In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, health systems have taken a financial hit. According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals are bleeding more than $50 billion per month due to the large number of cancelled elective procedures as well as the costs associated with treating COVID-19 patients. As states begin to reopen, the rush is on to recoup lost revenue and boost patient acquisition. The battle for healthcare consumers has never been fiercer as health systems and clinicians fight to win back patients.
But healthcare consumers aren't exactly rushing to receive care. In fact, according to a recent Morning Consult poll, fewer than one in five US adults are currently comfortable doing (formerly) everyday activities like eating at a restaurant or going to a shopping mall. Consumers' willingness to visit healthcare providers in person for non-COVID care is only slightly better at 21 percent. The study also reported that consumers were twice as likely to visit their primary care doctor than other healthcare facilities, including hospitals, specialists, and walk-in clinics. And when it comes to scheduling a routine in-office visit, nearly half of patients surveyed say they will wait two to six months, with almost one in ten reporting they were not comfortable going to a doctor's office in person for a year or more.
Health systems are clearly facing an uphill battle to bring back patients and lost revenue. Here are three steps you can take now to improve the patient experience and acquire more patients along the way.
Communicate with Patients
In the battle for patient acquisition, communication has never been more important. Yet, many providers have remained silent during the pandemic. According to recent polling data from Public Opinion Strategies, only 18 percent of Americans say they regularly receive health-related information regarding COVID-19 from their doctors or providers—yet 66 percent of Americans view doctors and providers as highly trusted sources of information. Clearly, consumers are looking to healthcare providers to alleviate their fears and concerns and explain the measures they've implemented to keep patients safe and healthy. In addition to letting patients know you are reopening, be sure to include information regarding your hours of operation, ways to schedule in-person and virtual visits, and changes to your intake and waiting room procedures. Don't forget to share specific information around sterilization practices and procedures for testing at-risk patients. Patient communication is a vital strategy to restoring consumer confidence and bringing patients back.
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Offer Telehealth Visits
COVID-19 has also dramatically changed the way patients access their healthcare, forcing providers to go digital virtually overnight. Prior to COVID-19, Stanford Children's Health had an all-time daily high of 35 telehealth visits. Their new high is now 500 visits. Cleveland Clinic logged more than 60,000 telemedicine visits in March. Their previous monthly average was 3,400 visits. According to a recent Gist Healthcare survey, only 21% of consumers said they would schedule a routine visit to their doctor's office in the next four to six months over safety concerns. Clearly, this digital revolution isn't going anywhere. If you haven't done so already, consider which of your services are best to transition to telehealth visits, including classes and events. Also, think about your patient populations and which healthcare consumers would most easily adapt to using technology for a virtual visit. Don't forget to create a defined technical support strategy. Identify the support team that will troubleshoot issues and test the platform with patients until issues are resolved. If issues can't be remediated prior to the telehealth visit, use other types of technology such as transitioning the visit from online to over the phone.
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Reevaluate Your Online Scheduling Experience
With more patients transitioning to telehealth, your list of competitors is expanding. You're no longer competing with the healthcare system across the street. Instead, you're competing with healthcare systems across your state. Now is the time to reevaluate your online scheduling experience. Is your solution intelligent enough to help you win organic search and beat out the competition? A recent Doctors.com survey found that 63% of respondents will choose one provider over another because of a strong online presence. But don't stop there. Identify opportunities to improve the entire digital patient experience. Are you ranking well in search results? If not, apply best practices for search engine optimization (SEO), including using keywords, consistently updating your website with high-quality content, and staying active on social media. Are you managing reviews and responding to comments on social media? How easily can a patient find and schedule an appointment with the right provider in an appropriate venue of care on your website? Take time to review your patient acquisition strategy and look for ways to remove friction while making it easy for patients to find and schedule appointments with you.
Patients will return but how quickly that happens will depend on the strength of your patient acquisition strategy. Taking steps now to extend your reach with proactive patient communication, telehealth visits, and online and live-voice scheduling will pay dividends later. To learn more about strengthening your patient acquisition strategy, check out this tip sheet.