Best practices in patient communication during a pandemic.

April 2, 2020 | Stericycle Communication Solutions

Overview - As COVID-19 cases appear across the United States, patients and caregivers are seeking guidance from healthcare organizations on how to stay safe and healthy.  Having the right patient engagement tools and strategy in place are essential to keep patients informed and help guide them to the right resources and venue of care. With more than 300,000 unique patient engagements orchestrated every day across live voice and digital channels, here are our guidelines and best practices for managing patient communications during a health crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving global health crisis that requires timely communication. Patients and caregivers are searching for reliable, up-to-date information to help protect themselves and their communities. According to Google, the search volume for COVID-19 information and news has far surpassed normal large volume search terms as people try to stay informed. Providing real-time information relevant to your community can be the difference between containment and spread of the virus, while also instilling confidence and lowering stress in patient populations.

As a leader in patient engagement solutions, we have developed the following recommendations and best practices to help physicians and healthcare facilities safely and compliantly communicate with patients.  These recommendations are currently being implemented by our clients and are based on CDC guidelines as well as more than three decades of experience supporting emergency departments, urgent care clinics, physicians, and specialists.

Inbound Communications

  • Build dedicated hotlines for patient, caregiver, and staff questions.  Be sure to include answers to these frequently asked questions:  What are the symptoms of COVID-19?  What do I do if I am experiencing symptoms?  How can I reduce the risk of getting COVID-19?
  • Establish online chat services to help field questions from patients visiting your website.

Automated Outreach

  • Build email campaigns to reinforce your commitment to the safety and well-being of patients, staff, and the community.
  • Leverage mobile technology to distribute SMS broadcast messages to your patients around clinic closures, changes to hours of operation, preventative measures, policy updates, and more.  You can also educate specific patient groups, such as those who are scheduled for an upcoming appointment or who are at an increased risk for complications.

Operational Communications

  • Rewrite call scripts and appointment confirmation automated responses to provide better instructions to patients, including detailed information about what patients should do if they show symptoms, how to access virtual care options, and recommendations to reschedule.
  • Utilize online and live voice scheduling to reduce the amount of time patients spend waiting in line at screening and testing clinics. 
  • Conduct post-discharge calls to follow up with patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19.  Calls should be made within 24 to 48 hours to answer questions the patient may have regarding their post-discharge instructions, medications, and care plans.  
  • Set up online scheduling for telehealth visits and send confirmation emails or texts with the visit link information embedded for ease of access. Ensure patients are prepared to use telehealth tools by conducting pre-appointment calls to test the system and ask any questions.
  • Use SMS messaging capabilities to text surveys to patients to gauge community satisfaction with your response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These best practices are not only recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic but are also industry standards during any situation that requires enhanced touch points and communication with patients, such as local emergencies and natural disasters. Should you have questions about these recommendations or how we can support you and your COVID-19 patient engagement strategy, please click here.

As part of the Stericycle family of brands, it's our daily mission to protect what matters.  This includes protecting our clients' ability to provide timely and accurate patient communication.  For more information on Stericycle's Coronavirus response to protect our staff, clients, services and more, please visit our COVID-19 hub.

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