Strong Crisis Response Is Critical During Cyberattacks

Having strong cyber security in healthcare is important in today's digital world. Be prepared for cyber security threats and data breaches with a crisis response plan.

COVID-19 challenged healthcare brands in 2020. Now there is an increased need for a strong crisis response due to a rising number of cyberattacks and data breaches that can hold your hospital hostage. While IT departments typically manage cyber security in healthcare, marketing teams must be able to communicate with patients about cyberattacks and data privacy.

Healthcare systems are increasingly targets of cybercriminals. In 2020, nearly two healthcare data breaches of 500 or more records occurred each day. On average, resolving such a breach costs more than $8.5 million.

The costs of ransomware payments, restoring data and resuming operations are just part of the financial hit. Regaining patient trust comes at a higher cost, especially if names, birth dates, Social Security numbers and medical information are posted online.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, nearly 70 percent of survey respondents say they are “concerned” about hackers and cyberattacks, while more than half of those report being “fearful.” A slightly lower number is concerned about contracting COVID-19.

While the same survey indicates a slight decline for healthcare sectors, overall trust remains at 66 percent.

Almost everything about the healthcare journey seems to pose security risks now—drive-by and pop-up testing sites; vaccination clinics in convention centers, churches, and parking lots; and increased risks with remote patient monitoring.

Add in the battle with misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. Compounding those worries, a recent World Health Organization warning reveals that counterfeit or compromised vaccines and forged vaccination certificates are readily available on the dark web.

So, how do we protect our patient’s trust in us as guardians of their health and confidential medical information?

Play nice with the IT department.

You’ve been in meetings where the IT team looks at the marketing team like you’re aliens! How can you not understand what they’re saying? Probably because it’s a completely foreign language!

As healthcare moves from controlled environments, the need to strengthen cybersecurity measures within healthcare with clear communication increases. This requires collaborating with IT to develop a strong crisis plan in case of a breach.

While IT prioritizes healthcare cyber security by working to ensure confidentiality and integrity of patient data, the marketing team needs to tell those patients about what you’re doing to protect their privacy.

Ramping up security can also include communication to hospital staff about such cautionary measures as:

  • Protecting patient information on computer screens:
    • Carefully monitoring printers to safeguard patient data;
    • Securing laptops or other remote work devices with patient records;
    • Protecting log-ins and passwords, ie. do not keep on random Post-it notes.

Make a crisis response plan. Test it. Tweak it.

Remember instructions on shampoo bottles to “wash, rinse, repeat?” That rings true when creating a strong crisis response plan. Most healthcare facilities were unprepared for the coronavirus crisis. One director of a hospice care service remarked that shortly before the pandemic, her team drafted crisis plans for every imaginable scenario. The one they turned to when the pandemic hit was created as a joke—what to do in case of a “zombie apocalypse.”

Crisis communication plans are fluid documents to revisit every few months in collaboration with department heads throughout the hospital. Due to the growing number of cyberattacks, several free resources are now available including:

Set expectations for open, transparent crisis communication.

Breaches of patient records increased more than 180 percent in the second half of 2020. Most of those resulted from hacking, not misplaced computers or flash drives.

As any hospital can be a target of cyber threats, you want a strong response in place if it happens. As others work behind the scenes, the marketing department should position the CEO to communicate openly and as transparently as possible.

Keeping responses brief, simple and to the point is critical to maintaining trust. Ransomware attacks are likely to interrupt hospital operations, sometimes prompting closed ERs and cancelled surgeries. Tell the public. Don’t leave them wondering.

Treat bad news as extra media coverage for protecting the public.

The American Hospital Association warns that cyberattacks are not “white collar crimes, but threat-to-life crimes” and advises hospitals to remain vigilant against cybercriminals. A lack of cyber security in healthcare poses a serious threat to your facility and patients.

