A New Focus on the Healthcare Consumer in the Wake of COVID-19

June 18, 2020 | Stericycle Communication Solutions

We've discussed healthcare consumerism on this blog for years, and it's interesting to see how vital the need for a consumer-enabled patient experience has become in the wake of the current global health crisis. Shifting the focus from traditional views of access to treating patients as healthcare consumers has suddenly become a strategic aspect of health systems' reopening plans everywhere – and for good reason.

Download Now: A guide to navigating the reopening of healthcare

During the height of COVID-19, patients were forced to put their healthcare on hold.  Now, many patients are fearful to reengage.  At the same time, healthcare organizations across the nation are suffering massive losses in revenue and staff volumes due to the large number of cancelled elective procedures and costs associated with treating COVID-19 patients.  Patient engagement has never been more important to help healthcare consumers reengage in their health and well-being and to help healthcare providers recoup lost revenue.   
The age of the healthcare consumer may finally be here, but the health of both patients and health systems could be at risk if patients aren't fully engaged in their care.  This starts by orchestrating an effortless patient journey that drives access, action, and adherence.  Although the motivation to do so has changed, the ways to provide a consumer-enabled patient experience are simple evolutions of strategies we've implemented with our clients for more than a decade. Here are five tried and true best practices to better engage the healthcare consumer.

Implement SEO and Web Strategies that Simplify the Patient Journey and Improve Access and Acquisition

Even during a global pandemic, consumers today choose their healthcare providers as they choose most things – by searching online reviews, ratings, and social media.  To acquire these healthcare consumers, providers need to make it easy and convenient to become loyal patients. This includes helping healthcare consumers easily find care online or by phone, feel reassured with positive reviews, choose the right venue of care, book and prepare for the appointment, and later be reminded of that appointment.  Providers were feeling the pressure to deliver this patient experience before COVID-19, but laggards can no longer wait. Patients are anxious about the perceived risks of reentering healthcare facilities and simplified access points put their minds at ease.

Help Patients Find the Right Venues of Care 

Directing patients to the right venues of care has always been important, but it's now critical to reduce risks for vulnerable patient populations as well as manage social distancing in care venues where visits traditionally were not scheduled such as emergency and urgent care.  Healthcare organizations that empower patients to find and book appointments with the right providers in the right venues of care based on their self-reported symptoms will reduce risks and capture more consumers. Without simple access to book appointments across all venues of care – including primary care, specialty care, emergency care, urgent care, and telehealth – healthcare consumers will continue with their search and choose a more convenient option with someone else.

Provide Virtual Visit Options When Appropriate

According to the HRI, 16.5 million healthcare consumers in the U.S. reported using telehealth for the first time during the pandemic. Virtual visits provide comfortable care options for nervous patients and important revenue streams for the financially strained healthcare industry. Implementing consumer-driven telehealth strategies are critical to effective telehealth programs.  Telehealth appointments and virtual classes and events must be easy to find, easy to book, and easy to attend. Learn more in our guide to an integrated telehealth strategy.

Leverage Communication and Reminder Solutions to Improve Action and Adherence

Reluctant patients need a lot of information to feel comfortable resuming care – and they need to hear it from a trusted source.  Healthcare providers should be prepared to deliver frequent and informative messages to their patients.  This includes letting patients know you are open and ready to safely provide care. Becker's ASC Review recommends ambulatory surgery centers send at least 8 separate reopening messages to patients. Sending short but highly informative pieces of information regularly will encourage patients to schedule and attend appointments and help providers fill schedules and reduce no-shows. Meeting patients where they are in their channels of choice, including voice, text, and email, is critical to driving patient access, action, and adherence.

Develop Long-Term Relationships with Patients Through Health and Wellness Campaigns, Classes and Events, Referral Management Programs, and Post-Discharge Services

According to a recent study by PwC's Health Research Institute (HRI), patients reported having more barriers to healthy choices than ever. Consumers expect relationships with their healthcare providers to transcend in-person experiences and continue long after they leave your facility. Healthcare consumers need and expect support with their care plans, including providing assistance to schedule referral appointments and follow discharge plans.  They also need assistance adopting healthy habits by scheduling screenings and preventative care visits as well as class and event offerings.  Health systems can't afford the penalties associated with patient readmissions or the mismanagement of high-risk chronic conditions. 

Health systems that implement a holistic approach to patient engagement, including reputation management, intelligent scheduling, referral management, communication and reminders, post-discharge services, and health and wellness campaigns will be the winners.  To learn more, Download our Guide: How to Prepare for the New Patient Journey.

How to Prepare for the New Patient Journey. Best practices for reopening and reengaging your patients. Download Now.

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