Each year, our awards celebrate the physical prowess of the finance world’s most alluring tycoons – who get their very own entry on our prestigious topless calendar.
After receiving applications from 115 people (across every continent except Antarctica!) and 50 organizations, including 35 academic institutions, the judges have declared DeepOutbreak, a team with members from Georgia Tech, the University of Iowa, and Virginia Tech as the winner of COVID-19 Symptom Data Challenge.
Second place was awarded to K&A, a Russia-based team working with the World Bank and the Higher School of Economics. $75,000 in prizes will be awarded to the winners.
The program’s distinguished speakers include
- Dr. Tom Frieden, President & CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies & former director of the CDC
- Dr. Mark McClellan, director of the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy
- Dr. Farzad Mostashari, CEO of Aledade & former National Coordinator for Health IT at the Department of Health and Human Services, and
- Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s Head of Health.
Chrissy Farr, Principal and Health-Tech Lead at OMERS Ventures and former technology and health reporter for CNBC.com, will serve as emcee.
Register for the COVID-19 Symptom Data Challenge Showcase on Wednesday, December 16th, from 4-5:30pm ET here
The dominant presence of COVID-19 has not meant the absence of cancer, ear infections, heart attacks, chronic pain, or other illnesses that need attention and care. Physicians have continued treatment for all types of maladies, and physician training has continued as well. But this treatment and this training look much different these days. Despite the challenges that came with major COVID shutdowns and changing requirements, the healthcare system and patients have been both creative and resilient in finding robust “temporary” solutions to these challenges. It is now looking like some of these COVID-era transitional steps will be preserved and play a lasting role in the future of medical education and telemedicine. What must be sacrificed to reap the benefits of these new protocols?
The rapid adoption of technology and virtual engagement tools has been both impressive and interesting to watch – Zoom meetings between medical association boards of directors, FaceTime calls between isolated patients and their family members at home, telehealth phone appointments with family practice physicians, or virtual medical conferences through Webex – the increasing reliance on these tools has pushed boundaries and exposed both opportunities and challenges with technology use for the future of healthcare.
As COVID-19 has significantly accelerated the feasibility and acceptance of telehealth care by physicians, patients, and payors, we now see healthcare systems navigating in real-time the complex issues with cybersecurity and patient privacy. Due to waivers, everyday technologies can be utilized right now, including FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts, and Zoom, but new regulatory guidance may be needed to develop safe, secure, and patient-friendly telehealth applications for the future. Cyber-security, already an important priority in the healthcare information space, is going to become that much more essential as doctor’s offices and clinics implement even more telehealth protocols faster than they ever would have normally planned or budgeted for.
These changes in practice and patient care have also impacted how controlled substances are prescribed. The Drug Enforcement Agency has modified policies to allow for the remote prescribing of controlled substances during the pandemic. Online counseling, informed consent, and follow-up with patients can be done in a virtual setting. Pill counts can be done in a video call and patients can still have their questions answered regarding their pain therapy, although it is likely that after the crisis, prescribing certain controlled substances may return to in-person visits. It is important that the regulatory climate continues to evolve at the pace needed to address the changing needs and realities of telehealth in the time of COVID.
While we have all become more comfortable on telehealth platforms, there continues to be an important role for in-person visits. Patients may appreciate the convenience of telemedicine; however, they must understand that it can limit a physician’s ability to perform a thorough examination and possibly reduce the chances of a physician detecting an unexpected complication or condition.
Moving forward, I expect there will be much greater reliance on telehealth strategies even post-COVID, but it will always have to be balanced with old-fashioned office visits.
Residency training has also experienced a profound shift this year. Conventional teaching approaches have either been cut back or have been canceled due to COVID risks, and reduced access to personal protective equipment (PPE) has limited the amount of time spent with patients being cared for during residency and fellowship programs. But we can’t stop training for the next generation of physicians or providing quality Continuing Medical Education (CME) for practicing physicians. E-learning techniques, such as webinars and online skills training, certainly play a role – and these may offer ways to actually enhance cross-departmental or multidisciplinary collaborative educational sessions. E-learning may be more cost-effective and easier to participate in than traveling to conferences or symposia, but the hands-on learning and deep discussions that can occur in breakout sessions or clinical training modules will need to be replaced somehow. And there must be careful vetting of online content in order to avoid a proliferation of commercially biased information, plagiarized materials, or simply false information. As we all adjust to new settings and styles for learning, there must be purposeful strategies to ensure online lectures are still supported with opportunities for learning from direct patient contact and collegial support.