If a breach occurs, immediately respond to the crisis by sharing with the media the steps you’re taking to protect patients. Regard it as an opportunity to remind people how to safeguard their own data. Update them on phishing schemes or fraud alerts, especially relating to health information.

The entire community is at risk to cyber crimes. Even if you can’t share specifics about the attack, direct responses to reassure your patients that their protecting their health remains your priority.

5 Digital Connections for Hospitals

Over the past year, we’ve learned that to reach our audiences, we need to connect with them digitally 24/7–365. Making digital connections for hospitals, however, requires constant learning mode, as the digital landscape changes from one day to the next.

Two people reaching out and connecting through digital means

In this new digital norm, consumers get information, products and services when, where and how they want. It requires flexible and agile marketing tactics to reach your audience and generate demand.

For instance, TikTok might not have connected with your audience a year ago. But with video growing exponentially during a year of remote work and quarantines, it’s no longer just a platform for pre-teens. A number of major brands now integrate TikTok into their digital marketing strategy.

To maximize customer reach, digital strategies should include all the PESO media areas—paid, earned, shared and owned. Our past advice has looked at the digital ad spend. But first, consider these 5 digital connections to reach your audience:

1. Digital Connections for Hospitals Should Include Video

Recent reports predict that the average person will spend 100 minutes each day watching online videos in 2021. So, we know where audiences are part of the day.

Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or the website, include video in the marketing strategy. Today’s video collection can be less “produced” than previous broadcast video. But to capture quality video that boosts the brand:

  • Invest in a good digital camera for still and video
  • Invest in a tripod, basic lighting equipment and a neutral backdrop
  • Always outline or script content
  • Keep content concise and simple

Digital connections for hospitals utilizing video should be kept short. Humans have an average attention span of eight seconds—one second less than a goldfish! As a rule of thumb, limit social media videos to less than two minutes and about 45 seconds for Twitter and TikTok. To increase audience retention, add a “subscribe” CTA to the end of YouTube videos

2. Make Strong Social Connections

When you think you’ve identified the best social media channel for your audience, it will probably change. There are new algorithms, new features from the big three—Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—and shifts in audience preferences to consider.

Despite changes, the key to solid strategy remains quality content. In 2021, your audience wants engaging, transparent and empathetic content. Nearly 4 million people worldwide are active on social media. Besides keeping up with family and friends, they’re also looking for trusted sources of health and wellness information.

Not all social media channels yield great results for the brand. For example, the trending new Clubhouse invitation-only, audio-only app causes concern for HIPAA compliance. But set up profiles and test new options for digital connections with your hospital’s audience such as:

  • Short inspirational videos on Instagram Reels and Stories
  • Facebook Live educational Q&As with doctors and nurses
  • LinkedIn content positioning CEOs as thought leaders
  • Pinterest boards with recipes, fitness plans and wellness information

3. Optimize to Reach Your Audience

SEO is crucial for connecting with digital users. Increasing organic search rankings—primarily with Google—is ongoing and long term.

Reaching the audience requires knowing the topics they’re searching and how to best serve content that answers their questions. Anyone crafting content has to also be a SEO expert. Otherwise, the content doesn’t reach the intended audience.

Consumers want informative rich content from healthcare providers that helps them stay healthy. Also, remember to optimize your Google My Business listing as local SEO is increasingly important to reach people searching “Near Me.”

Numerous SEO platforms offer useful tips and even free training for content creators. Search “SEO platforms” to find these options.

4. Blogs and Podcasts Can be Effective Digital Connections for Hospitals

Considering you’re reading this blog, it seems to be a good digital channel for reaching our audience. However, blog popularity declined worldwide over the past few years while the popularity of podcasts rose.

It isn’t an either/or option. Both blogs and podcasts can be effective digital connections for hospitals, drive traffic and elevate the brand. However, blog content requires more than just good writing skills and subject knowledge. As mentioned above, it also requires SEO to rise in search results.

