Unbelievably, we find ourselves in July. We are over halfway through the financial year of 2020, possibly the worst any of us will have ever seen. We are in a constantly evolving state, with the infertility market in uncharted territory. This blog section of The Fertility Hub has always focussed on Managing an IVF Unit, but for the last 16 weeks we have monitored the COVID19 crisis. It’s been fast paced with many factors that have affected how IVF Units operate.
Reactive vs. Proactive
Today, I want to focus on both marketing and operational strategy. In any crisis the marketing department takes centre stage. Communications is their department and they have the responsibility of protecting the brand and conveying the operational changes in the clinic. They have to get the balance right on the messaging that reaches potential patients. So far in this crisis our actions have been mainly reactive to the worldwide challenges. Now is the time to sit down and focus on how we can be proactive going forward.
Develop a plan for all scenarios
It is time to ask ourselves some difficult questions. We need to think the unthinkable. After all, we could never have imagined this business scenario! We have been through and are going through personal trauma and business trauma. COVID19 has exposed all elements of weakness in the business model. Let’s just break that down into best case scenario, middle of the road and worst-case scenario. By having a plan, we are better equipped to deal with whatever is around the corner.
Management teams must pull together
As I said, Marketing take centre stage but never has it been more crucial to work hand in hand with operations, finance and HR. All these key managers in an IVF unit must develop the business plan from scratch, taking in to account all the factors that have now changed.
Empathise with patient fear and frustration
Marketing are in charge of how the clinic’s brand is perceived throughout the crisis. Patients will scrutinise who has got the balance right of this being a human tragedy yet kept the focus on patient hopes for a family. It is not business as usual and your messaging needs to empathise with patient fear and frustration.
Operational policy changes
Operations are in charge of all the huge changes that have happened in the clinic. Ordering PPE for staff and patients. They are in charge of social distancing, managing workloads to ensure there are less patients in the clinic at any one time. How much of the clinical side can move to telehealth? Procurement of COVID19 testing. The list for the operations department is endless in every type of scenario.
Finance have the biggest headache. There is no balancing the books, the revenue from closure is lost. Even targets going forward won’t be met with less patients and now a global recession. They are tasked with looking at how the clinic can operate with the lowest possible outgoings. And what is the least you can charge for treatment in order to attract new patients.
You may wonder where HR fits in to this puzzle. They are tasked with defining new roles and job descriptions. They also have to work with finance to ensure salaries can be met. They also have the difficult task of looking at job cuts.
Best case scenario
COVID19 has changed the entire landscape from the world we knew in January. Even in the best-case scenario, the damage is already done and we need to focus on recovery. That damage is the economy. For IVF Units, this means patients ability to access and afford fertility treatment. So, even if we dare to dream of a COVID19 free world or a world in which COVID19 is under control. We still need to focus on the financial aspect. The global downturn in the economy will leave no country unscathed. Depending on whether your clinic focuses on local patients or whether you wish to attract international patients, you need to adjust the budgets. So, this is your most optimistic of plans, this plans for recovery and potential growth areas that can be identified. It still needs to air on the side of caution and targets will be dramatically reduced from your original 2020 plan.
Middle of the road scenario
Realistically the best we can hope for here is that we stay the same as we are now. We are learning to live and work with COVID19 as part of our lives. That means social distancing remains in effect, as does PPE and regular testing of staff and patients. Air travel restrictions are starting to lift, but we have to face facts. That can change at any moment. Monitoring of the countries where you are trying to attract patients and updating your COVID19 page with any local restrictions to your clinic. We may also be faced with localised lockdowns and this makes planning and budgeting difficult. But as I said having a plan and a strategy to cope through these uncertain times has to be better than no plan at all.
Worst case scenario
COVID19 makes a resurgence and prevalence is high with a second spike. We go into another global lockdown. The assisted reproduction governing bodies advise clinics to close again. This is the nightmare none of us want to repeat. But there is a chance that it could happen and we must be prepared of how this will be conveyed to patients for a second time. Also, we need to know how the clinic can sustain itself for another indefinite period.
Listen to patient feedback
For each of these scenarios each department should list the opportunities in each situation and the weaknesses of each situation. You can then work out a clear operations policy, a communications strategy and a financial forecast for each situation. Our goal here is survival through the most difficult of times in our career. They key here for all departments is to LISTEN. Listen to your patients, take on board their hopes and fears. Work these into your strategy. You need feedback from the clinical staff. Develop questionnaires and surveys of patients. You need weekly team meetings with heads of all departments. Never has teamwork been so important.
Avoid short-term gain
Ensure you have a balanced response to each scenario. You need to avoid the temptation of short-term gain that could damage your reputation amongst patients in the long term. Remember the patients are talking to each other, make sure you are part of that conversation. You need to create capacity to handle more patient enquiries while bearing in mind that there will be fewer patient conversions.
Marketing need to communicate any operational changes, are you changing your payment terms, extending them, offering lay over plans? What changes have been made to your cancellation policy? Patients will be scared if they commit and then cannot travel that they will lose some if not all their money. These are important factors that patients need reassurance over.
Get planning your online campaigns
Now is the time to increase digital spend, I’ve spoken a lot about how much more time people are spending online since the COVID19 outbreak. Get your clinic name and proactive responses in front of patients. Show them that you have thought of every eventuality and that they can trust your clinic. On a final note, if you are marketing to infertility patients in the US, get planning and booking NOW! The US election is in November, these presidential campaigns will bump up the cost of advertising as you fight to get your message across.
I do hope today’s blog wasn’t too much doom and gloom, however I think it’s important we treat this time as the lull before another potential storm! I hope that I’m wrong and we can start to resume some kind of business as normal, but I don’t think we are quite out of the woods yet.
Please feel free to drop me a line, I love to hear from you and understand the challenges your clinic and country are currently facing.
Veronica Montgomery, Patient and Clinic Liaison Consultant
The Fertility Hub
Previous blogs in this series
Part one – COVID19 Crisis Management for IVF Clinics
Part two – Marketing and Communications During COVID19
Part three – Financial Implications of COVID19
Part four – The use of PR during the COVID19 pandemic
Part five – Protecting your brand during COVID19
Part six – Online marketing during COVID19
Part seven – Using online seminars to build trust.
Part eight – The power of newsletters during the COVID19 crisis.
Part nine – Video marketing tips during COVID19.
Part ten – Covid19 – The Indian Perspective.
Part eleven – The use of podcasts.
Part twelve – Cost effective marketing.
Part thirteen – Digital marketing during COVID19
Part fourteen – Best practice on your website
Part fifteen – How I.T can enhance your marketing efforts