The Point of Care Communication Council (PoC3) kicked off 2021 by releasing updated industry guidelines aimed at strengthening auditing and transparency practices for companies in the point-of-care sphere. As part of the rollout of those guidelines, the organization held the first of its 2021 virtual industry summits, hoping to spark conversation around the channel’s post-pandemic future.

The updated guidance was designed to streamline audit processes, give a workaround for in-person audits during the pandemic and adjust the volume and frequency of campaign audits required for PoC3 certification. The ultimate goal: to further cement the marketing community’s confidence in the rapidly growing channel. Those rules were originally rolled out in October 2019, in the wake of allegations of fraud against Outcome Health.

Tuesday’s PoC3 summit focused on the industry’s pandemic-era pivots but also on hopes that the POC world will be “back to business as usual” within the first half of 2021. Here are four takeaways from the event.

QR codes for the print-averse?: COVID-19 spurred sudden change in the point-of-care world. With fewer people coming into doctor’s offices for in-person visits, essential sites for POC marketers (like waiting rooms) suddenly became emptier. But some marketers believe the industry pivoted quickly and effectively to address those changes.

Shannon Mitchell, associate director of U.S. consumer media at Merck, said that the pandemic prompted POC companies to pause and reflect upon their typical practices, which resulted in a host of innovation. She added that point-of-care remains as important now to Merck as it ever has.

“COVID is not going to stop cancer patients [from needing treatment] – we need to be there with them,” she explained. “We had to take a pause, take a moment to redesign how this is going to be and try to take it from there.”

While a resurfaced interest in QR codes was fueled by the unwillingness of some patients and caregivers to engage with printed materials, Mitchell still believes in “the power of print,” noting that those materials can still be useful for patients looking for trusted information after a diagnosis.

“How do you absorb all of that [information] when they say you have cancer or diabetes?” Mitchell asked. “There is something to taking these materials away and reading them and digesting them and knowing they’re from a credible source. They’re not misinformation you’re reading online.”

Whither the waiting room?: Despite the significant drop in doctor’s office visits during the pandemic – visits to primary care physicians and urologists, for example, declined by 14% — people are still visiting their doctors.

According to ZS data presented at the event, in-person visits decreased by 35% in April, but that number was down to a 9% decline in October. That means people are likely to return to offices eventually, despite the mid-2020 surge in virtual visits.

“Those people who are seeking healthcare in person, if they’re able to relate stories on how seamless the care has been, how safe physician’s offices have been, that might motivate more in-person care in the days and weeks to come,” said ZS principal Yash Popuri.

But the notion of virtual waiting rooms is likely to solidify as the pandemic continues – and that presents opportunity for POC marketers, Popuri added.

Targeting specific demographics and communities: Another COVID-era takeaway for POC marketers and the networks accommodating them is that they need to more specifically tailor their appeals to the specific demographics certain sites serve.

“We have strong evidence to believe that minority communities are more affected [by COVID-19] – and also less comfortable in seeking healthcare,” Popuri explained.

The key point for interested parties, he added, is that knowledge of local geography and dynamics has become essential. “Now more than ever, it seems there’s a need to understand the demographics in cities and the different challenges of patients in different sites, and to potentially tailor some of the content in the point-of-care communication channel.”

A “megaphone” for vaccine information: Not surprisingly, ZS Associates data shows that patients are less likely to be willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine than physicians. But Popuri views this as an opportunity to use point-of-care communications as a tool to share vaccine information.

“POC can play an important role in taking the message of the importance of taking the vaccine to the patients,” he explained. “It can be used as a megaphone to increase confidence in vaccines.”

To that point, the summit’s multiple panels highlighted that point-of-care will continue to be an essential channel for medical marketers. “I think you’re going to see interesting tactics come back. You’re going to see the technology and data and programmatic-type styles, and I think marketers and publishers are going to start using geography even more,” Mitchell said, surveying the road ahead.

“How can we get more lasered on the geography and synergizing physician-level marketing with patient-level marketing? How can we be on the forefront, being there for our patients and making them realize this space is important… and [that] taking your wellness seriously is more important than ever in this environment?”