Despite these concerns and challenges, new models for CME activities actually pose a great opportunity for increased access, cost-effectiveness, and practicality for busy clinicians.
Even before the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed, technological innovation had already begun to change education, healthcare, and even social relationships. The COVID-19 crisis has simply accelerated the drive and interest in these new tools. But while the technological tools and platforms to a large extent existed years before COVID-19, they have never been used as purposefully, as rapidly, or with such intentionality as they are being used now.
I am sure the shift toward technology and virtual engagement in medicine will not go away when we finally get past the COVID-19 crisis. There will likely be lasting changes with the reliance on distance-medicine techniques for both patient care and physician training. But we must keep a close eye on regulatory frameworks that need to be updated, and make extra efforts to build and maintain patient-physician relationships.
About Shalini Shah, MD
Shalini Shah, MD is Vice-Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care, and Enterprise Director of Pain Services, UC Irvine Health. Dr. Shah completed her residency in Anesthesiology from NYP-Cornell University and a combined fellowship in Adult and Pediatric Chronic Pain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess and Children’s Hospital of Boston, Harvard Medical School.
The amount of data generated by the healthcare industry is staggering—and constantly increasing. Healthcare data encompasses the personal information of patients, doctors, nurses, and administrators. It includes diagnostic information, test results, ultrasound images, x-ray images, and of course insurance and financial information. With so much sensitive patient information there for the taking, it comes as little surprise that the healthcare industry—perhaps more than any other sector—has become a primary target for cyberattacks. Now, more than ever, it is critical that healthcare organizations take decisive action to protect their data.
There has been no shortage of major (and notably costly) data breaches in recent years. The Equifax breach, for example, affected nearly half of all Americans. Last year’s Facebook breach was also headline news, thanks in large part to the number of users affected. Then there was a lesser-known yet costly LifeLabs breach—the largest in Canadian history—affecting more than 15 million people and prompting a lawsuit seeking north of $1 billion in damages for failure to adequately protect data.
Healthcare data heists yield a premium, making them particularly attractive to hackers. The Center for Internet Security (CIS) notes that the “average cost of a data breach incurred by a non-healthcare related agency, per stolen record, is $158,” compared with $355 for healthcare records.
Though large, the LifeLabs incident isn’t even close to the largest healthcare data breach in history. That dubious honor goes to Anthem, which suffered a breach in 2015 that resulted in nearly 80 million compromised records. Although Anthem was able to reach a settlement with the victims for the relatively paltry sum of $115 million, both the standards for data protection and the expected remediation for failure have changed considerably in the five years since the attack.
Regulations Raise the Stakes for Security
As the regulatory environment surrounding data breaches of all types grows more strict, hospitals and insurers have found themselves in the crosshairs of an increasingly brazen and sophisticated set of attackers. Part of the reason for this targeting stems from the relative value of healthcare records. There is a reason why “HIPAA” is an acronym known to most Americans, while other data protection laws are not.
Personal Health Information (PHI) tends to be more valuable than standard Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in large part due to its static nature. Patients can change a compromised credit card number or social security number, but not their medical history—and scammers prepared to exploit that history may render victims more vulnerable to certain types of fraud.
New regulations are further raising the stakes for compliance. Although the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is not specifically targeted at healthcare organizations, the sector represents potentially one of the most vulnerable industries under the new law. If an organization is found to be in violation of CCPA, they have 30 days to rectify the situation or be subject to a fine of up to $7,500 per record exposed.
To put this in context: if CCPA were adopted nationwide, the LifeLabs breach that affected 15 million individuals would potentially be subject to a fine of $112.5 billion. That $1 billion lawsuits that LifeLabs is facing might sound like a lot, but under CCPA, it might mean getting off easy. This should underscore the necessity of protecting data of any kind today—let alone healthcare records.
