Illustration of someone making a medical appointment on their phoneThe COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on routine screenings, health awareness campaigns and overall doctor visits in 2020, especially in the spring when states issued stay-at-home orders.

This data from the Health Care Cost Institute, an independent non-profit research organization, gives us a small view of how COVID-19 impacted preventive care in the U.S. in 2020. It shows that:

  • The number of colonoscopies performed in 2020 declined by almost 25% when compared to 2019.
  • Childhood immunizations were down 18% in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Mammogram and Pap smear rates declined nearly 80% in April 2020, but they appeared to recover to pre-pandemic levels in the summer and fall of 2020. However, mammogram rates still remain lower than average among Hispanic and Asian women in the U.S. according to a March 2021 article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Though this is a limited look at the situation, it’s enough to tell us that habits in routine healthcare changed for many adults and families last year. This is alarming to healthcare providers and public health experts. They know that widespread participation in preventive care is needed for our communities and nation to continue upward trends in life expectancy and quality of life.

COVID-19 wasn’t the first problem for preventive care

To be fair, COVID-19 wasn’t the first obstacle to preventive care and routine screenings. Doctors and health systems have been struggling to get patients in the door for some time now. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that, even though it’s proven that colorectal cancer screenings save lives, only 25% of adults age 50 to 64 in the U.S. are up to date on this screening and other recommended clinical preventive services.

This means getting our family, friends and neighbors back on board with annual physical exams and routine screenings isn’t just a COVID problem; it’s almost an epidemic of its own. “Epidemic” might be an extreme comparison to make here, but it’s not wrong to be worried that access to preventive care might get worse now. Because once you skip one year of appointments, it gets easier to skip the next year.

Reviving preventive care in 2021 is absolutely necessary for our society to continue on its path to better health outcomes for all (not to mention it’s the basis of value-based care).

So, what can healthcare systems like yours do to help? Cue the trusty marketing campaign, or a health awareness campaign in this case. Let’s take a look at some ideas for creating successful health campaigns.

Read more >> 3 examples of great public health communication campaigns

All good health awareness campaign ideas focus on motivation

If your healthcare system plans to create a health awareness campaign this year, stop first and think about the concept of motivation. How can you motivate your target audience to schedule an appointment for an annual exam or routine screening? One way to focus your efforts is to use the six principles of persuasion laid out in the popular book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

Dr. Cialdini’s six principles in regard to business and marketing are:

  • Liking. We’re more likely to listen to people whom we like or who like us.
  • Reciprocation. This means giving something away to consumers with the expectation that they’ll return the favor by using your services or products (humans tend to feel a strong responsibility to return favors).
  • Authority. Because most of us are raised to respect authority, we are often persuaded by experts (who are doctors in the healthcare industry).
  • Social proof. Our peers (friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.) also influence our decisions, sometimes even more so than experts. Think: “If my friend is doing it, I should probably do it, too.”
  • Consistency. This is about commitment or getting the consumer to follow through.
  • Scarcity. This is based on the belief that consumers want something more when they think the supply is limited. (Toilet paper, anyone?)

These principles can be used alone or combined. To see some of them at work in healthcare marketing, here are a few health campaign examples from where I live in Cincinnati, Ohio:

Using local radio or TV personalities to create a connection and influence your community

We listen to or watch our local radio or TV personalities every day, and because of this, they become our “friends.” This is actually a documented psychological phenomenon known as parasocial interaction: We don’t know them, but we like them.

Here, we have an opportunity to use the liking and social proof principles to move our audience to act. The Christ Hospital Health Network does this by partnering with local radio personalities who write testimonial blog posts. The posts are shared on the health system’s blog and social media platforms. Here’s one example about the importance of having a primary care provider.

Drawing attention to mobile health clinics with incentives and giveaways

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center used the reciprocation and social proof principles to encourage teens to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The health system brought its mobile vaccination clinic to a neighborhood park and turned the event into a fun social activity with games, a DJ and a free food truck.

This health awareness campaign idea can be replicated with other mobile health clinics like mobile mammography units. Advertise the service and freebie offer in advance on social media and local broadcast media and watch the line grow.

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Featuring primary care providers in videos

St. Elizabeth Healthcare uses the authority and liking principles to produce short videos of intimate conversations with their doctors. Only the doctors speak in the videos, which gets your attention. But the videos are also comforting to watch, because the physicians speak calmly and cheerfully.

They share these videos on YouTube and other social media platforms as well as on the TVs in their waiting rooms. Watch this example about the importance of annual wellness visits.

Showing peers in videos

Cincinnati Children’s also uses video to motivate. In this case, they put the liking and social proof principles to work in this video called “Why I Vaccinate.” The parents in the video share their reasons for vaccinating their children. It’s a sweet thing to watch, complete with cute images of babies, which is enough to pull on any parent’s heartstrings.

Don’t forget your target audience’s needs

We say this a lot at WriterGirl, but it’s always worth repeating: When creating your health awareness campaign, make sure your messaging and offers meet the needs of your target audience. This means answering any questions or addressing any concerns you think they might have and appealing to their lifestyles. If you’re not considering their needs, your campaign will fall flat.

And keep minority groups in your community in mind

Everyone needs preventive care, so you have to make sure your message reaches everyone. Be sure to devote resources and time to reaching minority groups in your community. Some ways to do this include:

  • Create ads and videos in English, Spanish and any other language spoken by a defined minority community in your area.
  • Create content that features minorities and includes references to their culture and values.
  • Partner with personalities from minority-owned and operated broadcast stations and businesses.
  • Feature minority doctors in your campaigns.
  • When doing community events in minority neighborhoods, like mobile health clinics, try to staff the event with employees from that neighborhood.

With these ideas and tips, your health system can help make preventive care and routine screenings the norm and drive positive public health outcomes for generations to come.

Need support implementing your health awareness campaign? Find out how WriterGirl can help with our custom content approach and healthcare writing services.