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Blog: How Patients Think

Should You Continue Digital Marketing During COVID-19 While Elective Orthopedic & Spine Procedures Are Being Suspended?.

March 21st, 2020

Written by Aaron Buch
Founder, CEO & Creative Director

If you’re a physician who performs elective-based procedures (joint replacements, ACL reconstructions, etc) and are currently wrestling with some questions, you’re certainly not alone. A big part of our agency at Patients.com is working extremely closely with Orthopedic, Spine and Neurosurgeons in an effort to help grow their practices. Many of our clients around the country (and the institutions they have privileges at) are grappling with tough questions about whether certain procedures qualify as “urgent”. Some cases are cut and dry while others are debatable. As we all know, pain is a highly subjective concept altogether. We can add to that the management of patients and their current concerns, issues with reimbursements and insurance approvals all mixed into numerous other factors that play into these decisions. It’s good to think and debate these concepts as long as we are educating ourselves proactively and putting our full efforts into making the best decisions we can with information available to us.
Let’s state the obvious. Hospitals and Surgeons alike stand to lose a significant amount of revenue if/when elective procedures are cancelled. Where are we today with this concept? Some states have already banned elective procedures altogether, while others continue to allow them. Other states are in the process of still making changes. For example, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday said he will sign an executive order to suspend all elective surgeries at all New York City hospitals. There is still, however, an extremely wide variation in exactly how hospitals are reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous hospital staff members around the country have stated that patients simply should not be scheduled for elective procedures in the midst of a pandemic. While this viewpoint is understandable, it is difficult to paint with extremely broad strokes as every case is unique. To be fair, some patients have been waiting a long time for surgery and are in a serious amount of distress. This fact certainly does not make these decisions easy. Furthermore, while it is common to think about orthopedic surgery as “elective surgeries”– like having an ACL repair or a hip replacement, there are also numerous essential surgeries that orthopedic surgeons perform, like tending to ruptures in tendons, fractures, infections, neurologic deficits, etc. Some of these patients could end up with severe functional consequences if not addressed. It would be immoral and unethical to not provide services to patients who need this help. Organizations and physicians need to find a way to continue with certain cases safely while also being laser focused on trying to not put added stress on hospitals.
Now that we have some background, our goal is to help guide physicians by highlighting both the analytics we’ve been monitoring rigorously and by explaining what we know about patient behavior after decades of working with Patients directly through thousands of hours of testimonials, case studies and data analysis. As a quick side note, it’s worth mentioning that we are managing several million in marketing investments for hospitals and medical practices which act as faucets, constantly pouring out data that we analyze daily in an effort to create actionable strategies.
Note: It is also important to mention that none of our clients compensate us based on a percentages of their investments in platforms like Google or Facebook Ads. Their spend has no direct factor on our compensation the way some agency models do.
This takes us to the question many practices are asking themselves. What is the best decision to make regarding marketing investments at a time like this?
Our analytics from Google Ads are showing that potential patients are still searching for help, and in many cases searches have gone up. This shouldn’t be surprising. The novel coronavirus certainly does not stop patients who are suffering with chronic pain. Furthermore, where are many people right now? You guessed it, they are quarantined at home. There is an unprecedented amount of online activity as there has been an almost-total disappearance of all channels related to live events, conferences and mostly everything occurring outside one’s residence. Digital marketing is most likely going to be enormously powerful in these times. Companies who never used Facebook (organic or ads) absolutely need to start developing unique, valuable and shareable content to their core audiences.
To dig a bit deeper, this is found to be true in our continued data showing several types of searches. First, we are still seeing highly transactional searches being performed routinely. For example, “orthopedic surgeon near me” or “chronic neck pain doctor”. In their phrasing, patients are including what we call “provider terms” (doctor, surgeon, specialist, expert, physician, etc) indicating that the patient is near the bottom of the proverbial marketing funnel. These phrases are amongst some of the priciest on Google Ads, as they are typically indicative of patients looking to make a connection with a provider as soon as possible. We’re also seeing both normal and increased volumes of less transactional phrases that are still important in converting patients on their journey with searches like “chronic knee pain treatments” or “Is my rotator cuff torn”. These searches are usually the patient’s way of saying “I’m in pain and want information, but I am not necessarily ready to see a doctor today– likely sometime soon.”
Remember, patients routinely say they wish they would have taken care of orthopedic concerns years before they actually did. Patients stay in pain for a while before taking action due to fears, anxieties and other issues. Patients very rarely “jump” at the idea of having surgery and will typically alter many parts of their lives around their pain before fixing it. What is the point here? Patients take time to convert into surgical cases, period. Medical practices, especially Orthopedics and Spine providers need to build trust and generate continued brand awareness so that when the patient decides they’ve had enough pain, your practice is top of mind. Being that many people are at home, and the data shows search volume for these terms is increasing, it’s important to hold your positions in platforms like Google Ads to continue your relevance. So, you can’t provide surgery today? That is perfectly fine because oftentimes the patient doesn’t want surgery today. Furthermore, it fits with what we’ve seen in patient behavior trends for more than two decades.
What does this mean for your marketing today during COVID-19? Based on data and patient behavior, marketing should continue. It also means that if possible and safe, keep your offices open and see only patients with urgent and acute injuries.
In conclusion, patients are still searching during this pandemic and they are still in pain. Patients notoriously deal with pain for a while and seldom dive into surgery quickly for a variety of reasons. This means that continuing marketing and brand awareness during COVID-19 is critical. If for nothing else, continue to build your brand’s trust and allow patients to move down the funnel as they become more familiar with your practice, and grow more tired of living in pain. Revenues will inevitably fall and those dollars will need to be recovered. This can be possible if your practice weathers the storm and continues to build trust in your community and online with your marketing. If you decide to turn everything off, there is a high probability that you are handing over patients to the competitor down the road who didn’t.
Here is a final thought and benefit. Some Orthopedic practices will shut down marketing despite the benefits of continuing those efforts. That simply means more searches are up for grabs and more patients could interact with your brand and practice. Less competition from other practices means keyword prices will drop. We could even argue that increasing spend (and getting more for each dollar invested) would be a prudent move.
All thoughts and comments are always welcome. From our team to yours– stay safe. Let’s all follow the suggestions from the CDC and WHO. Practice social distancing if you must go out into public places. As you’ve heard, wash your hands and sing happy birthday (pick a random person each time to sing to and text them to let them know you’re singing about them in your head). Also, antibacterial wipe/spray frequently touched areas. We all have an obligation to comply. It’s cheesy but true…team– together everyone achieves more.

Written by Aaron Buch, Founder, CEO & Creative Director for Patients.com


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