Ecosystems Span Email to Equipment
With the healthcare industry becoming an increasingly popular target and the penalties for breaches growing steeper, it’s important to consider that every endpoint, from desktops to devices, present attack paths for hackers. Measures as simple as stronger email security can make a big difference: in 2018 alone, Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks resulted in more than $1.2 billion in victim losses. Spear phishing attacks, which are carried out using social engineering techniques to convince the target to relay confidential personal or financial information to what they believe is a legitimate recipient, represent an increasingly common method for attackers to gain access to user credentials or even directly obtain PII or PHI. Securing email with S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions), which authenticates the sender of an email, enables employees not only to digitally sign and encrypt email communications but also to detect whether an email received has been authenticated or should not be trusted or opened.
Digital certificates are an essential part of protecting medical devices. Because they can be incorporated during the manufacturing process, these certificates allow device identity and integrity to be established from the moment they are first powered on. They also eliminate the potential for device spoofing, which protects against the possibility of counterfeit devices connecting to the network. These certificates serve as an effective proof point for savvy healthcare organizations. When vetting device suppliers and manufacturers, asking about their approach to device identity is essential. By learning to trust only manufacturers with a responsible approach to authentication, healthcare organizations can help protect one of the areas most susceptible to costly breaches.
Medical equipment itself has also become more vulnerable. Today’s diagnostic devices are rarely standalone—most are connected to the internet, and anything connected to the internet can potentially be compromised. In fact, this compromise could occur before devices even leave the factory, potentially undermining even the most secure networks and leading medical device manufacturers to consider security starting at the assembly line; the point where device identity measures and digital certificate authentication become critical. Technologies such as secure boot can protect the integrity of a device or piece of software from the first time it is powered on. Similarly, embedded firewall and secure remote update technologies help ensure that software updates are authenticated before installation and that any communication with unauthorized devices stops before harm can be done.
Moving Forward with New Security Strategies
Today, health insurers, hospitals, and other patient care organizations must manage a truly massive amount of data. It is simply a fact of life. That data comes in many forms, and it can be valuable to cyber attackers for a multitude of reasons. At its core, this data is the healthcare industry’s most valuable asset—one that it must protect at all costs.
Vulnerabilities can take many forms, from a human error to compromised devices. And while no solution can shield every possible form of attack, data and IT security administrators (and even OEMs) can take concrete steps to protect their organizations, patients, or chipsets against common attack vectors and better comply with today’s strict data protection regulations. Yes, the cloud has introduced new vulnerabilities, but it also has helped enable new security strategies and solutions that ensure every application, cell phone, server, or other connected “thing” has an authenticated digital identity. The stakes are simply too high, and hackers have become too savvy, to rely on yesterday’s security status quo.
About Tim Callan, Senior Fellow at Sectigo
Senior Fellow Tim Callan contributes to the company’s standards and practices effort, industry relations, product roadmap, and go-to-market strategy. Tim has more than twenty years’ experience as a strategic marketing and product leader for successful B2B software and SaaS companies, with fifteen years’ experience in the SSL and PKI technology spaces.
– Healthcare Growth Partners’ (HGP) summary of Health IT/digital health mergers & acquisition (M&A) activity, and public company performance during the month of July 2020.
While a pandemic ravages the country, technology valuations are soaring. The Nasdaq hit an all-time high during the month of July, sailing through the 10,000 mark to post YTD gains of nearly 20%, representing a 56% increase off the low water mark on March 23. More notably, the Nasdaq has outperformed the S&P 500 (including the lift the S&P has received from FANMAG stocks – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, Google) by nearly 20% YTD.
At HGP, we focus on private company transactions, but there is a close connection between public company and private company valuations. While the intuitive reaction is to feel that companies should be discounted due to COVID’s business disruption and associated economic hardships facing the country, the data and the markets tell a different story.
While technology is undoubtedly hot right now given the thesis that adoption and value will increase during these virtual times, the other more important factor lifting public markets is interest rates. According to July 19 research from Goldman Sachs,
“Importantly, it is the very low level of interest rates that justifies current valuations. The S&P 500 is within 4% of the all-time high it reached on February 19th, yet since that time the level of S&P 500 earnings expected in 2021 has been pushed forward to 2022. The decline in interest rates bridges that gap.”
