Shane Kimsey, Director of Operations, has been a leader with TRAFFIK Health for a decade, and worked with some of the largest brands in the health care industry since the 1990s. We sat down to talk with him about the coronavirus and how health plans should communicate with their members – and the public at large – during this important time.

Shane, what should health plans be doing during this time of rapidly-developing public concern about the coronavirus?

Shane: Health plans are in a unique position because not only do they need to communicate to their customers just like every other company during this time, but they provide the coverage, and in some cases the care, which members are thinking about every day.

We recommend health plans take a proactive approach to communicating with their members on a regular basis, to calm fears and inform about services available. For example, we’ve been helping many of our clients promote their telehealth services as a way to connect with a provider without risking exposure in a medical facility. We’ve also been helping plans communicate about policies regarding waiving copayments or deductibles for COVID-19 tests.

How you communicate those kind of messages is important, to show leadership on behalf of the plan, in responding to this moment in public health.

What role does marketing play?

Shane: Health plans’ marketing departments play a critical role, to speak as the voice of the member in the internal conversation. Communication should not be driven exclusively by medical or service teams, but in collaboration with marketing.

This is one of those times where the deep knowledge of member psychology that marketing teams and agencies like TRAFFIK Health possess are critical to successfully communicating. Confusing, unclear, or overly “official” messages could leave members more frustrated, and they will head right to social media to air that concern.

Speaking of social media, what are the best ways for plans to communicate these messages to their members during this time?

Shane: The goal is to speak clearly and consistently and to show leadership. Plans should thoughtfully consider every medium they have available, and use them on a regular schedule, to reach the largest number of their members possible.

We’ve been supporting plans over the last 3 weeks in creating direct mail — going from starting to in-the-mail in less than 1 week — as well as email and social media posting. Monitoring, responding and managing your brand’s social communities is critical during this time.

We’ve also seen the rise of the “announcement” ad – a full-page print ad or above-the-fold digital ad that contains a message of leadership. These tactics will reinforce the brand’s strength with their members now, and have a lasting, positive impact on the member relationship far beyond.

Lastly, if a plan has the budget, they should consider radio and TV. Direct, mass messages can go a long way to improving public health and empowering members, reaching those who are watching/listening to the news daily.

What should marketers be thinking about as this situation develops?

Shane: Be clear and be consistent. Your members have already seen so many shifting messages in the media the last few weeks. Regular, clear, wise communication will cause plans to become one of the most trusted sources of information, as they should be. Take the time to make sure your reading grade-levels are right. Medical information that can’t be understood by the average audience will make you seem out of touch.

You should give people clear courses of action to get more information, whether that is directing them to your telehealth or customer service numbers. The more your plan can be a trusted source of ongoing information, the more chance you’ll have of helping people.

Lastly, try to communicate hope. Alarmist messages will cause more panic and could even have a negative impact on member health by increasing stress. When you’re sharing critical information about member safety and health, it’s important to help people have hope and understand all the facts about this developing situation.

During this time, we’re proud to partner with the health plans we serve in putting members first, and to help communicate in ways that will have a positive brand impact — creating trust that lasts long beyond the current situation.

We’ll update this article as well, as the situation develops. Stay tuned.