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Like many businesses, healthcare providers are hoping to return to some sense of normalcy as the U.S. continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doctor appointments and procedures declined sharply after the virus gained a stronghold in the U.S. For example, Axios reported that cardiology and spine surgery operations declined 35% and 45%, respectively, during the same time period from 2019 and 2020. The NEJM also reported a 48% decline for heart attack admissions at Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California hospitals during the COVID-19 period.
As states and localities reopen in a phased manner, patients will begin to return to hospitals and clinics for regular operations, including check-ups, elective surgeries, and routine care screenings. Healthcare providers must ensure their facilities are safe in order to welcome back their patients. They also need to be able to manage and deploy resources correctly for any increase in admissions.
Social distancing was encouraged so as not to overwhelm hospitals and care delivery professionals. Now, hospitals and clinics are at risk again for being overwhelmed if too many patients seek procedures at the same time. Putting a proper patient scheduling strategy in place can help relieve the pressure an organization might face.
As providers begin to schedule appointments for patients, there will be many questions to answer. Has a rescheduling outreach strategy been thought out? Who is proactively communicating with patients to confirm they feel comfortable with being in a hospital? Is there enough personal protective equipment to service both patients and staff?
During this time of re-engaging with patients, there are a few key messages that healthcare providers need to be proactive in communicating to their patients. The first is “We care about you.” Many patients feel that their caregivers do not really know because they are simply “a patient.” Re-engaging with your patients is an ideal time to reinforce that you care.
The second message is, “It is safe to come back to our facilities, and here is what we have done to safeguard against COVID-19 threats.” Many patients are afraid to go into public places so while reaching out to patients to come back into your facility, reassure them that the caregiver has done everything needed to make it a safe place.
The third communication item that needs to be covered with patients is to understand any changes in their health. If a patient has had a significant change in condition such as a recent fall, that event may now qualify their nonessential surgery to now be essential. Additionally, the caregiver also needs to know if any of their personal or insurance coverage has changed since the last time they were engaged.
In addition to reassuring patients, as hospitals and health systems define their patient re-engagement strategies, there are many tools to consider that will help prevent overwhelming the staff.
Consumerism is setting a new level of expectations for the patient experience. People are used to online scheduling tools, from OpenTable for restaurant reservations to Redfin for real estate. Patients want that same convenience and flexibility when scheduling a doctor’s appointment or surgery consultation. They want to make an appointment on the day and time that fits their schedule.
Hospitals, on the other hand, want to prevent over- or double-booking appointments. By tracking self-scheduled appointments and their appointment inventory, hospitals can also ensure social distancing by making sure not too many patients are on the premises at one time.
A large section of the economy shut down due to COVID-19, but during this time people were and are still getting sick. As patients seek to schedule appointments, they could use some help verifying they are doing so with the right department or specialty.
Simple and automated engagement options such as chatbots on a hospital or health system’s website can help triage potential patients. Combined with the power of self-scheduling, the patient can safely make an appointment with the right department.
If a hospital or health system is collecting data on patients, they could be leveraging the supplemental information across their reports to segment and re-engage patients.
For example, hospitals and clinics can proactively engage patients based on their risk level. If a patient is a member of a lower risk population for COVID-19, a provider can reach out to schedule or reschedule appointments. If a patient is over 65 years old and has comorbid conditions, a hospital might instead reach out to suggest patience and social distancing for non-life-threatening conditions.
Proactively scheduling and communicating safety precautions not only helps manage a waiting room, but it also builds trust with patients.
As the pandemic rages on, last-minute cancellations are more likely than ever before. When patients miss appointments, providers lose revenue, especially if another patient can’t be found to fill that appointment.
Automated reminders like text messages can remind patients to confirm or cancel their appointments in a timely fashion. If a patient needs to cancel, patients on a waiting list can be contacted to take that appointment slot.
Not every patient needs an in-office visit. Many appointments can be conducted via telehealth to provide that first touchpoint of care.
If a patient needs to be seen in person, the case can be forwarded to the appropriate department for a physical visit.
Self-scheduling, chatbots, segmentation, text reminders, and telehealth are just a few of the tools available to prepare healthcare providers for the incoming wave of patient visits in a way that promotes healthy behaviors while not overwhelming staff.
The global pandemic has changed pretty much everything as we once knew it, and things may never be quite the same. But that doesn't mean we can't thrive in a new normal. Watch our recent webinar on re-engaging patients and employees in a different world.