Additionally, Goldman Sachs analysts also estimate that equities will deliver an annual return of 6% over the next 10-years, lower than the long-term return of 8%. Future value has been priced into present value, and returns are diminished because the relative return over interest rates is what ultimately matters, not the absolute return. In short, equity valuations are high because interest rates are low.
What happens in public equities usually finds its way into private equity. To note, multiple large private health IT companies including WellSky, QGenda, and Edifecs, have achieved 20x+ EBITDA transactions based on this same phenomenon. From the perspective of HGP, this should also translate to higher valuations for private companies at the lower end of the market. As investors across all asset classes experience reduced returns requirements due to low interest rates, present values increase across both investment and M&A transactions.
As with everything in the COVID environment, it is difficult to make predictions with certainty. Because the stimulus has caused US debt as a percentage of GDP to explode, there is an extremely strong motivation to keep long-term interest rates low. For this reason, we believe interest rates will remain low for the foreseeable future. Time will tell whether this is sustainable, but early indications are positive.
Noteworthy News Headlines
- A $10.2 million “sole source” contract to run a centralized Covid-19 database for the Trump administration drew sharp criticism from congressional Democrats, who demanded that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention be reinstated as the primary repository of coronavirus data. The contract drew scant public attention when it was awarded in April to TeleTracking Technologies, a Pittsburgh company whose core business is helping hospitals manage the flow of patients. But it drew scrutiny after the administration ordered hospitals, beginning on Wednesday, to report coronavirus information, including bed availability, to the new database, housed at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, instead of to the C.D.C.
- With the CDC sidelines, some states lose access to timely COVID-19 hospital data. Just as the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 approaches new highs in some parts of the country, hospital data in Kansas and Missouri is suddenly incomplete or missing. Earlier this week, the Trump administration directed hospitals to change how they report data to the federal government and how that data will be made available. Missouri Hospital Association spokesperson Dave Dillon called the move “a major disruption.”
- Hospital giant ACA makes $822 million profit off CARES Act stimulus money. HCA’s biggest profit driver and boost to surviving the pandemic and the influx of Covid-19 patients in the second quarter came from the federal government. In HCA’s second quarter, the government stimulus passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump turned into a windfall as of the end of the second quarter.
- Hims Inc, a U.S. online provider of mens’ healthcare and consumer products ranging from hair loss treatments to Viagra, is exploring going public through a merger with a blank-check acquisition company that could value it at more than $1 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
- HIMSS pushes back 2021 conference to August. HIMSS canceled its 2020 global health conference in March just days before it was slated to start due to concerns about COVID-19. HIMSS officials are planning a press conference Friday to offer more details about the HIMSS21 conference.
Noteworthy M&A transactions during the month include:
- Workflow optimization software vendor HealthFinch was acquired by Health Catalyst for $40mm.
- Sarnova completed simultaneous acquisition and merger of R1 EMS and Digitech.
- Payment integrity vendor The Burgess Group acquired by HealthEdge Software.
- Ciox acquired biomedical NLP vendor, Medal, to support its clinical data research initiatives.
- Allscripts divests EPSi to Roper for $365mm, equaling 7.5x and 18.5x TTM revenue and EBITDA, respectively.
Noteworthy Buyout transactions during the month include:
- HealthEZ, a vendor of TPA plans, was acquired by Abry Partners.
- As part of a broader wave of blank check go-public transactions, MultiPlan will join the public markets as part of Churchill Capital Corp III.
- Also as part of a wave of private equity club deals, WellSky partially recapped with TPG and Leonard Greenin a rumored $3B transaction valuing the company at 20x EBITDA.
- Edifecs partnered with TA Associates and Francisco Partners in another club deal valuing the company at a rumored $1.4B (excluding $400mm earnout) at over 8x revenue and 18x EBITDA.
- Madison Dearborn announced a $410mm take private of insurance technology vendor Benefytt.
- Nuvem Health, a provider of pharmacy claims software, was acquired by Parthenon Capital.
Noteworthy Investments during the month include:
- Doctor on Demand, a telemedicine vendor, raised $75mm led by General Atlantic.
- Truepill, an on-demand pharmacy, raised $25mm from investors including Optum Ventures.