Many healthcare marketers choose both channels to reach audiences. Both are particularly effective for humanizing communication and sharing trustworthy healthcare information. Both also offer opportunities to engage providers in content.

5. AI Connects to the Future of Healthcare

With a growing demand for artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, 90% of hospital executives report in a recent survey to having an AI strategy in place. Consumers drive that demand by turning more frequently to AI for healthcare needs—from wearing digital health monitors to asking Siri about vaccine side effects.

Whether it’s a new chatbot on the website or an automated diagnostic tool, let audiences know what AI innovations are available to enhance their patient experience.

Also, consistently update information across all digital platforms. Accurate information is critical for voice-activated AI assistants when someone asks “Siri” or “Alexa.”

While digital media may add more hours to healthcare marketers’ days, it keeps us better connected to our audiences and able to respond quickly to their needs.

Patient Experience: Now’s the Time to Improve

Patient experience text on patient paper with stethoscope

For years, we’ve talked about improving patient experience and patient-centric care. Now it’s time to walk the talk. Patients want information about their health and wellness, not industry awards, consumer surveys or scores.

Once they walk through your “front door,” whether virtually or in person, all attention should be on the patient experience.

In 2004, Fred Lee left his role as a hospital executive to train as a Disney cast member. His experience led him to write, “If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9 1/2 Things You Would Do Differently.” The book still receives accolades for pointing out how healthcare entities can learn from Mickey Mouse.

“Service should be changed to experience. We are not at a patient’s bedside to provide a service. We are there to provide a compassionate healing experience so the body can mend itself,” wrote Lee, who passed away in 2017.

He pointed out that patients expect quality care; that’s basic. But, they judge the experience by how they are treated as a person. As marketers, we need to think like imagineers to help make the patient experience remarkable from first to last impressions.

What are you doing for patient experience?

After more than a year of a global pandemic, brand loyalty depends on effective, clear and smart communication. The human connection begins online. Look at everything you are doing and offering in the digital space, from telehealth visits and virtual events to tools for managing payments. Schedule content around innovations for patients.

Include video on all channels and consider featuring frontline employees such as with a valet attendant talking about free parking or a volunteer from the information desk updating visitor policies. Patients want to feel safe and cared for at every touchpoint.

Patient safety is part of the patient experience

Now more than ever, health and safety are top of mind. Yet, reports indicate that about 36 percent of non-elderly adults and 29 percent of children delayed care over the past year because of COVID-19 concerns.

Whether for preventive screenings or routine care to manage chronic illnesses, the priority is to reconnect with those patients. That begins with reassuring them that all possible precautions are being taken to keep them safe. Safety is definitely part of the patient experience.

Include messages about the importance of not overlooking routine care or ignoring symptoms. Don’t wait until October to start a breast care awareness campaign. Consistent mammogram screening reminders throughout the year can save lives.

How should patients prepare for tests and screenings?

Patients grow anxious over the unknown. Help to ease their tension with open and frequent communication about what to expect—from registration to discharge.

Follow the “The Rule of 7” marketing adage—seven interactions needed for a consumer to connect with a brand. Use all of your available channels to communicate information about procedures that could impact the patient experience.

Who can patients trust?

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and erosion of trust, particularly in the US. To make the situation even worse, ads recently showed up from more than 4,000 brands—including some of this country’s largest healthcare organizations—on websites with false COVID-19 information.

Position your healthcare brand as the community’s trusted authority. Health topics still dominate the news cycle, so pitch your doctors, nurses and patient stories to media outlets. Position medical directors on morning news shows to provide vaccination updates. An interview with a pediatric nurse can help reassure parents and children about returning to the classroom. Include patient testimonials on content calendars.

Do your values align with those of your patients?

A recent Consumer Index Report shares that 65 percent of consumers are more likely to support a brand that cares about the same social issues they do. Part of the consumer experience is seeing action from your brand in the community.

