at the time, celebrating a holiday but we couldn’t do it together and it really focused on a strong material goal which is growing that list.
Now there are many ways to grow your email marketing list, that’s just one example. I will tell you the one, this is a great takeaway for all of you to go back and do right away, the one that is most often overlooked, that I think is the most critical, is capturing subscribers in your office. These are people who have a relationship with your business and would, in many cases, welcome news, special offers, promotions, invitations to events directly in their inbox. They certainly would recognize you if they saw you as the ‘from’ address. Now the challenge that we face is the way you get an email address in office, most often is on your patient intake form. It’s usually a patient registration form of some sort and you’ve probably had those same patient registration forms in some cases for ten, twenty, thirty years and there is not an option on there to collect permission from that patient to subscribe them to your list. That’s important because if you’re in Canada, you have to do that according to the CAN-SPAM laws, and in the United States we have to do that under HIPAA because we cannot use email addresses that are collected for patient care, for unsolicited marketing communications unless we get permission. Okay so you say ‘No, no, no Ryan, we’ve looked at our forms already and in fact we have an email address collection, and we have an initial or a check box that they have to check that says ‘I give you permission to market’. Okay that’s great, the next thing you have to ask yourself is ‘Are we getting the emails we collected there off of the office computer, whether it’s scheduling software, practice management software or CRM, and getting them onto the software that we use to distribute email marketing communications?’, and what we find is that very often one of those two parts, or both of those parts just aren’t happening and that is going to slow both the quality of the emails on the list and the quantity of emails that end up on your subscriber list.
Other things you might consider is creating a lead night, we recently re-deployed, it was something that already existed, it was a skincare guide, with modifications we deployed skincare advice for stay-at-home skincare and then sent out communication on social media, advertisements on social media, encouraging people to download that, and as they downloaded that they were all give the option to subscribe to the list. So we’re trading that value, ‘I’ll give you something you might be able to use, and in exchange you give me permission to market to you in the future’. I already described an example of a social contest there with the virtual Easter egg hunt that we conducted, but there are many more things that you can do and the good news is we don’t have to cover them all here because we’ve talked about them in the past. So for those that are interested, when we distribute the recording of the webinar, you don’t have to worry about writing it down, although you can find this in our blog, it’s also in our YouTube, you’ll be able to click to link when we share the deck as a PDF out to you as well, I think it’s about 10-12 minutes covering the top ten ways for you to build your email marketing lists. So there are lots and lots of things you can do to make that list grow.
The question that we get, that I think dovetails off of this, because I think I give you two examples there that both involve using social media advertising, right now we’re still very deeply engaged in that for many of our clients, is acknowledging that right now there may be more value in the digital marketing. It’s not always true. We found in a few places, for example that search volumes have come down very dramatically and pay-per-click advertising, no matter how much or how little you want to spend, there just isn’t as much traffic as there was before. But generally speaking, what we find right now is that there are two truths, number one, consumers have a lot more time and they are spending more time on social media and they’re spending more time searching, and there are fewer total advertisers in the pool. Those two things, they work on your favor, they’re a fairly, I hate to use the word captive audience, but they are and there’s not as many people that you have to pay to get in front of them. I think at the end of the day, now may be a really good time, especially looking at things like social media advertising.
We’ve got a great question coming in right now about my thoughts on getting more patients to follow on Facebook and on Instagram, they’ve got a big list internally, over 50,000 for email and they’re already getting those emails, but many of them are not finding us on social media. How do we get the patients involved in social?
I’ll share Renee, the most common thing we do in that case, when we’ve been super successful in email and we’re hoping for a second point of contact on social is to run, specifically, social campaigns and contests that are only announced on the email list that require or involve patients to like, fan or follow you on those social media channels. There are going to be a fraction of people for their own privacy concerns don’t want to associate with an elective medical brand on social media and that’s okay, but you’re asking them to both take an action and to suffer some disruption from you in the future so be ready to give that patient something in exchange in order to motivate the behavior that you want.
So the bottom line of what this whole section is about, now is the time, right now you have the time, you have the resources, you have the captive audience, to work on growing your subscribers and that may mean, like we talked about, auditing what’s happening internal to your organization, and actively investing in some fun promotions, or simply communications with invitations to have people subscribe to join you for receiving updates in the future.