- VillageMD, a primary care provider, took a $275mm investment from Walgreens and others.
- Medly Pharmacy, an online pharmacy, received a $100mm investment led by Volition and Greycroft.
- Forcura, a vendor of post-acute software, received a growth investment from Accel-KKR.
- Preventice, a developer of mobile health applications, received a $137mm Series B with a host of strategic investors.
- Ro (fka Roman), a cloud consumer pharmacy, received a $200mm investment valuing the company at $1.5B.
- Sema4, a big data genomics company, raised $121mm led by BlackRock valuing the company at $1B.
- Heal, a physician house call company, raised $100mm from Humana.
- Tempo, developer of smart at-home fitness platforms, raised $60mm.
Public Company Performance
HGP tracks stock indices for publicly traded health IT companies within four different sectors – Health IT, Payers, Healthcare Services, and Health IT & Payer Services. Notably, primary care provider Oak Street Health filed for an IPO, offering 15.6 million shares at a target price of $21/ share. The chart below summarizes the performance of these sectors compared to the S&P 500 for the month of July:
The following table includes summary statistics on the four sectors tracked by HGP for July 2020:
About Healthcare Growth Partners (HGP)
Healthcare Growth Partners (HGP) is a Houston, TX-based Investment Banking & Strategic Advisory firm exclusively focused on the transformational Health IT market. The firm provides Sell-Side Advisory, Buy-Side Advisory, Capital Advisory, and Pre-Transaction Growth Strategy services, functioning as the exclusive investment banking advisor to over 100 health IT transactions representing over $2 billion in value since 2007.
The loss of lives and livelihoods from COVID-19 is almost too much to comprehend. And yet, slowly, conversations are emerging about the positives percolating from the pandemic.
It’s human nature to want to look for the positives in even the worst of situations, and I’ve noticed that in both my personal and my professional circles of late, people are talking about the things they hope we don’t lose when things go back to “normal.”
Chief among them, especially in my healthcare technology circles, is a level of humanity that our previously faster-paced lives, ways, and organizations had perhaps too often and too easily dismissed. Humans on the frontline of care delivery, for example. The effects of social isolation on healthy people, much less those who are sick. The struggle and juggle of modern work-life balance. Inequalities in healthcare access and delivery.
We’ve long talked about technology’s ability to make some of these things easier, to close some of these gaps, but now we know just how possible they are when people, politics, and policy unite in the face of a pandemic. We now know just how quickly even the largest and slowest-moving of health systems can change course and even course-correct.
Until now, it’s been far easier to talk about the promise of technology, telemedicine, and remote workforce scenarios than it was to actually deploy them. Because before, to deploy such solutions also meant loss; loss of control, loss of normalcy, loss of humanity. Until now.
Now, the very things that once seemed to threaten us are bringing us and our organizations closer together. They’re also shining a light on the hard facts about the real value (indeed, the necessity) of such soft skills as empathy, communication, and human insight; skills that have never been more important nor more obvious in the deployment of technology, applications, and people to deliver care.
Amid the COVID-19 recovery that we all hope is near, here are three things from which I hope we never recover:
1. Virtual Care Support and Delivery
Whether telemedicine, telehealth, or the remote workforce, we’ve not merely crossed the chasm but bridged it, and I predict we’re here to stay.
Prior to COVID-19, less than 10% of healthcare visits were conducted with telehealth and/or telemedicine. That number is now estimated at 40% to 50%, and it’s unlikely that the cat gets put back in the bag, nor should it.
Key enablers of this long-overdue trend have been changing reimbursement policies, the relaxing of regulations governing patient data, and the ability of doctors to treat patients across state lines and platforms thanks to various state and federal licensure waivers.
Necessity, too, has relaxed the barriers to working remotely, which until now was relatively unheard of for large health systems with equally large corporate and back-office staff and campuses.
Back in my CIO days, I too was a believer in the importance of physical office presence. I wanted to see the 50-plus people on my service desk. It provided a comfort level that people were doing their jobs and doing them at the levels that I and our patients expected.
Being on the consulting side, though, I’ve completely changed my mind. The flexibility of being able to work remotely is a phenomenal perk, and I dare say that the thousands now working from home would agree with me that you actually find yourself working more hours, not fewer, than in an office environment.
