Recently, Stericycle Communication Solutions hosted a video webinar with partners, Yext and Podium, to discuss how COVID-19 has changed the patient journey and what healthcare might look like in the future. In preparation for the webinar, we interviewed Matt Dickson, Vice President of Product, Strategy and GM of Communication Solutions at Stericycle, to better understand his point of view on the subject. With over twenty years in the healthcare industry, Matt brings a wealth of industry knowledge, technical product expertise, and thought leadership to the Stericycle team. Here's what he said.
Q. How has COVID-19 disrupted the patient journey?
A. The biggest impact COVID-19 has had on the patient journey is on adherence. While adherence isn't really a new challenge, it is a problem that is being amplified during the pandemic. With stay at home orders in place across the country, healthcare systems have been unable to collect information on whether a patient is adhering to their provider's recommended care plan. As health systems across the nation start opening back up for routine care, it's important that they reach out to their high risk, chronic patients and begin to triage who they want to see first. It's also important to note that long periods of isolation and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic are creating a mental health crisis, which can exacerbate other issues. For example, alcoholic beverage sales rose by 55% in late March, when many states and public health officials urged residents to stay at home, compared to sales in 2019. We know that isolation and loneliness lead to anxiety, depression, and poor mental health, which in turn leads to a lack of adherence to care plans.
Q. Do you believe the Healthcare industry is prepared for this disruption?
A. Universally, I don't believe the healthcare industry is prepared for this level of disruption, but there are some health systems that are better positioned than others. This includes health systems that were already actively involved in patient communication, engagement, and education and that had already made investments in telehealth and population health management tools before the Coronavirus pandemic. Typically, these were also organizations that had already been transitioning to more aggressive value-based care arrangements and had taken a communal approach to health care with high levels of cooperation both inside and outside their health systems. I believe these are the same sets of tools required to successfully navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
Q. What are some examples of best practices you see clients using to keep patients informed, safe, and engaged in their health?
A. Keeping patients informed, safe, and engaged is always important but even more so now. Clients who are doing this well are those that have implemented a clear and thoughtful patient communication strategy that is tailored to the unique needs of each patient population. For example, some of our clients have a specific communication strategy for the immunocompromised and elderly, which is much different than their communication strategy for a population that is 18 to 25 years of age with no underlying conditions. We also applaud clients that are both proactive and prescriptive in their communications – not just reactive. Vague instructions such as "practice social distancing" are not as meaningful as instructing patients to keep six feet of distance between themselves and others. We're also seeing clients leverage their communication tools to share important information and resources with patients who may need extra assistance from the community. For example, many local communities have started free grocery delivery services for seniors. The bottom line is to tailor your patient communications so they are timely, meaningful, and useful to your target audience.
Q. Patients will be back in the office seeking care soon. What are some challenges to overcome as we navigate this transition?
A. There will be a second wave of disruption once the healthcare industry opens back up. During the SARS outbreak, for example, chronic-care hospitalizations for diabetes plummeted during the crisis but skyrocketed afterwards. Access will be a real issue due to the lack of adherence and lack of availability to care during COVID-19. Health systems need to start thinking now about who to triage into the first and earliest available appointments, which appointments can be handled via telehealth, and how to manage optimizing the scheduling process going forward.
Q. How will the COVID-19 disruption change healthcare in the future?
A. COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way people interact with one another. At a time when social distancing has become the new norm, we crave human interaction and are flocking to video services to get our social fix. When it comes to our healthcare, I believe we will see widescale adoption of technology around telehealth and remote patient monitoring. We're already seeing provides scramble to implement this technology as they seek to boost dwindling patient volumes and recoup lost revenue while promoting the practice of social distancing. Part of this demand will be driven out of necessity but part of it will be consumer-driven as patients become increasingly more comfortable consuming healthcare this way.
To hear more from Matt Dickson, listen to The Healthcare Solutions Project where he discusses price transparency, value-based care and how organizations can better engage patients.