It's no secret the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way patients seek and interact with healthcare. Fears of contamination, loss of job or health insurance, and lack of support networks have all contributed to declining ER visits nationwide. Patient adherence was an issue long before COVID-19, but it is being amplified during the pandemic as patients delay routine care.
According to reports from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 28% of Americans polled said they or a family member delayed medical care because of the pandemic, and 11% indicated that their condition worsened as a result of delayed care. Adding to that, 70% of consumers are concerned or very concerned about contracting COVID-19 when visiting healthcare facilities to receive care unrelated to the virus. There is a growing concern that these patients will either see a relapse in their illnesses or will experience new complications once the crisis subsides.
The pandemic has also exacerbated mental health conditions due to long periods of isolation and social distancing. 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. In fact, a recent study from the National Health Service showed an 8-fold increase in all-cause mortality when patients with mental health conditions missed two or more appointments a year.
As we navigate the unknown of return-to-office, back-to-school, flu season, and potential virus spikes, how should health systems manage patient engagement to ensure patients, especially those with mental health conditions, take appropriate action in their healthcare journey?
Identify Patients Who Need Care the Most Right Now
One of the best ways hospitals and health systems can identify the patients who need care most is by encouraging patients to complete a health risk assessment. HRAs are a great way to connect with healthcare consumers, communicate information about their health, determine their risk for a chronic condition, and encourage them to take the next best step in their care. We often recommend that providers risk stratify patients and consider unique approaches for various patient groups. Perhaps now is the time to take a closer look at those who have coexisting mental health conditions as well.
We are in an unprecedented time of life stressors right now. Stress, anxiety, and depression can have major negative health ramifications, including sleep deprivation and decreased immunity – which in turn can worsen stress, anxiety, and depression. In fact, one in three people say that the coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health and nearly 60 percent report that it's having a serious impact on their day-to-day-lives.1 It's a giant cycle that health systems and providers must consider when identifying patients who may be at risk.
Break Through the Clutter and Drive Patients to Take Action
Once you've identified your patients who are at high risk for mental health conditions, think about ways to reach them in a highly individualized and personalized manner. Patients who've historically experienced mental health conditions may have a greater lack of motivation or lack momentum to seek care. Their disposition to be disengaged may require greater input to push past their disengagement. Proactive, prescriptive communications with very clear action steps tailored to patients' unique needs will get a greater response than taking broad-brush approaches.
As an example, one of our clients is setting clear expectations with patients by sending a primer text on the same day that their office calls the patient to schedule an appointment. The text essentially says, "expect a call today from one of our agents to reschedule your health appointment." This type of very specific, proactive communication creates anticipation and increases the likelihood that the patient will answer a call from an unfamiliar number.
Share Information to Help Make Patients Feel Safe.
Many patients are fearful to seek treatment and are left contemplating whether the risk is greater for an adverse outcome of getting COVID-19 or not receiving care. Help alleviate those fears by sharing details about new office procedures and technologies such as virtual waiting rooms and telehealth options. By proactively communicating how you're working to keep patients safe and engaged in their health, you may be more successful in reaching patients who experience mental health challenges—especially with those at-risk for not seeking much-needed medical care.
It's also helpful to engage your audience on both an emotional and rational level. This can start by sending positive messages to lay the foundation and express care, "Hey, here's why you need to come in." We're also encouraging our clients to conduct A/B split testing of messaging to see if changes to content impact no-show rates. Finally, we know that low overall literacy may impact health literacy and may require simpler and more positive messaging to positively impact adherence depending on your patient demographics.
Stericycle Communications Solutions helps health systems and providers modernize patient access, action, and adherence with a holistic patient engagement platform that seamlessly combines both voice and digital for optimal patient outcomes. To learn more, watch our recent webinar entitled "Patient Adherence: The Hidden Costs of COVID-19" here. You'll not only learn about how to build a more cohesive patient adherence strategy, but also about how to improve patient adherence during the pandemic.
1. American Psychiatric Association