What do you think of when you hear the term “elective procedure?” Many people may think of face lifts and other cosmetic procedures – and for good reason. The term is a bit of a misnomer, making it sound like care is optional when it actually just means that the procedure can be scheduled in advance.
In reality, the list of elective procedures is much longer and comprises a wider array than many realize, including orthopedic procedures like joint replacements; cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies; organ donations, and more. While these procedures are much needed, many were postponed amidst the pandemic as health systems preserved capacity and staff resources for COVID-19 patients.
In April 2020, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said this about treatment adjustments and delays. "We're in uncharted territory. We don't know the impact of these changes. These are not things we want to do. These are delays that we have to do."1
Now, providers and patients are left grappling with postponed procedures and wondering what the long-term consequences will be. Some have warned that the projected fallout of deferred procedures may not be known for five years—or longer. 2 In the meantime, it's important to get the most critical patients into care and build a plan for higher patient volumes. Here are three ways to prepare your health system and improve patient outcomes:
Increase Use of Telemedicine and Health & Wellness Programs
Telehealth has exploded in 2020 as patients and providers needed a way to provide care during shutdowns. But as we navigate further into the pandemic, patients still have an appetite for virtual care. According to a recent survey by Accenture, nearly 70% of patients who had attended a virtual visit during COVID-19 experienced virtual care for the first time and 54% expect to use it more post-COVID-19 than they did previously.
Combine telemedicine with remote patient monitoring to help patients stay on top of their chronic conditions. Remote patient monitoring can even be a low-tech, asynchronous solution, such as patients self-reporting vitals and symptoms. For example, in diabetic patients, providers can monitor patients’ blood sugar and food logs. To increase health literacy and boost patient outcomes, transition classes to virtual environments so patients don’t miss out on important education needed to live with their diagnosis.
Get Ahead of the Curve
In the current crisis, some providers, including oncologists, are beginning to report patients presenting with “worse” or more advanced cancers than they are used to seeing. National Cancer Institute director, Ned Sharpless, hypothesized that “the pandemic could reverse the U.S. streak in improved cancer mortality that has lasted more than 24 years.” As a result, health systems and providers need to use every possible tool in their arsenals to encourage screening and treatment for patients who may have delayed preventative and routine care earlier this year.
One such tool is a health risk assessment (HRA). HRAs are a great way to triage and identify your highest risk patients as well as acquire new patients. Once you have identified those patients who most need to reengage in their healthcare, provide them with a specific action plan complete with next steps in their patient journey. Also, consider using a multichannel approach, including a combination of voice and digital channels to help drive patients to take the appropriate action.
Get Disciplined About Recouping Revenue
Hospitals have reported significant decreases in average monthly revenue this year and "[d]eferrable procedures make up 51% of revenue for a typical hospital," according to an analysis by the healthcare consulting firm Advisory Board.4 Health systems will need to get creative with patient outreach and acquisition as competition has become fierce during the pandemic.
First, ensure you are properly managing your online reputation through organic search, ratings and reviews, and information accuracy. Once the patient finds a provider that suits their needs, empower them to take immediate action by making it easy to book an appointment online or over the phone. And don’t forget to use convenient, online scheduling to help drive patients to make appointments for both in person and telehealth visits and COVID-19 testing and flu vaccine clinics. Once a patient has scheduled an appointment, use multichannel reminders to reduce no-shows and provide patient instructions prior to their appointment.
Providers are always looking to deliver the right care in the right venue and to improve patient outcomes. Though COVID-19 has changed the patient journey, Stericycle Communication Solutions can help you modernize your approach to engaging patients in their care. To learn more about improving patient adherence to treatment plans, download our new eBook.