Step Four: Use This Time Wisely
So let’s pivot now and let’s talk about other applications of your time, and again this is a short section, our fifth section we’re going to be just a little bit longer because luckily for this one we have a guide for you that can help. This is really about reflecting on the fact that on whether it’s just you, you’re a physician or a practice leader, you’re not able to see patients so you find yourself with extra time right now, and like I’ve talked about, you’ve probably put out the biggest of the early fires that were taking all of your attention in the first two weeks of the crisis, or you may have some remaining staff and you’re looking for great projects to share with them that can help you be in a better position in your market as we come out of COVID.
The reality is you could point, you could throw a dart anywhere at the diagram that you see on the screen right now, each one of those is a channel that you can engage in online marketing, and if you want to shout it out loud on the Q&A board, pick one and I can tell you right now here are a number of things you can do to help it out. The point is, all of those projects are there, right if we look first at your site, what could we do on our website? Well the first thing you want to make sure that you do is you want to get that message out there about how you’re reacting to COVID, but now is a great time to, if you’re in aesthetic medicine to post a new before-and-after photo, perhaps if you’re an ophthalmology practice to bring a case study out there about a patient that you’ve helped with Lasik, if you are a fertility clinic you’re talking about your success stories. You can take one of your procedure pages, one of your core service pages and enhance that copy, making it the best page about that particular service or procedure that can be found anywhere on the web, that’s a great use of your time right now.
If we start talking about videos and podcasts, well maybe now is the time, granted if you’re like me your hair looks horrible right now, that you cut your teeth with video a little bit more. You never took the time before to break out the tripod, to get comfortable filming yourself, to figure out the lighting. Well, now is the time to do that and if you can develop that skill set not only can you create content today that’s going to be beneficial, especially on social media, but that’s going to help you be a smarter marketer as we go forward.
Now the good news is, I’m not going to bore you with a hundred different ideas there, but we have broken out twelve different projects that we recommend you engage in to prepare yourself for what comes next. I think it is fair to say, especially if you are listening to the news today, right now I don’t have the numbers for Canada for those on the line from our neighbor up North, in the U.S. I think the number right now is approximately 1 in 8 Americans has already filed for unemployment, which means that the total number who are unemployed or underemployed is probably significantly higher than that, and as we reflect on what is going to happen coming away from this I think it is safe to assume that we are not going to return to record unemployment. What we emerge into after the coronavirus is going to look and feel different than say last summer. So lots of great projects, you can go to etnainteractive.com/recessionreadiness, download the guide, they’re structured as twelve different vignettes, projects that you can easily go through with specific suggestions on how to use this time wisely.
The thing that we have to acknowledge is that you’re going to be able to see patients again soon. It probably doesn’t feel that way every day and I don’t want to gloss over the reality that when you start to see patients again it’s going to be more complicated than it used to be, at least for a while. Right now is a time where, whether it’s for yourself or the remaining members of your team, you can delegate some projects, you can use this time wisely to help move the practice to a stronger position as we come out on the other side.
Step Five: Plan For Recovery
Now as we start talking about planning for recovery I want to acknowledge, we’ve talked to a lot of our clients right now who were up front about the fact that, ‘Hey, I was already booking appointments into May, June and July, I’m having to take all of my March and April appointments and push them forward, I’m going to be slammed for two months after I’m able to start seeing patients again, if not more’. The reality is I think that’s going to be true for many of you. I think we talk a lot about, we’ve heard a lot on the news about pent up demand. I know that some of you have continued to book cases, treatments as we’ve gone through, using virtual consultations, but all of that said we still have some stuff to think about like what is your reception area going to look like after COVID-19? Are you going to be busy, are all of your providers going to be busy? How are you going to navigate if you’re trying to observe social distancing rules and guidelines as you re-enter the practice? Operationally there’s a lot to think about there.
My guess it though, most of you are thinking, ‘how will I recover what may amount to, if we look at roughly three months for some of you not being able to see and treat patients, a 25% loss in total revenues for the year? How am I going to work on building what could potentially be our best summer ever?’ Especially for those of you that commonly see a dip in summer months or some elective practices take a month off during the summer. I don’t know if that’s going to be a smart option for clinics today.
So one of the things I recommend you think about, even if you only have a few members of your team remaining, you don’t have to do this alone. We developed, the moment that the crisis broke, we launched a tiger team internally comprised of people from five different departments inside of our organization who’s sole job was to develop new resources, new content, to help our clients self -service. There’s a need to market and a need to manage costs, we want to make sure they do it effectively so let’s develop tools to help with that.
