5 ways to reengage patients in the COVID19 era

July 31, 2020

It is critical to provide crystal clear communications along every step, including where they should park and how to check-in upon arrival.

In certain areas across the country, people are going back to work, families are eating in restaurants and healthcare offices are reopening. For those who work in the latter, that means the pressure is on to fill appointments and get patients back in to see providers.

Many people have been hesitant about visiting the doctor’s office, which is yet another hurdle hospitals and health systems need to overcome. According to the CDC, emergency room visits dropped by over 40 percent in April. A study in the journal Health Affairs says that medical office visits were down by 60 percent that same month.

It is important to get patients back in the door to keep them healthy and avoid disruptions in care, especially for those with chronic conditions. On the business front, it is also important to drive revenue and manage the demand—especially with projections that hospital losses could top $323 billion in 2020 and many office practices may not survive.

To successfully reengage patients, it is critical to provide crystal clear communications along every step. This includes everything from addressing where patients should park to how to check-in upon arrival and how to check-out after seeing their healthcare provider. Providing detailed information, in advance, about small details can have a big impact on how people feel about coming in for an appointment.

Here are 5 ways provider organizations can re-engage patients and book appointments.

Make sure patients know you will keep them safe

People will have anxiety and a lot of questions about what to expect for in-person appointments. You can help ease this stress by sharing clear, consistent messages about safety protocols your organization has implemented. This includes details such as when patient areas are cleaned and disinfected, whether the hospital has separate areas for treating patients with and without COVID-19, if all staff and patients are required to wear masks, and so on. Even if it seems obvious, build trust by outlining exactly what you are doing.

Text, email, and direct mail are all effective channels to incorporate into multi-channel communication campaigns to get these messages across to patients. These three channels, in particular, can easily disseminate important communications to large populations of patients and prospects. Traditional methods like direct mail are attention-grabbing this day and age, and even more so now as people continue to spend most of their time at home. A multi-channel approach is exponentially more effective (upwards of 300 percent) than single or dual-channel campaigns, according to Gartner.

Utilize data to predict preventive care needs

Preventive care has dipped significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, as many people delayed or skipped routine medical appointments. It led to reductions in screenings for cancer and other high-cost conditions. People who need these services need to be seen quickly to catch signs of disease early, but identifying who these patients are is challenging, especially given now outdated clinical and claims data due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures.

Provider organizations can mitigate this by analyzing all types of data, including current and historical clinical and claims records. The totality of data can help provide a clear, timely picture of who needs to be seen when, and for what risks. Behavioral models can help predict some of this, such as the likelihood of a patient to use virtual care or self-report conditions related to the service line.

Encourage ambulatory care and telehealth visits

Even though you know you have established protocols in place to keep people safe, some will still want to avoid traditional hospital/clinical settings to protect themselves and loved ones. To keep them safe and maintain revenue in-network, recommend that people use telehealth services or book appointments at your ambulatory care centers, as appropriate for a particular patient’s condition and situation.

Digital engagement tools such as telemedicine systems and mobile apps have exploded in popularity and usage. Make sure your patients know which of these (and other) services you offer virtually and clearly communicate the different options they have to book online appointments. Email and text messaging are a great way to drive knowledge, engagement and usage in these tools you are supporting.

Use Personal outreach

Personal outreach always stands out, especially in times of crisis. Get your providers involved—that’s who patients often want to hear from! Direct mail and text messages directly from that doctor that you then blast out are great ways to have doctors personally invite patients back to the practice and encourage them to rebook appointments that may have been delayed. As a key component in these messages, also outline some of the safety protocols put in place, as mentioned earlier.

On the provider side, use this time to check in with top-referring doctors with a phone call or email. You could also send lunch or host a virtual Continuing Medical Education (CME) session to keep your practice top of mind among industry colleagues.

Provide support outside the clinic

COVID-19 will have lasting changes to the way people receive care, as well as a long-term impact on total wellbeing. It is now a necessity to support physical, financial, emotional, and social health outside of the clinic. Health systems will find that patients will remain loyal to providers that find ways to connect with them and offer support at home, in between appointments, to help ensure their wellbeing. An online Health Risk Assessment (HRA) can be a helpful tool to provide this support. HRAs can help educate people about their health risks, promote community health and identify additional patient needs.

In this new COVID world, we need to help patients feel comfortable coming back in and it starts with the right communications to the right people. As the American Hospital Association stated in its Stop Medical Distancing campaign: “Don’t die of doubt. When an emergency strikes, hospitals are still the safest place – even during a pandemic.” Conditions still need to be managed, vaccines administered and care delivered – let’s get patients back in the door safely, and soon.

About the Author

Jaci Haack is the VP of Client Strategy at Welltok.