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Marketing Physical Therapy for Long COVID

building blocks spelling out 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.

While the immediate impact of COVID-19 continues to present challenges for patients and their health care providers, the
long-term effects of the virus are set to create new concerns in the following months and years. It is vital that health
care professionals, and the broader public, understand how the symptoms of these issues present and how they can be
managed and treated moving forward; one of the best ways to do this is by positioning physical therapists, through
strategic marketing activities to both patients and health care providers, as an essential part of rehabilitating Long
COVID. 

References:

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

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 peter.decoteau@ptsmc.com.