Countless IT Service and Support Desks, one of which I serve on the advisory board, has been working remotely throughout the pandemic, and they’re doing yeoman’s work in the face of huge increases in IT support for health systems across the country deploying more and new solutions for patients, physicians and staff alike.
For context, telehealth-related calls for one organization at which I serve on the advisory board have jumped 29% during COVID, accounting for more than 30% of calls compared to just 1% pre-COVID. EMR-related calls jumped 54% for one health system client, mostly due to telehealth appointments being conducted through patient portals such as MyChart. We also saw monthly call volume for that same client nearly triple during COVID, with more than 11,500 calls in April alone.
Overall, we saw a jump in average call duration of more than 60% for telehealth-related calls.
This is likely another trend that continues along with more and more teams working remotely, especially with tech giants like Facebook and Google once again setting precedent. Both recently announced they would let employees continue to work from home for the rest of the year. If that kind of flexibility holds, we’ll likely see unprecedented movement among the tech workforce who may now be freer to pick their employer without the prospect of having to pick up their lives and move.
This means pay, flexibility, and, yes, communication, become increasingly important in recruiting and retaining the best tech development and support teams.
2. Communication with Feeling and Facts
To be fair, communications were probably pretty good in most health systems prior to COVID-19, but it was likely more periodic and in the form of an email from HR rather than the constant communications with teams like we’re seeing now.
Every employer in the healthcare arena should continue to focus on employee and stakeholder communication as we see this pandemic through, and indeed well beyond it. According to research from McKinsey & Company, “The overwhelming effects of a crisis strip leadership back to its most fundamental element: making a positive difference in people’s lives. By turning inward to cultivate awareness, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion, and then turning outward to comfort and address the concerns of stakeholders, leaders can exhibit individual care, build resilience, and position their organizations to positively reimagine a postcrisis future.”
Most people are hungry for solid, factual information, and the more that can be disseminated to the organization the better. In fact, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer found that people have increasingly lost faith in traditional authority figures and institutions and have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers.
When we demonstrate to our people and our patients that we understand their struggles and needs and that we trust them enough to share real, factual, meaningful information… as well as to work remotely and get the job done and done well… that’s when everyone wins.
3. Empathic HIT
There has been a dramatic shift in mentality about how and where people do their jobs as well as how and where they receive care. I’ve been heartened by the increased show of heart as we all navigate these uncharted waters.
I believe this uptick in empathy may, in fact, be COVID-19’s most meaningful consequence, and I believe empathic HIT has newfound intrinsic value. Here’s why.
Remember that dramatic increase in call volume and call duration that I mentioned earlier? Yeah, well guess why these calls are lasting longer. The Continuous Improvement Manager who supervises IT Support Desk teams at one organization I’m involved with tells me it’s because their people are focusing as much on the humans on the other end of the line and their holistic needs as they are on the reason they called in the first place.
Recently, one of the supervisor’s agents received a call from an elderly patient in her 80s whose husband had just passed away. To access his life insurance policy and cover funeral expenses, she needed to gather all sorts of health information, but she couldn’t access his medical records. Adding to her stress, she wasn’t particularly tech-savvy. The agent helping her knew the patient was already traumatized to have lost her husband, and she knew it had to be heightened by the pandemic, so she was determined to help ease some of her stress. Instead of transferring her to another department – billing, medical records, insurance – the Support Desk agent stayed on the line with her for two and a half hours, helping her through every phone conversation with all of the right people to ensure she received everything she needed.
While a lengthy phone call may sound like a relatively simple task for some, it meant the world to the human on the other end. These are the kinds of soft skills that make technology work for us. Empathic HIT Support understands that it’s not just a numbers game or getting to the next call. Rather, it’s about being a voice of comfort and reason and being curious enough to ask the questions that lead to the right answers, connecting people with technology in ways that lead to access to care and healing.
I’ve been both proud and impressed with how our healthcare providers have responded to the challenges we’ve been presented these past few weeks and months. We’ve probably grossly over-engineered as many solutions as we’ve simplified, but that’s ok. Healthcare people, in general, don’t wait for solutions, they usually create them. They’re creative people who want to do good for their patients and their people.
