While our first concerns as a nation should, of course, be on the health and safety of all citizens, those of us who work in the business of healthcare marketing and communications can’t help but wonder about secondary factors as we witness the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the US. We’re hearing a lot of water cooler talk about all types of issues on the work front, including questions like “How will this affect my workload, my current job and even my future career?” Or, “Will my employer or my clients be negatively or positively impacted?” And obviously, “How are we going to prevent the spread of the virus here in my workplace?”

Given that Activate Health serves a wide variety of healthcare and health technology companies, we’re happy to share some of what we’re learning in an effort to help educate and inform our marketing colleagues. Below are a few quick insights we’ve gained from working alongside clinical and technology leaders, talking to others in our industry and reviewing the latest clinical studies from abroad and in the US:

It’s going to get (really) bad before it gets better.
While it’s still too early to identify just how widespread this virus will be, most signs point to very. For some healthcare organizations, the spread of the virus and the destruction left in its wake could entirely disrupt daily operations. For others—including those who sell to these companies—prepare for things to be very quiet over the next few months. We can learn a lot by looking at other countries like Italy and China and observing stalled economic activity in those areas. While some healthcare services will be more in-demand than ever, we’ll also see non-critical care needs being postponed, such as elective procedures, allergy testing, and chiropractic care. As the economy flounders, we can anticipate delays in major investments like purchasing new health IT systems (and moreover, there are fewer IT workers around to assist in the procurement and implementation of these products).

There will be healthcare winners…and losers.
With so many unique verticals in our industry, there is no one-size-fits-all healthcare company. The impact of COVID-19 will be just as diverse. It’s safe to assume that health systems will see a significant increase in patient volumes, although most of their efforts will be focused on keeping the lights on, not on their marketing spend. So even though you may work for a large hospital or work on behalf of one, that doesn’t mean your projects will be top priority over the next several months. Pharmaceutical companies will also have opportunities to develop new therapeutics and could receive major funding from the government to do so. But with the supply of raw ingredients running low due to the impact of COVID-19 in China, other products may be increasingly difficult to produce. The in-person marketing for these drugs within physician offices will likely come to a grinding halt as well, which will have a downstream impact on healthcare marketing and communications efforts. Along those same lines, laboratories like Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp stand to make hundreds of millions from coronavirus testing alone, but they won’t be spending time or dollars on marketing, as their biggest customer—the government—already realizes the ongoing need for their services.

Of course, where hospitals and drug companies see increased revenue, health plans will be feeling the burn. Members of the COVID-19 task force stated that health plans agreed to cover all costs related to coronavirus testing, ensuring patients would not incur bills or even copays. But while President Trump also mentioned that plans would cover the entire cost of treatment (waiving consumer cost share), that is now being disputed by executives from most major national plans. Regardless of cost sharing, plans are still preparing to be on the hook for incredibly high expenses as a result of high patient volumes in intensive care units, the need for ventilators and cardiac machines, and other high-cost healthcare services. As such, plans won’t be in a position to be investing heavily in marketing—or any other major avoidable spending—for quite some time.

Along those same lines, health technology companies are likely to see plenty of stalled deals in their sales efforts. These organizations may want their healthcare marketing and communications teams to get creative with top- and middle-of-funnel strategies in order to keep their pipeline full and help them close valuable (but more elusive) deals. At the same time, technologies that may help companies during the crisis—like notifications products and interoperability solutions—could see an increase in business. For example, the healthcare system needs to track individuals at high risk of infection or those who are quarantined, and message them via two-way communications. Telemedicine is also expecting a huge boost, given the need to triage patients before they get to the ER.

Virtual work is nothing new, but it will become even more of the norm.
There is, of course, some positive news for all of us on the healthcare marketing and communications front. Those who enjoy the occasional work-from-home day will be happy to note that given the nature of our jobs, we’re among the most likely to be given remote work status. Ultimately, this is beneficial across the board—as mentioned earlier in this blog, many people are asking how to prevent the spread of the virus, which is especially relevant in office settings. As we see more organizations—and certain departments within those companies—becoming more comfortable with flexible work locations, it’s a no-brainer that employees who are able to avoid the office do just that. (From a practical perspective, even though work-from-home arrangements are gaining in popularity, we acknowledge that not every role is suited to work remotely.) If you get lonely without your cubicle mate, now might be the time to invest in a puppy…or maybe just a houseplant if you’re on calls all day!

What healthcare marketing and communications people can do to help their businesses cope.
For some of us, longer-term projects that were originally slated for 2020 may be delayed. Others may have prospects in the pipeline that are more hesitant to move forward with new initiatives or are simply halting certain operations until the COVID-19 situation levels out. Amidst all of this, there are still plenty of ways we can make the most of our marketing skills and cultivate success for the organizations we serve, despite some of these challenges. Below are a few tips for helping your company or your clients navigate the choppy waters ahead:

Think outside the booth.
It’s clear that conferences are done for this quarter. Those who haven’t already canceled will quickly follow in the footsteps of major industry events like HIMSS, which just announced its cancelation despite securing Trump as a guest speaker. Fortunately, there are still plenty of creative ways for healthcare marketing and communications professionals to help sales reach key prospects and establish their company’s thought leadership via social, digital and email marketing channels. (And partnering with a healthcare marketing and communications agency like Activate Health can help you identify some of these strategies and hit the ground running so that you don’t lose valuable time!)

Forget about handshake deals.
In-person sales efforts will be dead for quite a while. In their place, you’ll want to recommend plenty of webinars, product demos and other mid-funnel efforts to ramp up lead nurture and closing for sales staff.

Fine-tune your messaging.
Personalized outreach will become more important than ever as a result of your prospects’ unique needs while their business and customers face disruption. Knowing and understanding those requirements and positioning your products and services to meet them where they are will be the only way to secure mindshare during this troubling time. Considering—or reconsidering—your brand messaging might be the best approach before trying to get any (virtual) face time with your prospects.

As we learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our clients and our colleagues, we’ll post new updates soon. For now, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep your hand sanitizer handy.