It’s not time for platitudes, but it is a time to tell a good story. Share photos on social media of the CEO shoveling snow. Doctors blogging about their own COVID-19 journeys can humanize your brand. Hospital employees handing out water at a free test site shows how you relate to your consumers.

Now is the time to listen and reimagine how to create a remarkable patient experience.

Building Trust in the Vaccine

While more than 16 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given nationwide in just over a month, there’s still a long way to go toward building trust in the vaccine and delivering 150 million doses in 100 days.

Tower Crane with TRUST Word to represent the topic of building trust in the vaccine

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer shows a decline in trust of institutions, from the government to the media. Based on these results, healthcare marketers are tasked with finding common ground to offset a general lack of trust.

However, for the 20th consecutive year, Gallup Poll lists nurses, doctors and pharmacists among the country’s most trusted professionals.

So use those trusted messengers—nurses, doctors and pharmacists—to build trust, address concerns and overcome challenges of marketing the vaccine.

1. Clear up myths about the vaccine.

Misinformation—from conspiracy theories about vaccines being used to implant microchips to beliefs that the shots cause infertility—can outweigh actual facts. Position providers to debunk myths. The CDC website and numerous leading healthcare organizations address many falsehoods, which can be shared on digital channels and in other collateral.

2. Address safety concerns to build trust.

Since people are concerned over the rapid development and side effects of the vaccines, work with local pharmacists to address these issues. In doing so, continually reach out to local media and offer health experts to speak risks and safety concerns.

3. Manage the public’s expectations.

Decline of public trust about the novel coronavirus is due in part to a lack of transparency and conflicting information from government agencies. With this in mind, don’t sugarcoat information. Informing your public means including adverse reactions of COVID-19 vaccinations along with its benefits.

4. Persuade the hesitant.

To gain the public’s trust, you first need internal buy-in, and not all of your doctors and nurses may be recommending vaccines. Privately address their concerns.

Testimonials from healthcare and other frontline workers, as well as COVID-19 patients, can connect emotionally with others. Human stories rather than data may persuade someone who is on the fence to get the vaccine. Consider sharing four real-life “Because of This” PSAs released earlier this month in your marketing efforts. Each shares the message “Science can make this possible. Only you can make it real.” The videos direct viewers to SciencePossible.com

5. Build trust across communities.

While Blacks and Hispanics have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19, those same communities say they are less likely to get the vaccine. Numbers are trending up, but healthcare officials still need to engage trusted leaders to fight against misinformation. For instance, sports figures, local media celebrities and religious leaders can help spread the word. Also, make information accessible for people who don’t have computers or don’t speak English.

In addition, include young people of all races in your communication strategy. One tactic is to engage influencers. Be careful, however, when partnering with outside groups or influencers that their values align with your organization’s.

6. Direct people to vaccination sites.

Use all available media channels and community resources to inform people when, where and how to get the vaccine. Convenience, along with clear, transparent and consistent communication are necessary to successfully vaccinate the public.

In conclusion, we cannot afford a failure to communicate when public acceptance of the vaccine is critical. We want to regain our patients’ trust that their health and wellbeing are paramount.

Address Emotional Wellness in 2021 Marketing

Woman in yoga pose and the year 2021

In addition to physical wellness, it’s important that we also address emotional wellness in our 2021 marketing. Even with a vaccination on the horizon, the pandemic is not over. People are and will continue to be anxious and dealing with depression and loneliness.

The emotional side effects of the pandemic are very real. A Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study published in late summer showed that internet searches for information about anxiety increased 11 percent from March 13 to May 9.

Promote Mental Health Resources

Now is a good time to promote resources, programs and services that your healthcare organization offers to combat depression and anxiety, particularly for adolescents and the elderly who are among those hardest hit emotionally by nearly a year of isolation and social disruption.

Reach outside your organization to include other community resources that may be available. Use digital media channels or even add a section to your website that specifically addresses isolation, loneliness and depression. Include online events, webinars and links to other helpful websites, such as https://aarpcommunityconnections.org for seniors.