About Randy Carpenter
Randy Carpenter is currently the Senior Vice President of the Executive Advisory Board at HCTec. He has over 30 years of experience in all aspects of Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) and has held various leadership roles for healthcare and pharmaceutical services organizations throughout his career.
Today I am going to share some important ways that doctors, hospitals and healthcare marketers can use social media to inform the public during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Priority One: Use social media to convince people to comply with social distancing, and consequently help us all, “flatten the curve!”
The US Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, understands the power of social media to help get information out about the COVID-19 crisis. He was recently asked during a Good Morning America interview how to get younger Americans to take the coronavirus crisis seriously. Dr. Adams responded: “Well, I have a fifteen and a fourteen-year-old, and the more I tell them not to do something, the more they really want to do it.”
“We need to get Kylie Jenner, we need to get our social media influencers out there, in helping folks understand that look, this is serious, this is absolutely serious…People are dying.”
Hours later, Jenner responded by exposing myths and sharing the importance of social distancing with her 166 million Instagram followers. “The coronavirus is a real thing…Please stay inside you guys: practice social distancing, self-quarantine. If you live with your parents, you don’t want to home and get your parents sick. You might have it, and not even know and be infecting other people… It’s serious, and, the only way we’re going to slow this down is if we do this since there’s not a cure right now. Nobody is immune to this. Millennials are not immune to this. New evidence actually shows that a large percentage of people in the hospital right now are young adults.”
Jenner’s video was, of course, a step in the right direction, which leads me to ask you…
If the US Surgeon General trusted Kylie Jenner to help get the word out about how we can fight the Coronavirus, don’t you think healthcare clinicians and medical professionals should use their social media accounts to help too?
Let’s face it. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and millions of Americans nationwide still wildly underestimate the seriousness of coronavirus. You have the opportunity – I would argue responsibility – to use your social media accounts to influence others positively.
If you are a doctor or nurse, I recognize that you probably do not have a vast social media following. That doesn’t matter. Clinicians often forget how much influence they have upon the people they do know. When my kids were little, whenever they got hurt or sick, the first person we usually turned to was our neighbor Denise, who was also a critical care nurse. “Miss Pumpkin” (as our daughters called her), wasn’t just a friend; she was a healthcare thought leader for our family and our neighborhood.
Medical clinicians and other concerned healthcare professionals can share information with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. Also, don’t forget you can simply email friends and family as well. I know a biologist who copies me (and all his friends) on relevant COVID-19 updates via his personal email.
If you are a professional healthcare marketer, you have enormous potential to educate your community through scale. Your first step will be to convince your hospital or practice leadership that your organization not only can, but should, take a leadership role during this crisis, and “join the fight.”
As I mentioned in last week’s blog about how you should adjust your marketing efforts during COVID-19, now is a fantastic time to build your organization’s thought leadership and brand by doing the right thing.
Certainly, you can start by updating all your organization’s website and various organic social media properties [e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube (see a Healthcare Success Healthcare Marketing and COVID webinar on YouTube), LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.] with important updates and tips.
You can also work with your leadership (e.g., Healthcare CEO, Pharmaceutical CMO, Medical Director) to encourage your doctors and medical practice staff likewise to share info on their personal social media accounts.
Beyond that, if you want to reach your community, you can significantly expand your reach via paid social media advertising. Remember, Facebook and Instagram favor personal accounts over business Pages, and as little as 4% of your hospital’s followers will have the opportunity to see your “organic” (“free”) posts there.
By contrast, you can reach tens of thousands (or millions) of people cost-effectively through paid social media advertising. You have nearly limitless options to influence people through paid social media, whether you use boosted posts, video ads, or other formats. You can create and buy social media campaigns yourself or enlist the help of an agency like ours.
We’ll expand on the benefits of social media advertising in future posts – stay tuned for that.
- Use social media to help guide people in your community who fear they may have the virus.
Due to a lot of missteps and mixed messages, people are confused about what they should do if they think they have COVID-19. What’s more, beyond the general advice that is available everywhere (e.g., wash your hands, do not go out if you are sick, avoid people who look ill), the appropriate course of action can vary by community. Here are some of the questions people want answers to:
- “What are COVID-19 symptoms, and should I get tested?”
