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A look at the available and viable tools to continue patient access and care.
Josh Weiner, Solutionreach
As we reach the expected “peak” of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in the U.S., hospitals and health systems continue to struggle with balancing needed critical care with supporting those patients who have minor health issues or general concerns. Never has a patient communication strategy and digital patient engagement been so important.
Between canceling, postponing, or converting appointments to telehealth and general COVID-19 concerns, patients have many questions and need quite a bit of additional support. Thankfully, there is good news: it is possible to stay ahead of this, and here’s how.
Organizations need to look at what tools they have or can quickly implement for digital engagement to relieve the burden on staff, essentially creating a “digital front door.” These would include patient communication and engagement through text, email and voice, online scheduling, digital registration, telehealth, and electronic bill pay. The goal is to make it easy for patients to manage appointments or get information without calling while also reducing face-to-face contact, touching objects, and social interactions.
Below are a few tools organizations can use to build their “digital front door.”Healthcare providers are one of the best sources for information since they can reach out to patients directly. Many organizations have created COVID-19 response teams to help manage processes and digest all the various recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local and state health agencies. Information and updates created by that group need to be released to patients regularly through broadcast email and text messages.
Email and text are good tools for communicating general COVID-19 updates as well as more specific information such as how to get needed care or when the organization will begin to reopen fully. If there are certain common questions coming in, these are good places to share responses to those. Err on the side of over-communication and send something out at least every two weeks.We don’t need research studies to tell us that texting is faster than calling on the phone. Giving patients the option to text means they can quickly send a message at their convenience and staff can reply between other tasks. Pre-set responses can be created for common inquiries, saving time for staff. Healthcare organizations have also been using two-way text in more creative ways during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, many are using it for billable telehealth check-ins to determine if a more extensive video or in-person visit is needed. Two-way text has also been an incredible support in developing “virtual waiting rooms” where patients text the provider on arrival and then receive a text back when it is time to come in. Organizations have been able to quickly adjust and adapt as this crisis evolves—and they continue to find new and innovative ways to leverage two-way text every day.To support both face-to-face and virtual visits, providers need to move many processes to an electronic format. There are plenty of tools available to do just that from online scheduling to digital bill pay, automated surveys, and more. Some of these tools require a bit more setup like online scheduling while others can be more “set it and forget it” like post-visit surveys.
You may want to modify your survey to support virtual visits and then begin to change back when things return to normal. The feedback you gather can help now as well as helping when you make plans for how to manage another outbreak in the future. This shift includes bill pay. Best practices still apply in a COVID-19 world. Use an electronic billing option to collect co-pays at the time of service.Normally, when we talk about patient education, we’re talking about follow-up care and adherence. Right now, patient education is something else altogether. Patients are being asked to use new technology and engage with providers in new ways. Even though the majority of patients are eager for tech conveniences, there is a learning curve.
In addition to sending out text and email updates about these tools, consider creating a patient support team. This group would be experts in the technology and be available to answer patient questions or guide patients through the use of new services like telehealth or electronic bill pay.
This “new normal” with COVID-19 leaves room for a lot of change and uncertainty as the virus is predicted to recede and surges again in another wave. As it continues on for, what many believe will be more months to come, continue to prepare for what patients will need. Our biggest advice: embrace change and the assistance digital tools offer so that your team may support ongoing care no matter what happens.
Josh Weiner is the CEO of Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Prior to Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company.
The views expressed in this piece reflect those of the author, not necessarily those of the publication. Healthcare providers and experts interested in responding to this piece or submitting their own article can do so here.