Trust in healthcareMy son was sick a few weeks ago. It was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff around here with a family of five. But, thanks to COVID-19, every symptom was put through a different, more rigorous lens:

Cough? Check.

Body aches? Check.

Fever? Check.

Chest tightness? Check.

On top of all that, he has asthma. So, while I didn’t really think he had COVID-19, you better believe I called the doctor after two days of him not feeling well. The nurse listened to me explain his symptoms and, unsurprisingly, hustled us into the office for an appointment.

Frequent, clear communication helps build trust

Our pediatrician’s practice has been doing an excellent job keeping parents informed about their policies and what to expect in the office. (I talked about that in a previous post about pediatrician blogs.) I knew which office we would be going to; what staff had been doing to keep each exam room clean; that my son and I would both be required to wear a mask and that everyone in the office would be wearing one, too.

So, I wasn’t worried about taking my son to the doctor’s office — even though it was the office being exclusively used for sick appointments.

After the required ruling out of everything else — flu test was negative, strep test was negative — the pediatrician told me he wanted my son to get a COVID-19 test. Fortunately, Cincinnati Children’s has set up drive-thru testing at several of their campuses. The doctor put the order in, and before he could even come back in the room, Cincinnati Children’s had called to schedule the test for the next day and tell me exactly what we could expect.

Once again, clear, empathetic communication, helped me feel confident that my son was in good hands and would be safe every step of the way.

That theme continued on the day of the test.

When I drove right by the testing site, I called Cincinnati Children’s to make sure I was in the right place. The kind woman on the phone directed me to where it was and went over (again) what to expect and when we would get the results back.

Driving up to the test site, the three workers were full of smiles. The nurse even held my son’s hand during the test. (Don’t worry — his bravery was rewarded with a highly-coveted toy.)

Cincinnati Children’s notified me at 6 a.m. the next day with a message in my son’s MyChart account that the results were in. (Negative — as I suspected!)

Translating experience into an opportunity for healthcare marketing

The point of this isn’t to recount our experience, but to show how both these healthcare organizations already had the groundwork laid to communicate effectively with patients and families and build trust in healthcare marketing.

They used their existing channels of communication to strengthen the personal relationships they had with families. And it went a long way in helping me feel confident my son would get the care he needed with the necessary precautions in place.

There is much we don’t know about this virus. COVID-19 seems to affect everyone a little differently, especially kids. And we’re not always given a clear answer from national organizations and the federal government — maybe because there isn’t a clear answer.

But, that lack of communication does present an opportunity for well-positioned organizations. Look at Providence: They created an entire coronavirus hub backed by an emergency communications protocol and other processes that were already in place. They were able to respond quickly to help ease patients’ worries and encourage them to get the care they needed, even in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Take the right steps to build trust in healthcare marketing

Marketers are beginning to move from churning out new COVID-19 content to settling back into their regular tempo of communications and getting patients in the door. During this transition, it’s important to consider how your organization can build and maintain trust with your audiences.

Our CEO, Christy Pretzinger, wrote a great article a few weeks back about the importance of starting with your organization’s “why.” She challenges marketers to consider their motivations, brand and culture to build authentic communications to help patients feel safe.

This time is also a good opportunity to reflect on what your team did well and what you could have done better amid COVID-19. This assessment will help you create better processes and procedures not just for crisis communication, but for all your content efforts.

Ask yourself and your coworkers (across departments):

  • What COVID-19 communications worked well?
  • What missed the mark in terms of topic, tone, reach or engagement?
  • What questions did our patients ask?
  • What do we wish we had done differently?
  • What processes and protocols do we need in place to manage crisis communication better?
  • Did we have the appropriate channels in place to reach our audience?
  • Was the frequency of communication appropriate?

These insights will also help you shape your marketing communications strategy moving forward. After all, when your patients and their families know they can count on you to answer a question about flu shots or why they should have recommended cancer screenings, they’ll be more likely to trust your communications around a topic as serious as COVID-19. They’ll also feel safe getting care from your organization.

Create a solid foundation to earn patients’ trust

When it comes to communicating about complex topics like COVID-19 and other issues, the best place to start is with trust. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens with regular, accurate and authentic communications.

As a parent and a healthcare marketer, I have a unique perspective on how and why these two organizations communicated with us during the process of getting a COVID-19 test. I also know that, working with many different healthcare organizations, the ones best positioned for success are those that have a strong marketing foundation in place. Cincinnati Children’s and our pediatrician’s office leveraged existing marketing strategy and channels to connect with audiences. They didn’t wait until a global pandemic to start building trust in healthcare marketing.

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