Utilize Hospital Staff to Address Topics Related to Emotional Wellness

With elective surgeries and doctor visits still down, engage your medical community to address topics that benefit mental and emotional health. The pandemic has taken a toll on all ages. Consider having members of your fitness, nutrition or rehabilitation teams lead virtual classes and activities to encourage people to:

  • Be social
  • Engage the brain
  • Manage stress
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy
  • Practice mindful meditation
  • Get a good night’s sleep

Add any online music events in the community to the list of resources. A study from the Archives of General Psychiatry, which included data from nearly 19,000 people, indicates that 43 percent of those with major depression also suffer from chronic pain. Research also shows that music therapy can help decrease chronic pain, reduce the feeling of loneliness and alter a person’s mood. Think the Isley Brothers singing “Shout!” It’s hard not to jump up, dance and wave your arms in the air when that plays!

For younger people and particularly adolescents whose worlds revolve around their social lives, anxiety levels have doubled during the pandemic. The stress of school—whether virtual or in person—worries about getting into college, job insecurity and financial stress within the family may be manifesting as anxiety attacks, weight loss, stomach aches and other signs of depression.

Use Your Media Contacts to Educate the Community About Emotional Wellness

Marketing departments can utilize media contacts to book clinical staff on morning shows, radio interviews and podcasts or to write guest blogs and op-ed pieces about warning signs parents can watch for and ways to deal with their children’s depression.

Another way to address emotional health and wellness in 2021 healthcare marketing is to push messages on social media and engage with local schools to share those messages. Go where young people live—on their mobile devices checking their Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat accounts.

At this point, almost everyone has been affected by COVID-19 and we are emotionally and physically drained. It is important that we keep emotional wellness part of the message as we ramp up marketing in 2021.

Healthcare Marketing During a Pandemic: Shift Your Strategy Back to the Basics

There’s no magic vaccine yet. The dreaded third wave of COVID-19 is upon us. Nurses continue to be in short supply. An epidemic of stress compounds the stress of the pandemic—both with long-term consequences. Healthcare marketing during a pandemic is uncharted territory for all of us and requires a different, yet more basic approach.

To be effective at healthcare marketing during a pandemic, start by shifting your strategy back to the basics in order to regain patients’ trust that their health and wellbeing are paramount.

Throw last year’s strategy out the window. In this new normal, communicate openly, authoritatively and compassionately. We’re in a new brand world where accolades and tone-deaf messages fail to inspire safety, trust and credibility. As a result, people want facts about prevention, symptoms, testing and treatment.

Lettered blocks spelling out New Normal with EW replacing the OR in the word normal to emphasize healthcare marketing during a pandemic is the new normal
In this new normal, communicate openly, authoritatively and compassionately.

The Pandemic Has Changed Patient and Consumer Behavior

We have talked about digital transformation in healthcare for years. One of the few positives swept in by COVID-19 has been the significant change in consumer behavior. As people stayed away from hospitals and doctors’ offices over fears of contracting the virus, the industry began implementing telehealth options.

Now that it’s here, it’s not likely to go away. Providers who want to stay ahead of the competition—particularly retail providers—and remain relevant to their consumers need to act quickly and decisively to implement telehealth platforms.

Whether you’re offering tele-visits, digital monitoring on mobile apps or touch-free triage, market the technology. Drive consumers online to make appointments, update medical records, check vitals and talk with their providers. Patients want to feel safe and cared for at every touchpoint.

Make sure instructions to patients are clear. Test and retest the steps to ensure that everything works as intended.

Your website remains the front door for patients. Continually update information about:

  • Safety procedures
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Procedures for in-person and virtual visits
  • Accommodations for elective and non-elective procedures
  • General COVID-19 information

Be Mindful of Both Physical and Mental Health

The pandemic’s far-reaching disruption of our physical and financial health has dramatically impacted our mental health.