You’re going to have some different issues that you need to tackle. Could you engage a small team of experts who are focused on one very specific goal, like anticipating all of the challenges we’re going to face when we return to practice but have to enforce social distancing and still take steps to protect, or at the very least reassure our patients that it’s safe to come into our office.
Now I mentioned earlier that I’d share some data here, some evidence that suggests that it is smart to invest energy in marketing and these kinds of innovations right now, and it’s linked in our COVID resources page, I’ll share a link in the blog post when we get this recording out as well but you can also look it up. It’s called Roaring Out of Recession and it was published in the Harvard Business Review, it was a year long study coming out of the Great Recession, of the businesses who did really poorly, and the ones who did really well, and of the ones who did really well on the other side of recession had in common, and not to steal the thunder of the paper, but this quote kind of says it all: “Enterprises that cut costs, that were effective about managing the cost of operations while still making investments in marketing, in R&D and in assets, specifically these are assets that increase their production capacities, in general they were able to out perform everybody else after the recession.”
What do those three things really translate to for us, it’s about your marketing communications, innovations inside the practice, and capacity to see and treat patients going forward. Now, I really want to focus in on the middle one there, we’ve talked about marketing, frankly operational issues is not our expertise, we are a marketing consultancy, but we are already seeing and we have some thoughts on what’s going to be happening as we go to wrap up this session, innovations inside of clinics.
I’ll pause here for a second just to catch my breath and remind you all the Q&A button on the webinar control panel is a place that you can go to start to drop some questions in, we’ll do our best to get those answered for you either here in the last section in line, or as we close out the session. This is your time, if you’re struggling with what to do right now, let’s use this time together to make sure that you leave this hour with both clarity and some strong ideas to keep you moving forward.
One of the big innovations and think this is pretty much a no-brainer but I’ll say it out loud anyway, is virtual appointments and telemedicine. I think many of your clinics, you were already doing this often in the context of treating patients from outside of your immediate area, who infrequently came to your office for treatment because they had been referred by someone. So you often maybe did their initial consultation using Skype or Zoom or Facetime. What we’re finding today is two things, practices are embracing this fairly widely, that practices are actually getting good at it, and what I’m hearing from my clients is they’re not going to stop when this ends. What they’re finding is it’s often more convenient for them, they have less total downtime at the practice, as long as patients are effectively pre-screening, that they can have very productive initial communications with patients leading up to everything of course except for things like labs and, in the case of ophthalmology, things like eye exams that have to happen in person.
A question is coming in right now as well as what about scheduling apps being added to websites, and the answer is absolutely. Self-service and things like digital scheduling were already on the rise before the coronavirus broke out, and what we’re finding more and more is that practices are having to ask the question, ‘Well how do I operate on a leaner total budget?’ If you listen to your recorded calls, a significant number of calls that you receive are scheduling questions – How do I schedule? When are you available? – if that can be made self-service, obviously that’s the kind of operating efficiency and innovation that’s going to make you stronger on the other side.
Similar and I think related to that question, is enhanced communication and digital service. Now remember, I would say this is a great question for you to ask yourself, before coronavirus were you aggressively using things like text messaging, or Facebook messaging or direct messaging on Instagram to service patients. The answer for many clinics was no, that thought about it, maybe were doing a little bit of texting, but mostly just phone and email, and if you think about how you’re operating today I would bet a large number of you are texting with patients, that you are messaging them directly on the social media applications, and again the expectation is going to be with patients that you’ll keep doing that on the other side. Now the implication is for clinics that aren’t willing or able to adapt to meet patients where they want to talk is that those patients will be more likely to choose clinics that are more convenient, that text them back to confirm an appointment as opposed to making them call in to get that done, at that they’ll make these choices aligned with convenience and that practices that are reluctant may be left behind.
Interestingly we are already seeing that clinics that we’ve worked with for years who have struggled to really find their voice and personality on social media, were reluctant to get out there and put their face on and be fun and friendly, transparent, that those same clinics today have sort of found their voice, they’ve gotten comfortable sharing photos of themselves at home and in more casual situations, exposing what is happening in the real world and they’re seeing much more engagement and interaction and success on social media today. Clinics, and specifically physicians who had aspired to do video but never found the time before realized, man this is really pretty easy for me to carve out twenty minutes and record a quick video Q&A that we can share on social media. So what we’re going to see is that the bar will be raised in the area of content creation.
