Nowhere has the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic been felt more acutely than in the healthcare sector – from millions of Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths to its impact on severely limiting the delivery of other healthcare treatments and services.

We spoke with the marketing technology lead at a world-renowned healthcare provider about the digital innovations in patient-doctor engagement they undertook as the pandemic emerged, and how those innovations continue to improve the critical personal connection between patients and their doctors.

Q. Tell us about the pandemic’s impact on healthcare services.

A. The pandemic made patient-doctor connections almost impossible for all but the most life-threatening needs. Patients were reluctant to visit a hospital or their doctor for fear of infection and so delayed or cancelled routine care. A 2020 CDC report showed that four in 10 US adults avoided medical care because of Covid-19 concerns.

Healthcare providers are acutely aware of what delaying care means for our patients. Conditions that need simple but immediate treatment become complex and life-threatening if put off. We had to work quickly to support the immediate Covid impact, while also maintaining and enhancing our support and access throughout the pandemic’s evolution.

Q. Tell us about your shift to virtual medical care.

A. We’d already been focusing on improving digital healthcare as a core goal of our  digital transformation strategy, along with expanding our services into new locations. We responded rapidly to the pandemic by shifting care delivery from in-person to virtual to help ensure the safety of both patients and clinicians, while encouraging patients to maintain attention to their health needs. The beginning of the pandemic saw telemedicine visits increase more than 3,000% in just weeks, from about 250 encounters per day in March to nearly 10,000 per day by the end of April.

Q. That was a chaotic and uncertain time. How did you manage through that?

A. We knew it was vital that we maintained a strong connection with patients. We needed them to know we were still there for them and that we had strict policies and measures in place to protect them. We had to reach out with accurate and timely information, but it was clear that people had various levels of worry. A single, broad message would not work.

As a long-time Sitecore user, we had consolidated several disconnected websites into a single Sitecore platform. It was this foundation that enabled us to rapidly launch a campaign that included multiple personalization and communication strategies including a Covid-19 information hub, landing page, A/B testing, and improved search techniques.

Our Covid information hub — which took just two days to build — serves up a wide range of up-to-the-moment information to help patients better understand Covid-19 and how best to access healthcare services. Information includes live-streamed press conferences, preventative measures to contain the spread of the virus, how to recognize symptoms, where to find testing locations, and protocols for in-person visits.

With the rich content, we saw a 200% increase in completed form submissions.

Q. How did you approach personalization in such a tumultuous time?

A. We developed a structured marketing control panel in Sitecore to track patient engagement and defined personas for three levels of Covid concern, then tailored campaigns and journeys for each. One persona was for patients who were very concerned and hesitant to engage, another aligned to patients who were somewhat concerned, and a third was for patients who had no issues.

Depending on which ad a patient clicked to get information about Covid-19, they were directed to a personalized landing page according to their level of concern. The same personalization for personas carried through to the main website. For example, audiences with the third persona — no concerns — were presented with a banner that talked about returning to normal activities, while audiences in the first persona — very concerned — got a reassuring message about our safety policies.

We ran A/B tests with four call-to-action (CTA) page variations to determine which drove the most conversions to one of the most critical sections of our site: where patients schedule video appointments. We increased visits to our video appointment section more than 30% with our most effective CTA. Overall, site visits increased by 8%.

This method of personalization also reinforced our content strategy and gave each audience persona an empathic experience as they visited other Covid-related pages throughout our site.

Q. I understand you’ve integrated with Salesforce and other technologies. What value does that bring?

A. Our website comprises thousands of pages with a lot of clinical service line content and location-based information. But as these pages were updated with Covid-19 information, the results for key terms started to get bogged down. We integrated Sitecore with Coveo search and used analytics to link popular terms in the news to relevant keywords on our site, such as "Covid", "Corona", "testing centers", and "vaccine". Through this integration, we enabled patients to quick and easily reach the most accurate, up-to-date Covid information they needed.

We’re also integrating Sitecore with Salesforce Marketing Cloud, enriching subscriber data in Salesforce Marketing Cloud with customer data and analytics in Sitecore marketing tools, including engagement value, segmentation, profiles, and patterns. With the integrated Sitecore-Salesforce solution, it took us less than an hour to set up a registration form for users to subscribe to informative emails. That would have taken days without integration.

As we expand services into new geographical areas, we are using the integrated Sitecore-Salesforce environment to develop more robust subscriber lists, bridge audience gaps, and personalize messaging with a regional and localized focus.

Q. Personalization seems key.

A. Sitecore has allowed us to transition from a standard, rules-based personalization to an adaptive approach based on user patterns and profiles. Personalization and optimization are now audience-based, rather than simply on geolocation, time of day, or referring source. With Sitecore, our personalization is more aligned with our patients’ interests and perceived goals, so we’re delivering a much richer patient experience.

Throughout this horrible pandemic, Sitecore has enabled us to help our patients reduce their apprehension and access the healthcare they need despite the restrictions. Our seamless pivot in this emergency and continuous improvement is a mark of success for our digital transformation and healthcare leadership.