Over the past year, the pandemic has discouraged access to care. In fact, in a September 2020 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC stated that 12 percent of adults had neglected emergency care during the COVID-19 pandemic, while 32 percent had gone without routine care, like a wellness check or chronic care management. Health systems can't expect patients to be eager to receive care this year as we continue to face an ongoing pandemic. With patients delaying care last year, health systems must focus on fostering strong patient engagement to prevent further health complications.
Here are three ways your health system can drive patient engagement by meeting the needs of patients.
Communicate About The COVID-19 Vaccine
As we approach the second year of the pandemic, distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is underway, and patients want to hear from you. Think back to the beginning of the pandemic. Patients had many questions about new protocols and what to expect. The same situation is happening with the vaccine. Patients have questions about the vaccine and how to register to receive it. Providing dedicated hotlines staffed by professional agents can help answer questions and share information to help patients and caregivers navigate the phases of distribution without placing increased burden on your internal staff. Patients also want to be notified when it's their turn to receive the vaccine. This can be accomplished by sending a text message or email that says, "You are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Book your appointment using this link." Even more, your health system should be communicating with those patients that aren't eligible yet. Let them know that they will receive an email, text, or phone call to schedule an appointment when they are eligible. By doing so, you prepare patients to be contacted by your health system, making them more likely to schedule their appointment quickly.
In addition, providing a positive experience for COVID-19 vaccines allows your health system to create patient loyalty. Patients with a positive experience may be more likely to return to your health system in the future. Conversely, if patients have a negative experience, it could sway them from seeking future care at your health system. Even worse, those patients might inform other potential vaccine patients to seek a competitor or retail clinic to get vaccinated.
Offer Hybrid Care to Patients
In 2020, telehealth gained momentum as a way for health systems to provide care during the pandemic. However, virtual visits will never completely replace in-person care because things like procedures, labs, imaging, and immunizations can't be done virtually. Even more, virtual visits have yet to reach the same level of patient experience that in-person care provides. In fact, according to Lumeon's U.S. Patient Access Leadership Report, 74% of report respondents said telehealth provided a good patient experience, yet only about 38% said they thought virtual care was equal to in-person care when it comes to patient experience.
With that being said, patients will still want health systems to provide virtual visits now and even when the pandemic is over. Patients enjoy the added convenience that virtual visits offer, especially for follow-up, routine, and mental health appointments. To meet patients' expectations with both in-person and virtual visits, health systems should promote hybrid care to patients. With hybrid care, physical care joins digital care to create a cohesive experience for both patients and providers. This type of care ensures that physicians can adequately treat necessary medical conditions in-person but still allows patients to schedule a virtual visit when appropriate.
Promote Health Literacy Through Patient Education Programs
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard for patients to feel in control of their health, even more so for patients with low health literacy. At a time when the public needs access to reliable and comprehensible health information more than ever, much of the content that has been provided was written in a format that only a small percentage of Americans can truly comprehend. The burden of low health literacy doesn't just rely on the individual; health systems must promote patient education and engagement to improve patients' health literacy.
By promoting classes and events, you enable patients to have more accessible interactions that promote health and well-being, ultimately improving health literacy. For example, your health system can offer virtual or in-person classes to discuss the importance of being vaccinated. Americans with low health literacy might be fearful of receiving the vaccine because they don't fully understand its benefits and purpose. By offering classes, you can combat any doubts they might have and explain when, where, and how to get vaccinated.
Patient engagement has never been more important as health systems across the U.S. vaccinate millions of Americans. Utilizing a patient engagement solution to compliment your vaccination outreach efforts can ensure that every eligible patient gets vaccinated. To learn how we can help with COVID-19 vaccine scheduling and reminders, download our infographic: Six Ways to Prepare for the COVID-19 Vaccine.