Access to fact-based medical advice related to the coronavirus is arguably the most pressing issue for users visiting healthcare websites today.
And while the vast majority of sites already have a messaging strategy in place, now is a good time to reassess whether you’re meeting users where they’re at with the information and resources they need to navigate these uncertain times. And, in a larger sense, this pandemic represents a learning moment and an opportunity to make sure your organization is prepared with effective digital tools and messaging strategies for communicating during a future crisis.
We recently commissioned an informal study to take a closer look at the top questions shared by healthcare site users as viewed through the lens of the COVID-19 crisis, understanding that the key to search rankings is addressing the needs and questions of your users. Here are our key initial findings, along with recommendations for the best ways to address users’ immediate needs for easy access to reliable information during a public health emergency.
User Question 1 — How do I know if I have COVID-19?
In a sea of confusing and often conflicting information, users are looking for a clear picture of which symptoms are most likely to point to a positive diagnosis of any looming public health threat and which most likely signal a different condition.
Solution: Implement Virtual Methods for Self-Assessing Symptoms
To address this need, many providers have created coronavirus digital symptom checkers, including Utah’s Intermountain Health and New York’s Mather Hospital, which also offers a Spanish-language version. Many also provide links to unbiased additional resources that provide an even deeper understanding of the condition and its symptoms, such as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the National Institutes of Health.
User Question 2 — How does the coronavirus spread?
The public continues to urgently seek fact-based information about how transmission occurs and the practical steps they can take in their daily lives to prevent it.
Solution: Create Easy to Use and Navigate FAQ Lists
Answer frequently asked questions (FAQs), outline the risk factors for infection within public settings, and allay user fears by explaining the measures your own health care system or hospital has put into place to minimize transmission.
New York’s Northwell Health System offers a comprehensive and navigable list of resources on their site describing changes in hospital policies and increased staff protection in light of COVID-19, including protocols for daily environmental cleaning, disinfection, and waste management.
User Question 3 — How and when should I seek care?
Users want to understand the criteria they should use to decide when to visit their family provider or local emergency room, as well as instructions for how to obtain testing at those facilities or at temporary or drive-through centers within the community.
Solution: Leverage Videos & Other Virtual Solutions for Access to Expert Advice
It’s important to offer real-time data on the current testing capacity and how users can find a physician or facility should they need further help. Sacramento-based Sutter Health provides users with expert-backed insights on these topics via videos from its Chief Quality and Safety Advisor that highlight the science behind the coronavirus spread, and they also offer a checklist to help patients understand when it’s an appropriate time to contact a medical professional.
New York-Presbyterian Hospital provides a good model for how to communicate the availability of virtual options for assistance, including hotlines, online communication channels (e.g., chatbots), and telemedicine options for those looking for one-on-one physician feedback on their situation. They also provide a related link for inquiries regarding their immediate crisis-related hiring needs.
User Question 4 — Will I be able to get medical attention if I need it?
Users are looking for ongoing reassurance about the current status of treatment capacity, the bandwidth of medical staff, and the availability of hospital beds, masks, and other types of equipment should they get sick enough to require them.
Solution: Adjust Your Messaging Strategy to Highlight Capabilities and Conditions
The University of Utah Health System addresses common shared concerns about respirator availability and the scope of available care, and then goes one step farther with information about the negative-pressure tents they established to provide a safe environment with increased capacity during the coronavirus outbreak.
On a related measure, major healthcare providers like the Mayo Clinic and New Jersey-based Atlantic Health System provide detailed explanations about visitation policies at their facilities for those who are affected and are concerned about getting family support.
User Question 5 — What is the current status of this pandemic?
Site visitors are in search of real-time statistics and recent news surrounding an outbreak and its outlook — both nationally and specifically in their local community.
Solution: Utilize Digital Solutions for Providing Timely and Geographically-Specific Data
Consider following the lead of Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Health System, which posts up-to-the-minute updates and social media highlights of major advancements like their developmental COVID-19 antibody test and the high-pressure ventilator from NASA being tested at their facilities. It is appropriate to discuss these promising new technologies and treatments if they can be credibly supported by expert medical opinion.
In our own practice, we have moved quickly to implement a variety of tools on our clients’ sites, including temporary alert banners and modal popups, that address urgent user messaging needs and changes in services and offerings during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Keep in mind that all of the crisis-related tools and information presented here should be integrated into your site in a way that is easy for users to find and navigate, with clear pathways for finding out more or reaching someone to speak to in person. These steps go a long way toward allaying fears and providing stability during times of great emotion and concern.
Read more on related topics here: Making Uncertainty Your Secret Weapon: How to Get Ahead of the Curve