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How might the coronavirus (COVID-19) affect private healthcare?

Written by Louis

UPDATE: For an updated look at the impact of coronavirus please see our follow-up article: How is the coronavirus impacting healthcare digital marketing?


The healthcare industry will be right at the forefront of the battle to quell the coronavirus. But in many ways, private healthcare operators will need to make the same considerations as any public-facing business to protect their staff and customers, or in this case, patients.

So what are the ways in which doctors, surgeons and consultants can mitigate against the negative impact from the virus; both operationally, and from a marketing perspective? In this article, we take a look.

What impact is the coronavirus having on healthcare marketing?

To find out what impact the corona virus is having on healthcare marketing, and what impact it is likely to have in the future, Medico Digital has analysed the search volume, traffic and enquiry rate across a number of industries, and modeled this against the search data seen from markets that are weeks ahead of the UK in their coronavirus outbreak.

Firstly, we have not seen search trends change in early March for any key search terms, suggesting the impact of outbreak on intent has so far been negligible. 

Graph showing average search popularity for key search terms across 4 sampled healthcare topics (cosmetic, orthopaedic, gynaecology/fertility and cardiology). On these graphs, 100 represents the peak popularity for the term for any filtered region and time.

The same is true for enquiry conversion rates:

Graph showing average organic search enquiry rates across a selection of Medico Digital clients (including typical downward trend over the Christmas period).

What we can expect from the coming weeks is obviously hard to predict, but we can look to Italy’s search volume trends as a rough guide.

Graph shows average search popularity in Italy for key search terms related to cosmetic, orthopaedic, gynaecology/fertility and cardiology specialties

Graph shows the search popularity for private healthcare related keywords by Italian region from 12th Feb – 9th March 2020, vs the number of confirmed coronavirus cases (as of 11th March) (source ).

How should you adapt your healthcare marketing strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic?

The backbone of all robust digital marketing strategies is always search engine optimisation (SEO). Being organically accessible to potential patients looking for the services you offer is of the utmost importance. SEO is also a slow moving and long-term process. With this in mind, we recommend staying the course with your organic strategies as the value any work put in now on your website, content, authority building etc. will be realised in weeks and months time as the economy starts to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the UK follows a similar trajectory to Italy, we should anticipate a 50% reduction in search volume over the coming weeks. For PPC this shouldn’t affect plans, if there is less search volume there will be less budget spent. If people are less likely to enquire, then you are at least promoting the brand and we can use that data to retarget potential over the coming weeks and months.

For social media marketing we should potentially update messaging to suggest that people can book in advance or make use of video consultations (if possible) to consult patients from the comfort of their own homes. If you’re interested in setting up a temporary video consultation service we would recommend using Zoom, a free, robust video conferencing service that will be easy for potential patients to make use of.

Consider setting up temporary video consultation services through Zoom – speak to us today for help in getting this off the ground.

If the situation worsens considerably we would recommend pulling back on media spend from channels in the following order:

  1. Social
  2. Google Ads

Does coronavirus present any marketing opportunities?

If competitors pull marketing spend first, that could provide a tactical opportunity to fill the space and pick up on leads and brand salience in their absence. Similarly, if your industry is one such as cosmetics that competes in the medical tourism space, in the short (and potentially medium) term we should see a shift to more UK based procedures.

Any downturn in treatments can also provide a brief reprieve in which you can use the time to “get your house in order”. This might be writing new website pages that have been placed on the backburner due to time constraints, to taking the time to analyse the offerings of your closest competition and working out how you can better differentiate your own services.

It’s also worth considering that general internet usage is likely to increase in periods of self-isolation, which could be a time to capitalise on this time of patient reflection.

Tough decisions

For private healthcare operators in the UK, it seems inevitable that some difficult decisions will need to be made during this coronavirus outbreak. Whether it is cost-cutting, modifying or reducing your services, or letting go of staff – the time we are living in is anything but ‘business as usual’, and so extraordinary steps will have to be taken.

While practices can predict or plan for some knock-on effects from coronavirus, perhaps the most unsettling element of the outbreak right now is the cloud of uncertainty which is hanging. We don’t know exactly how developments will pan out, but what we can do is take the correct immediate steps, and make the right kind of contingencies for the future.

We will update this article as more information becomes available to us.

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