Now, before I move on there’s a question that just came at kind of the last minute there, about texting using HIPAA secure method of communication. The great issue here when we think about HIPAA is what we need to do is take a reasonable measure to protect patient privacy. SMS messaging isn’t generally a fairly secure platform of communication, we want to get the patient’s permission, of course, and get that on record that we’re allowed to communicate with them in SMS, and then past that we need to take reasonable measures to secure either the devices or the platforms on which we are managing those text conversations. Many clinics today are using secure platforms where for your office everything looks and feels like an email, so it’s a digital platform, but for the patient it comes through on their phone like any other text message so there are lots of great options there.
In terms of the questions coming in right now, there’s one about the previous section about what’s the best platform that’s being used. The answer is that there are lots of great platforms out there for the video component of a virtual consultation, we’ve gone on record in the video that you may have watched previously with an endorsement of doxy.me, we don’t have any relationship with them at all we just tested a bunch of different platforms. Now what we had heard is shortly after making that recommendation, others had made the same recommendation because it’s a free service, was that they had some early hiccups right as there was a big upswing in the adoption of their technology. What we have heard since is that their platform is stable and reliable and easy to use, and a lot of our clients are now using doxy. Zoom certainly works, Zoom has a HIPAA compliant option. Facetime, you know there’s the challenge there that Apple will not sign, for those of you in the U.S. that are HIPAA covered, Apple won’t sign a DAA and so while you might get away with it for a while, I don’t think it’s the best long term solution. There’s also the problem with Facetime that if the client has another type of device that’s not an iPhone its going to be hard for you to connect with them, so great question there.
We’re seeing a lot of innovations in CRM and this makes a lot of sense right now. Clinics that were flush with patient opportunity at the end of last year, as we enter recession are thinking, I wish I had done a better job of staying in touch with the people that had contacted me but did not convert to a new patient, didn’t become a new patient in our clinic right away, I better go and try to find those old contacts. If you weren’t good about retaining that information, noting the patient’s interests, recording your last communication and what was the disposition of that interaction, it can leave you in a tough position right now because you don’t have that rich pipeline of leads and data about the leads to help you refill the calendar for your clinic once that initial backlog is addressed. So what we’re seeing today is we’re getting lots of questions from our clients about not just the practice management software, but where they need to be investing and what might be the best platform for them to engage in tracking opportunities, not just confirmed patient appointments.
Let me pause here for a second because we’re getting close to the end and I’ve got just a few more points to make, please do keep those questions coming in. The reality that we have to face is some of your community is going to come through this and be in a great position. If they were infected with the coronavirus, they’re healthy now, they were maybe able to remote work so their income was unimpacted, they jumped right back into their job and they’re ready to go, right there’s that pent up demand that we’re talking about. But there’s also going to be a segment of your community that maybe lost a member of their family to coronavirus, that is emotionally in a very distressful place, they may not have been employed during this period, they may not have a job that they’re going back into, so as we think about messaging after in our activities after the coronavirus, and I say after, it’s probably going to be with us going forward, it could very much end up being another flu variant that we have to deal with every year, I think what I mean more specifically is that after we are able to again start seeing patients, the population isn’t going to be the same.
Our messaging, our offers need to be mindful that there will be a group of people out there who are not just looking for a deal but needing a great value to be able to do business with us. We’ve all, businesses, have had access to different kinds of stimulus packages designed to help us get through this, to keep our teams employed, but we’re going to see, it’s inevitable, we’re going to see people hitting the market with deals and smart clinics aren’t going to necessarily discount but they’re going to look at stimulus packages for patients, value-driven bundling of services, pre-payment or pre-purchases of services, and VIP and loyalty programs to shift the conversation away from just the discount and instead to a deeper investment in the partnership that you have between that patient and your clinic.
Now, we got a question, really quickly, about what CRM to use and I’ll take a second before I close out this section to speak to that question because we were just talking about CRM. The first thing that I want to recognize is that if you already have practice management software the way that we recommend that you tackle the CRM selection challenge is to ask your practice management software which CRM systems they interface with. The reason why this is important is that one of the investments, one of the objectives you want to be met by an investment in CRM is that you become more efficient, and there is less double entry, or manual entry of data. In a perfect world, your website will talk to the CRM, automatically feeding lead inquiries into the CRM system. When those inquiries become opportunities and the opportunities become patients, your CRM will talk to your practice management scheduling software. If you are deeply committed to a specific practice management scheduling system, it’s a smart idea to choose a CRM platform that already works with that software so that you get one of the big values that comes with CRM deployments which is the efficiency of data entry and data management. That’s the first place that I recommend you go, we do a lot of work with MyMedLeads, we do a lot of work with Solutionreach, for our larger clients and group practices we do lots of integration with Salesforce, and like most software you get out what you put into it. If you are going to deploy CRM, you really need to be thinking about what’s the appropriate investment, not just in the initial deployment but in the training with your team and the integration with your other software platform.
