With the rapid spread of COVID-19, the modern patient journey healthcare consumers have come to expect has been disrupted. Healthcare organizations across the country are working tirelessly to keep patients informed, calm, and safe. But are their efforts working or leaving patients wondering what's next?
Last month the U.S. Surgeon General and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommended that healthcare organizations postpone elective surgeries, reschedule non-essential appointments, and postpone routine dental and eyecare in an effort to flatten the curve. With the postponement of non-essential healthcare, patients are left confused on whether their healthcare needs are considered essential.
While there are health systems that are continuously keeping their patients updated on their procedures, policies, and safety measures related to COVID-19, it's no secret that some providers are lacking when it comes to proactive outbound communications specifically to patients with non-COVID-related appointments and procedures.
As Dr. Jayne of HIStalk said this week, "Not all organizations have done well with trying to manage patients remotely... I have heard from multiple friends and neighbors who have visits scheduled during the next two weeks and they have received zero communication from their physicians on whether the visits will happen or how they might be executed… especially given the availability of patient portals and texting solutions to communicate with patients, it's surprising that the practices are running silent."
While the effects of COVID-19 are evolving daily, there are several things that organizations can do to keep all patients informed and drive trust and confidence.
Relevant Website Updates
A simple survey of health system websites will show that many are providing COVID-19 messages to patients through their website. While most of the website information relates to staying safe and healthy by social distancing and hand washing, many health systems are providing valuable information to patients about upcoming appointments:
"If you have an appointment that needs to be rescheduled, a team member will contact you with more information. If we do not contact you, please plan to arrive for your appointment at your scheduled time."
Facilities that use online scheduling should also consider addressing the sudden lack in available appointments as providers reduce hours or change visit types to exclude well visits and non-essential appointments. If telehealth is an offering, consider using online scheduling for these visit types to help ease the volume of inbound calls to the office. Finally, have a designated phone number or chat for patients to ask questions about potential changes to their appointments.
For appointments being transitioned to telehealth visits, it is even more imperative to communicate and set expectations. One to two weeks before the visit, contact the patient to inform them of the venue change and stress that their appointment is still considered important to their care plan. After communicating the change and confirming their willingness to participate, send instructions for joining the telehealth visit and a link for patients to test the connection and technology well in advance of the visit. Your telehealth guidelines and troubleshooting information should also be accessible on the main website.
If a patient's appointment is proceeding as scheduled, they should be contacted several days before their visit with a confirmation and prep instructions. These communications are easily handled through a comprehensive communication and reminders solution that determines a patient's channel of choice.
Instructions should include new procedures for arriving to the facility as well as the care that is being taken to keeps staff and patients safe. Do patients need to wear a mask, or will one be provided? Is their temperature going to be taken when entering your health facility? Should patients enter through a different door? Communicating information and instructions well in advance of a patient appointment builds trust and confidence and can offset potential no-shows from frightened patients.
Converting to telehealth visits? Outbound calls can help patients prepare and test the new system to gain comfort and ease before their visit.
Social platforms are a great example of sharing up-to-date, relevant information quickly to large groups. During a crisis, it remains one of the easiest ways to keep patients informed on changing hours, updated procedures, phone numbers, and more. Remind patients to follow your social channels for the most up-to-date information.
Here is an example of a social media post from a pediatric provider:
WE ARE OPEN!
If your child needs to be seen, please do not hesitate to call us. We are also still accepting new patients.
We have been taking drastic steps to eliminate the spread of Covid-19. These include having families wait in cars, complete elimination of waiting rooms, separating well check rooms from sick visit rooms, physical barricades to separate the two sides of our clinic, separate bathrooms for well checks and sick visits, curbside appointments in which the doctor comes to your car when possible, telemedicine visits, and much more.
COVID-19 is a global healthcare crisis that is affecting every person in this country. As a healthcare organization, you want to do everything possible to help your patients through this. Proactively preparing patients for what's next along their current patient journey still remains an important part of the customer experience and drives trust in the community you serve.
To learn more about additional best practices for patient communications and interactions during COVID-19, check out the following resources:
Best Practices in Patient Communication During a Pandemic blog
Communication Solutions for COVID-19
Stericycle COVID-19 Hub