The American Psychological Association recently released a survey that shows 78 percent—or 8-in-10 Americans—label coronavirus as a significant source of stress in their lives. Another study reveals respondents labeling their mood swings as 50 percent anxiety, 32 percent sadness, 27 percent fear, 25 percent anger and experiencing joy only 10 percent of the time.

Prominently feature mental health resources, including those offered outside your system, in service line marketing. Patients want to know where and how to seek care. The ability to cut through the noise and provide them with information and options is essential to fostering brand trust.

Tell Your Healthcare Facility’s Story

Number fatigue and politicizing COVID-19 have worn us down.

Now is a good time to renew the basic tenet of public relations—tell a good story. Leverage stories of hope from your patients and front-line heroes across all channels—social content, videos and media pitches.

Focus on the Facts in Your Healthcare Marketing

The American public has grown weary and leery of conflicting information about the coronavirus.

While we await the arrival of a vaccine, develop your strategy for delivering the vaccine to your community. The public may have lost confidence in national healthcare leaders, but they yearn for fact-based guidance and assurance that someone is watching out for their wellbeing.

Plan Your Marketing for the Long Term

To stay ahead of the competition and remain relevant to consumers, what you do now to meet consumer demand can mitigate some of the uncertainty about long-term financial viability.

Earlier this year, we stated that, “Email is where it’s at.” We stand by that statement. With work from home, virtual school and a need for connection, consumers of all ages continuously check emails.

We’ve long advocated for meeting the consumer where they are. For now, healthcare marketing during a pandemic should focus efforts online—through emails, optimization, social media and, to a lesser extent, banner ads.

As we remain remote and socially distanced, virtual interaction is the best interpersonal platform for telling our story.

Media Mix 2020, Part 3: The Latest in Digital Advertising

Should television ads, direct mail, and digital display ads be in your healthcare marketing budget? Marketing Your Hospital explored where hospital marketers should spend their marketing dollars in 2020. We’re sharing what we found in this three-part series. In this third installment, we take a closer look at the latest trends in digital advertising. And be sure to check out Part 1: Is TV advertising dead? and Part 2: Should You Invest in Direct Mail?

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Does Color Matter in Hospital Marketing?

Let us guess. Your organization’s logo is predominantly blue. Are we right? We can make that assumption because more than half of all company logos and a whopping 85% of hospital logos are blue. That’s according to a logo review by design marketplace 99designs.

And it makes sense. Blue is associated with calmness, trustworthiness, and steadfastness. What healthcare organization wouldn’t want to project those brand traits? The rest of your palette is probably a pleasing yet limited color selection that complements your main logo color. And you’ve been drilling those colors and their proper usage into the heads of content creators your organization over for years.

But are you using color strategically?

color plays a big role in the way that we see and perceive brands
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Media Mix 2020, Part 2: Is Direct Mail Dead?

Are television ads, direct mail, and digital display ads worth the investment? Marketing Your Hospital explored where hospital marketers should spend their marketing dollars in 2020. We’ll share what we found in this three-part series. In this second part, we take a closer look at direct mail. And be sure to check out Part 1: Is TV advertising dead?

In our first Media Mix 2020 post, we discussed the value of television advertising, even in the wake of digital recording and online streaming. But what about direct mail? Like TV advertising, direct mail is costly, while email blasts are cheap. Is direct mail worth the paper it’s printed on? Yes, yes, yes.

direct mail and letters piled high in a mailbox
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Media Mix 2020, Part 1: Is TV Advertising Dead?

Are television ads, direct mail, and digital display ads still worth the investment? Marketing Your Hospital explored where hospital marketers should spend their marketing dollars in 2020. We’ll share what we found in this three-part series. First up is TV advertising.

When was the last time you watched a commercial on television? If you can’t remember, you’re probably not inclined to spend a dime of your 2020 hospital marketing budget on TV advertising. No one will see them! Well, it turns out, that’s far from true.

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