It's been a funny old few months in primary care (understatement of the year!
Having enough PPE, setting up ‘hot’ sites, seeing your patients on a screen…but you’ve done it. You’re still coming through it but you’ve done it. And whatever you thought of ‘Clap for Carers’, millions upon millions of people appreciated you for it too.
As a healthcare marketer, I’ve watched the sentiment online over the last few weeks too. One thing kept cropping up, clear as day.
You guys really aren’t blowing your own trumpets enough.
I know you’ve not had time. Obviously. Patient care always comes first, even without a pandemic.
But primary care has done phenomenally these past few months. I don’t know much about saving someone’s life but I know in marketing, we say ‘show’ don’t ‘tell’ as a way to demonstrate our value emotively to our audiences and encourage actions.
And you’ve been showing that every day you’ve turned up to work. But only a handful have truly seen it.
As lockdown eases, many practices are looking towards a switch back to the way things were pre-pandemic. Here’s some thoughts about a fresh future for your communications, which you’re probably well on the way to doing without realising it:
What's been happening?
In February, the NHS advised the general public to call NHS 111 and avoid hospitals and GP surgeries. By early March, face to face appointments came to a halt to stop infected patients coming in unknowingly. All practices had to switch to total triage with phone or video appointments by the middle of March with the exception of urgent clinical cases.
We currently know that statistics from the end of April show 95% of consultations took place face to face before, and now over 85% take place remotely.
Everybody has had to adapt, and adapt they have. Healthcare providers have shown kindness and understanding in far-reaching ways. Communication where its been possible, has been an integral part of the process, letting patients know:
- How to access healthcare differently.
- They are supported and heard.
- The NHS is not closed.
- They still need to communicate about warning signs and symptoms.
- There is a procedure in place should they have covid-19 symptoms.
- Those in need of face to face care and consultations will get that care.
That incredible ‘bedside manner’ mastered by healthcare providers face to face, has been transformed into a digital version. Even better, the tone has changed.
Instead, gentler words, clearer instructions and reassuring alerts have been cultivated and created. Created in such a way that patients know and understand what they need, without having to see anybody face to face.
To give you an example; I follow well over two hundred active GP practice pages on Facebook and every few days, I scroll through the newsfeeds to see what’s been shared and said.
Six months ago, it was common to see an occasional weekday post here or there about flu or calling 111 if you feel unwell in the night. There was also the odd rant from ‘Karen’ about waiting on the phone for 30 minutes, not being able to get an appointment for three weeks…
…fast-forward to now, I see nearly daily postings, practice nurses recording short 30-second videos to say ‘we’re still here to help’, practices sharing posts from their local community groups offering support to do shopping for the elderly and reviews brimming with positivity from patients that say ‘thank you for all you’re doing’.
The support is there.
The sentiment is better.
The change is happening.
I’d much rather keep all of that wonderful, positive, hopeful, community spirit wrapped around my practice going forward, wouldn’t you?
And if I hadn’t been doing that, I’d want to catch the bus going in that direction.
Especially with primary care networks thrown into the mix now as well.
Hold onto those new skills
There’s a tendency to use the phrase ‘back to normal’ when it comes to post-lockdown life.
However, realistically, we are already working with that ‘new normal’. Of course, there are challenges, but there’s also so much good stuff that has come from this experience and not just those goats roaming around Llandudno.
In particular, with primary care, this good stuff needs to keep coming out and digital communications can help you do this more easily than you think.
Many primary care teams I talk to say they’re worried about being too ‘pally’ with patients.
Clinics remain clinical for fear of overstepping the mark, and watering down their position of advisor.
And yet, I’ve seen so many of you nailing it throughout this pandemic.
Practices have been perfecting digital rapport, whilst remaining a sound and trusted source of advice and healthcare in their communities. They’ve had to. And many have done great.
Now, we all have to keep hold of those skills moving forward.
The future is (mostly) digital
‘By ‘eck’ as we say here in Yorkshire, you’ve done a grand job!
Digital rapport skills are so precious. It is so important not to bounce back to the colder, clinical digital presence.
It wasn’t working.
Harnessing this warmth and connection you’ve naturally cultivated throughout covid-19 is essential to building better relationships with your patients. We know that communication whilst we do our jobs helps:
- Reduce the risk of medical mistakes
- Patients gain better outcomes
- Patients feel more satisfied about their experience at our practice
And by adopting good digital communication and rapport online, this enhances the above points by:
- Building patient trust across those who don’t always call for help (men, we’re on about you!)
- Encouraging ‘healthier’ behaviours and self management (so we can improve access and make better use of our workforce)
- Clarifying messages, instructions and guidelines (so we don’t get as many phone calls and ‘snotty’ messages online when patients are unhappy)
- Boosting patient reach (for the patients who don’t subscribe to your newsletter or attend your PPG)
- Enhancing ‘digital bedside manner’ (people trust people – let’s show our communities the warm, caring, talented individuals we have working hard in our practices so they get to know, like and trust us even more).
“We are stronger when we listen, and smarter when we share.” – Rania Al-Abdullah
Hang on to that digital rapport you have cultivated and nurtured, to benefit and future-proof your practice moving forward. How to do that practically? Create a quick, practical communication plan and get some skills to keep you and your team on track.
On the off chance you’re burnt out keeping everybody healthy and you need some help to nurture that digital rapport, brush up your comms and create a plan everyone can get on board with, whilst still doing the day job, we’ve got a new course launching in August that will help you do just that.
Remember, you’re kind of a big deal. We know that, some of your patients might know it.
But we think everyone in your community should know it too. Let’s protect primary care for years to come and get all our patients on board with us now to face that future together.