Let’s sum this section up and we’ll save a couple minutes here at the end for other questions that you may have, feel free to start dropping those in. As you’re preparing for what comes next, being able to see patients, working through a broader recovery during a time of recession, I do recommend that for clinic leaders that if you’ve got, even if it’s not members of your team, maybe involve colleagues or family members, get a team together to help you tackle some of these challenges, to anticipate and brainstorm, how you’re going to address them as you move through this period of kind of a staged re-entry of your practice. You do need to maintain informed investments, smart investments in marketing that are in tune with what you can accomplish, right now you really can grow that pipeline of people who are giving you permission to market and communicate with them, and you need to invest in innovation, so that you have the best chance of beating the odds of recession. I’ve given you just a few ideas here, you’re going to have lots of ideas of your own.
At the end of the day, my sincere hope is that, the spirit of why I’m doing this with you right now, I want to play some small part in helping you feel confident in building that game plan, of navigating really the next 90 days and hopefully you feel a little bit more, you’ve got some new ideas, you’re structuring your thoughts, your projects and the application of your time and investments, that you’ve got a game plan for how you’re going to navigate forward.
So let’s sum this thing up and we’ll take any questions that you have as we close out today. You need to take a stance. Go back to your values and get some proactive messaging out there about how you’re responding to the coronavirus today, and really take the time to commit to updating that as we go forward and into the future. In addition to that, you want to check and reset any old and automated marketing, look at the last posts that you put on your blog and social media and assure that you’re dressed for the occasion that we’re in right now, and that patients, should they encounter your last messages as their first impression of your business, are not going to be put off. You want to build that pipeline. Now is the time to invest in ensuring that you have the permission and the systems set up to communicate with your past patients, and that you’re actively building connections with prospects, not to sell them a consultation or procedure today, but instead to get their contact information and permission to market to them in the near future. Use this time to strengthen your online presence overall. Remember we offered that guide with twelve activities you can use to benefit you and your practice to really DIY some activities in your marketing and you site enhancement for what comes next. Now is the time to look forward and build the plan, anticipate what’s going to go wrong, anticipate the needs of your patients and you team, and put together the pieces that are going to allow you to re-enter strong, and stay busy when we get to the other side.
I’ve got some great feedback, thank you very much for the private messages in chat, I appreciate that very much. If we have any other questions let’s get those dropped into the Q&A and we’ll address those for you today. Otherwise I’ll just invite all of you, if you haven’t already, obviously subscribe to our newsletter, if you were passed an invitation to today’s webinar you can visit us there, and you of course are always welcome to email me personally, even if you’re not a client, I’ll do my best to connect you with the other professionals in the industry or resources that can help you through the next couple of months.
To everyone who is out there, please stay well, stay optimistic and this is a strange time that we’re in, but it’s going to pass, and we’ll back in front of our patients, back together with our teams again very soon. To everyone, wishing you a great day, we’ll go ahead and end the recording for right now and it looks like we do have one quick question coming in right now, let’s see here – struggling with feeling tone-deaf, as we start to reopen, especially on social media, striking the balance between talking about COVID related topics and educating patients, how do we deal with the potential backlash on topics? For those of you that are struggling with that, go to etnainteractive.com/diy, fill out that little form there and you can download the last two guides with some suggestions for both social media posts and for posts on your blog. There are some very empathetic and aware suggestions that are available in both those documents, you’ve likely already thought of some of them, and it’s an opportunity really to maybe just expand with just a few new and novel ideas that are going to fill things up. But you’re right, be aware that active promotion of elective procedures, that this may not be the time to do it, but deep education about what you do and the patients that you serve will probably be fairly well received as long as it’s not a carefully-masked pitch for something that you just want to sell.
I really appreciate everybody’s questions today and the hour that we took together, the contact information is there on your screen, everybody stay strong and think positive and we’ll see you again soon.
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