By all accounts, telemedicine has an adoption problem. Nearly 80% of all patients are interested in trying telehealth. Yet despite the favorable market for the introduction of the technology, physician adoption ranges from around 10% in the smallest practices to roughly 30% in ambulatory networks of 40-docs or more.
But 2018 saw an unprecedented leap forward in user adoption of telemedicine. Healthcare delivery organizations from the VA to the Cleveland Clinic continue to expand their mobile health service lines. CMS cooperated with these trends by dropping some of the barriers to telehealth reimbursement.
One cause of this adoption reluctance may be in figuring out how to market a telemedicine service line. Let’s address the issue by discussing some of the steps necessary to launch the technology.
Demystifying the rollout process may not make every practice become a telehealth convert, but it may make launching these initiatives more successful in the long run.
#1 Barrier to Patient Telehealth Adoption -- Insufficient Marketing
The successful launch of any new product line requires a marketing effort, even if the approach is only word-of-mouth. However, when it comes to telehealth, the argument for going beyond word-of-mouth is a strong one; research shows us that consumers are increasingly comfortable with trying the telehealth visit. By actively marketing telemedicine to these consumers of your services, you are reaching a market favorable to the idea of the virtual visit, giving them exactly what they want and a time when they want it the most.
With consumerism now a strong factor in the healthcare marketplace, we know that our patients are seeking increased control over their healthcare decisions. Telemedicine is a way to bring healthcare directly to consumers by engaging them in a virtual house call on any digital device.
With the market favoring telehealth, the only mistake we see with practices offering the service line is their failure to fully market the service.
Here are the five steps necessary to launch your telemedicine service line.
Step #1 Market Segmentation
Defining the target market that will use your new telemedicine service line is step one. Consider these questions:
- Are you attempting to broaden your existing service delivery network?
- If so, consider targeting a specific geographic region that extends beyond the furthest zip code from where your patients currently travel to your practice.
- Could you extend your practice to 10% more patients by improving access to treatment? How would this affect your bottom line?
- Is your goal simply to extend office hours to improve the convenience of your practice?
- Will you offer the service only to specific types of patients with certain health issues, or will you take a more generic approach?
Next, think about target audience demographics. If you are targeting only existing patients recovering from a surgical procedure could telehealth improve wound care or help improve patient outcomes? Or, could you stretch your services with an existing on-call provider network while also alleviating burnout within your current team?
Step #2 Targeting
This brings us to the second step toward marketing a telemedicine service line; understanding the needs, wants, and priorities of patients, and then marketing the offering to meet those demands. Understanding your audience and then targeting the marketing effort toward attracting those patients is a crucial step prior to service line launch. All strategies and tactics can stem from this understanding.
Try mapping out the target audience and writing down the characteristics of the demographic. Do they live or work within a certain zip code? Are they primarily private payer? Who will be making the decision to use the service? What would motivate these potential patients to use your service?
Step #3 Positioning
Here is where it’s a good idea to consider your competitors. Given that most hospitals currently have a telehealth offering, it’s likely that you may be competing against your local health system. Here are some important questions to consider:
- Could offering a telehealth service line elevate your practice over other independent providers in the region that fail to offer the virtual visit?
- What is it that could differentiate your telehealth service line from the competition?
- What would uniquely “sell” the service to your target audience?
We know that telehealth offers several benefits, including:
- Improved patient convenience.
- Reduced costs.
- Reduced wait times.
- Time and money saved by eliminating travel, childcare, time off work, parking, and more.
Positioning your telehealth service line in a way that capitalizes on these benefits while addressing patient needs is exactly what will set your offering apart from even the biggest competing practices. But how will you accomplish this? The answer is through marketing messaging.
Step #4 Messaging
The basic goal in messaging is the same whether your business is a medical practice or a retail store. However, doctors may believe that their medical practice is so different from a commercial business that they cannot learn from their marketing techniques.
In fact, we know that our patients are increasingly looking at our practices under the same microscope they use for other service-related industries. The consumerization of healthcare is well underway. Medical practices and hospitals must now market themselves like any other brand. The basic goal of marketing messaging then becomes an answer to a very simple question: Why should your patients select your telehealth practice over any other option in the market?
Step #5 Branding and Collateral
Step five is where all the pre-work comes together into marketing materials. Lets use an orthopedic surgical recheck as an example. This process should include an understanding of:
Simple orthopedic post-surgical recheck consults for the existing patient.
Flat rate per 15-minute telehealth recheck. This price could be marketed as less expensive than the in-office visit, creating a unique service selling point. Will you give a discount for cash payments?
Will you offer synchronous, or two-way live video visits or store-and-forward pre-recorded videos? What hours/days will it be available?
Where will you market this service?
When developing your marketing materials remember to write them for the consumer of your service. Go back to their needs, wants, and priorities and develop materials that speak directly to the benefits of your services as the answer to what your patients want.
Here are some suggestions for distribution of these materials:
- Place collateral in your patient informed consent packets.
- Email your patients with new service details.
- Add a message to your billing statements.
- Offer a coupon to try out the service.
- Place the service on your website.
- Send a mailer to clients.
- Use (blinded) patient testimonials about the service in your collateral materials.
- Have brochures and fliers in your waiting rooms.
- Use social media to boost the service.
OrthoLive offers a ready-made telehealth solution for orthopedic providers. We also offer a virtual on-call network that can supplement your existing practice by adding new features for your patients. Contact us to find out more.