Marketing Physical Therapy for Long COVID
By Peter Decoteau
As we move further away from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, global health organizations continue to grapple with the virus’ enduring impact, and the long-term consequences of COVID-19 on the human body are just now coming into clearer focus.
Recent studies show that many individuals who had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 are experiencing subsequent musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health problems that can span months, and perhaps even longer. While “Long COVID” or “Post COVID,” defined by the CDC as “…a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,”1 is still creating unrest in the medical community, physical therapists are in a unique position to step up as leaders in assessment and treatment for those afflicted by the condition. Of course, in order to reach the right audiences with the right messaging, we’ll need—what else? —an effective marketing strategy!
World Physiotherapy, a global advocacy network representing 660,000 physical therapists worldwide, recently released a briefing paper aimed at establishing a framework for safely screening and rehabilitating individuals experiencing Long COVID and the potential consequences of de-conditioning the illness can present.2 By leveraging this framework, physical therapists can market themselves to both consumers and health care providers as the first-choice care-providers for individuals with these lingering symptoms. This is not only an opportunity to reach a wider population, but to do so in a way that matches need with the most appropriate venue for evaluation and treatment.
FACTS AND TALKING POINTS
When preparing to market physical therapy for Long COVID, a few key factors and talking points should be considered, not the least of which is your clinicians’ capacity and willingness to treat this population of patients.
Once it is established that your physical therapists are prepared to learn about, assess, and rehabilitate patients with Long COVID, you’ll need talking points that answer anticipated questions and can help to drive your messaging.
WHY IS LONG COVID A CONCERN?
medRxiv recently published study that collected survey data from September 6, 2020 to November 25, 2020 from 3,762 respondents in 56 countries, in which 96% of the respondents reported experiencing symptoms and illness more than 90 days after their initial bout of COVID-19.3
Respondents reported a myriad of health issues, with the top three symptoms being fatigue, post exertional malaise, and cognitive dysfunction. These ongoing issues presented difficulty in everyday activities, including more than 75% of the “unrecovered” individuals reporting a decrease in function at work, resulting in use of sick days, paid leave, and even job loss.
WHY ARE PHYSICAL THERAPISTS APPROPRIATE CARE PROVIDERS FOR LONG COVID?
The primary focus of the briefing from World Physiotherapy is on physical therapists’ ability to assess current symptoms, such as Post-Exertional Symptom Exacerbation (PESE), and to create and oversee individualized exercise programs with special consideration for pacing to avoid PESE, cardiac impairment, and other breathing and cardiac issues. Ultimately, with physical therapists’ expertise in managing and optimizing recovery by balancing activity with appropriate rest, World Physiotherapy sees physical therapy as an integral health care provider in the rehabilitation of individuals suffering from Long COVID and its consequences.
MARKETING TO CONSUMERS AND HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS
Once you’ve established the why and the how of Long COVID rehabilitation, you can start to formulate public-facing messaging and content that aims to speak to both the emotional and logical factors of rehabbing the illness. As this is a new condition to most, educating the public and other health care providers (likely PCPs) on Long COVID simply by establishing what it is and why physical therapy is an appropriate option for care can do most of the work—especially if we are the first in the field of health care to do so!
Of course, when it comes to marketing for science and health concepts, simply stating statistics and facts is almost never the most effective way to convey these messages. How successful you are in marketing physical therapy for Long COVID will largely depend on whether you can create engaging content that either tells interesting stories or presents facts and statistics in compelling ways. To that end, you may find that the most effective avenues for marketing physical therapy for Long COVID are:
- Patient stories and testimonials: It’s well understood that testimonials, especially ones that hit emotionally, are some of the most successful pieces of content you can create. If you’ve already helped patients dealing with Long COVID or similar symptoms like de-conditioning, you have an opportunity share their story with others who may be having similar experiences and are unsure of where to go for help. Hearing from people like themselves, instead of from providers touting their own expertise, is often the most convincing form of messaging because of its authenticity. Videos are typically the best media for these stories, but photos with written testimonials can be effective as well.
- News pitches: Another trustworthy, authentic way to get messaging out without having it come from you is to tap into your local news connections. Unfortunately, COVID-19 remains a compelling news story, and reporters and journalists are always searching for new angles to tackle old news. Put together a news pitch with some key facts and compelling human interest stories (see above), send it out to a short list of preferred media outlets, give a follow up call or two, and you may find yourself or your clinicians speaking about the benefits of physical therapy for Long COVID to thousands of community members across your region, free of charge.
- Infographics: Infographics are effective ways to convey otherwise dry facts and statistics because they are visually compelling and, when done right, tell a story. Your ability to put a graphic together that is attractive, easy-to-read and factually comprehensive likely depends on staffing, but it may be worth a one-time expense to have an effective infographic created for you that can be shared both digitally and as a printed piece to a wide range of audiences, including the general population, past and current patients, PCPs, and other health care providers.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Post-COVID Conditions. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html.
2World Physiotherapy. World Physiotherapy Response to COVID-19 Briefing Paper 9. Safe rehabilitation approaches for people living with Long COVID: physical activity and exercise. London, UK: World Physiotherapy; 2021.
3Davis H, Assaf G, McCorkell L, et al. Characterizing Long COVID in an International Cohort: 7 Months of Symptoms and Their Impact. medRxiv. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.12.24.20248802v3.full-text. Published December 2020.
Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at email@example.com.