- “Where in our community can I get tested?”
- “Should I see my primary care doctor, an Urgent Care, or the local hospital?”
- “Is telemedicine an appropriate first step?”
- “Should I stay home if my symptoms are minor?”
- “How will I know when it is time to seek help at a hospital?”
- “How do I avoid infecting others?”
- “Which hospitals in my area are able and ready to take new COVID-19 patients?”
- “What are the risks of the transmission of coronavirus infectious disease at home?”
- “Is there anything else should I know about coronavirus disease diagnosis and transmission?”
If you represent a hospital or other larger healthcare organization, you may already have answers to some of these questions on your website. If so, great—utilize social media to drive people in your community to your appropriate website pages or posts.
If you do not have coronavirus content on your website, you can add whatever information makes sense. Anything you post must be medically accurate, and you’ll need to ensure appropriate legal and ethical safeguards in place.
Alternatively, you can of course simply share information from trusted sources (such as HHS/CDC Coronavirus/COVID-19 website, the CDC.gov, or NIH.gov) on your social media. (See some additional links and resources below.)
- Use email and social media to inform your patient base with additional, important updates and advice.
Beyond educating the wider community, you should guide and inform your patients (or their caregivers) throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Beyond the fact that it is the right thing to do, your valuable information will grow your authority and your relationship with your patients at a time when they need it most.
In addition to some of the topics we’ve already covered above, you can use social media and HIPAA compliant email to help guide patients with additional tips, such as how to:
- Boost your immune system
- Care for and speak to small children at home
- Deal with fear and stay positive
- Cope with stress or sleeplessness
- Pass the time
- Protect their family
- General information and updates as they become available
Make sure all your communications are informative, relevant, accurate, empathetic, and “in touch” with the current environment. Right now, your tone should generally be serious, but over time as people begin to go stir crazy, you may see an opportunity to mix it up with some lighter content.
My wife’s doctor does a great job of providing this kind of information to patients through email and via Instagram.
Also, for inspiration, here is a helpful email I received from Aetna that describes some COVID-19 benefits they have put into place for members.
- Reassure your patients that your hospital or practice has proper safety precautions in place.
A close friend whose husband has colon cancer emailed me last Friday:
So be sure to communicate your safety measures everywhere you can, on your website, social media properties, via email, on the phone, and in-person at the office. You can even post a video on your website, like this example from one of our clients.
- To attract new patients now or immediately following the COVID-19 crisis, think digital healthcare marketing first.
Just like virtually every type of business, many hospitals, medical practices, skilled nursing facilities, and other healthcare organizations are suffering economically from the COVID-19 crisis.
Some providers can (or must) wait for the crisis to end before they begin marketing efforts to attract new patients, while others need to generate revenue and new patients now. While we believe strongly in the power of traditional advertising, our favorite “go-to” in times like these is digital.
Take, for example, the leaders of a multi-city, specialty practice who contacted me this past Friday. Due to COVID-19, their physician liaisons cannot get in to see referring doctors. Even worse, recent Medicare reimbursement cuts have severely reduced their revenues.
Their specialty is medically essential, so they must remain open for business even though prospective patients and their families are distracted by COVID-19.
Our recommendations will likely include:
- Email and social media campaigns that will reach referring doctors directly, without relying on physician liaisons.
- Paid search campaigns on both Google and Bing networks. We did an analysis, and despite COVID-19, there are still thousands of searches each month for the services.
- As you might guess, based upon the rest of this post, paid social media to reach patients and their families.
- If budget permits, we might test connected TV (CTV) and digital radio.
Remember, due to coronavirus, millions of Americans are staying at home right now, and people are spending more time online than ever. We’ll expand more on that in a forthcoming blog post.
Conclusion: COVID Digital Healthcare Marketing & Social Media
While these are incredibly challenging times for everyone, smart social media and digital marketing strategies can still influence patients in a positive, profound way.
Here are 2 sample emails and some jpegs for your convenience. I am also sharing some credible, “shareable” links below. For more updates on COVID-19 and other important topics, follow me on Twitter, @StewartGandolf.