HOW RURAL HOSPITALS CAN MARKET VIRTUAL CARE

Aug. 18, 2022

it pays to make ‘house calls’

AugTelemedicineBlog

By Mike Milligan
President of Legato Healthcare Marketing

My mom used to talk about the days when doctors made house calls. If a family member got sick, you just called the doctor’s office and told the nurse what was wrong. A little while later, Dr. So-n-So would be ringing the doorbell, medical bag in hand, asking which bedroom the “patient” was in. Those days are long gone … or are they?

The pandemic changed healthcare in many ways, including the revival of “house calls”—or in today’s terms, “telehealth consultations.” Whatever term you prefer, telehealth or telemedicine (there are distinctions but the two are often used interchangeably), “the remote delivery of healthcare services and clinical information using telecommunications technology” is here to stay.

Telemedicine isn’t exactly “new” technology, though. In fact, national volume of telehealth services was projected to be 3.6M before the onset of the pandemic. However, not surprisingly, the pandemic propelled telehealth numbers to more than 30 times that estimate. Actual volumes in 2020 exceeded 120M visits.1

Telemed technology not only gives rural hospitals the ability to improve access to care, but it may also help decrease costs and improve outcomes. For example, this technology is being used to:

  • Offer additional specialty services: Rural hospitals can connect with specialists remotely to provide critical services they otherwise may not be able to provide. That means more patients can receive the care they need close to home.  
  • Address provider shortages: Most remote visits take less time than in-office appointments, which means providers can see more patients and/or spend more time with patients who require in-person care.
  • Enhance chronic care management. A couple of examples:
    • Patients who experience new symptoms often wait to see a provider until a scheduled visit. Virtual care makes it convenient to talk with their provider sooner rather than later, which can help prevent the issue from getting worse.
    • The ability to monitor a patient’s condition remotely allows providers to help the person better manage their treatment, medications and lifestyle changes. This can help prevent readmissions.
  • Grow patient volume: Patients who typically don’t see a provider due to mobility, transportation, mental health or other related issues may be more open to virtual consultations.  
  • Retain and attract clinical staff: The ability to remotely collaborate with physicians from larger facilities offers valuable learning opportunities for providers. It may also help alleviate feelings of being disconnected from advancements in healthcare that are taking place in larger health systems.
    • Increase access to specialty care to improve outcomes: For example, telemedicine may include remote monitoring to facilitate emergency treatment, such as connecting with a neurologist remotely in the case of a stroke.
  • Decrease costs by providing the right care at the right time at the right place: For example, the cost of a televisit is less expensive than an urgent care or ER visit, which is often where people go if they need to see a provider for unscheduled care.

These are just some of the ways virtual care is changing—and enhancing—the care rural hospitals provide.
In fact:

  • 31% of U.S. adults had a telehealth visit for themselves or a dependent last year.
  • Older Americans (age 65+) are the most likely to have had a telehealth visit during that time.
  • 95% of Medicare beneficiaries were satisfied with their most recent telehealth visit.2

We all know that the pandemic quickly pushed telemedicine to the forefront. But now that patients feel more comfortable returning to clinics and hospitals, has their mindset changed?

According to the “Telehealth Visit Use Among U.S. Adults” survey,
8 in 10 adults are likely to use telehealth in the future.

While that’s a high percentage, rural hospitals can’t afford to take an “If we offer it, they will come” approach to this new technology. To leverage the full potential of virtual care and reap the associated rewards, rural hospitals need to develop a marketing plan for both consumers/patients and internal staff.

Here are some tips on how marketing can help you generate more revenue as you incorporate telemedicine technology into your organization.

  • Educate internal staff first. This may include:
    • Collecting questions from all staff members and developing FAQs to distribute internally.
    • Developing a list of telemedicine services and examples of how/when a patient may want to use them.
    • Walking providers through different patient scenarios to help them understand how to build “virtual relationships” and prepare them to address potential technical issues, patient concerns, etc.
    • Training staff on how to walk patients through the entire telemed process.
  • Develop a telemedicine landing page for your website.
    • Explain:
      • What telemedicine is.
      • When to use it, i.e., telemedicine vs. office visit/urgent care/ER care.
      • How to use it: This may include a video, infographic and/or simple instructions that walk patients through each step of the process, from scheduling an appointment, logging on, testing audio/video, waiting in the online “waiting room,” how the virtual visit will be conducted, and how to end the visit. Also include technology requirements.
      • How to schedule an appointment online.
    • Address patients’ concerns and questions, e.g.:
      • Does insurance cover telemedicine?
      • What if I’m on Medicare or Medicaid?
      • How much does a tele-visit cost?
      • How can a provider really know what’s wrong if I’m not in the office?
    • Create a confirmation email that is sent immediately after an appointment is scheduled, with details such as:
      • Appointment time and date
      • Who to contact with questions
      • How to access their virtual appointment
      • How to check to see if they’re able to log in and what to do if they can’t
    • Market your services. For example:
      • Build confidence through storytelling. Patient stories (including experiences from patients of all ages who have used telemedicine services) can be told through video, audio and/or print.
      • Develop messaging and tactics that target each of your key audiences, e.g.:
        • Older patients: Many may be interested in receiving virtual chronic care management so they don’t need to leave home—but they may not be computer savvy. Consider a print campaign with a phone number to call if they’d like someone to walk them through the telemed process.
        • Young adults: These tech-savvy consumers generally take a more holistic, day-to-day approach to healthcare. They want “care when they need it” vs. having to wait several days for an office visit. Paid and organic ads can be developed with a brief, targeted message that appeals to this demographic with a link to your website’s telemed landing page.
      • As part of your overall marketing strategy, develop a telemedicine campaign to promote virtual care. In addition to the above, this may include:
        • Eblast to patients
        • Blog post
        • Direct mail
        • Digital media designed to build awareness
        • Handouts that providers can give to patients during office visits

Telehealth can be good for everyone’s health

According to the 2021 “Telehealth Visit Use Among U.S. Adults” 2021 survey, the most common purpose for a telehealth visit was a preventive service, prescription refill, or routine visit for chronic illness.

This fact alone shows great potential for significant ROI by offering virtual care. Expanding and promoting telemedicine services can help rural hospitals increase access to care, which can translate into increased patient volume and revenue. It can help break down barriers to care, which can translate into improved patient outcomes and a better patient experience.

While rural hospitals face some unique challenges related to telemedicine (e.g., reliable internet access), many are developing strategies to leverage the opportunities and benefits this technology provides. Taking a proactive approach to implementing and marketing these services not only can help improve the physical and mental health of your patients, but it can also impact the financial health of your organization:

More than 9 in 10 adults were satisfied with the quality of their telehealth visit
and many said they are likely to use telehealth in the future.2

Want to talk about how you can effectively market your rural hospital’s telemedicine services? Give me a call or email me. I have a few new ideas I’m excited to share! Email me at mikem@golegato.comor call me directly at 920-544-8102, ext. 101.

1 Trends Shaping the Health Economy: TELEHEALTH, TrilliantHealth, February 2022
2 August 2021 “Telehealth Visit Use Among U.S. Adults” survey.