Get ready for the rebound: How to make patients feel safe enough to come back

June 16, 2020

Start planning as soon as possible, no matter the current status of your community.

The suspension of high-margin procedures during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has led to billions of dollars of lost revenue for healthcare providers. Across the country, hospitals have seen 40 to 70% fewer patients from late March through early May.

Re-engaging health consumers is critical for financial survival, but it is also in the best interest of patients. Doctors are concerned that the pandemic has produced a silent sub-epidemic of people who need hospital care but are too fearful to come in.

Healthcare facilities must ramp up appointments quickly

All 50 states have at least partially lifted stay-at-home orders, and some areas are beginning to offer non-emergency medical care again.

No matter the current status in your community, rapid financial recovery requires appointments to be booked on the first day you reopen, which means you must start planning as soon as possible.

 

Patients are afraid and looking for details

However, just because you are ready to reopen your doors doesn't mean your patients are ready to return. Many people are paralyzed by fear of entering a healthcare facility and are therefore willing to delay care. 

Even patients who say they are ready to return to a healthcare facility are still fearful about aspects of the experience. If these fears are confirmed or left unaddressed, they might reconsider how soon they will book their appointments.

People need to hear how health systems are keeping them safe, and they need to hear it often. Patients want to hear what precautions are being taken and what protocols are in place, including the details. 

The biggest mistake you can make right now is to put out a blanket "we're open" message. Instead, you need to reassure patients and respond to their emotions surrounding COVID-19. 

 

Useful planning resources

There are a number of useful resources that you might look to for suggestions about how to make patients feel confident in returning to your facility. 

The CDC has published reopening guidance for sanitizing public spaces. The American Academy of Family Physicians has provided a checklist to prepare offices. The Paubox team has also published other posts on Physician’s Practice about how best to resume your practice, as well as performed research about how hospitals can quickly regain lost revenue

What to communicate with patients

You must build patient confidence and manage expectations. Show clients that reopening is not just a money move and that you are taking safety seriously.

Advisory Board has some useful information on how to get started. It is important to provide guidance on the following as a starting point:

  • Status of COVID-19 infections and facility closures: Is your site open?  For what types of visits?  Have you been seeing COVID-19 patients at your facility?

  • COVID-19 testing details: Who should take a COVID-19 test?  When, where and how can patients receive testing?

  • Guidance about telehealth: Is telehealth available, and if so, with which providers and for what services?  

Geonetric has also published material on preparing for the post-pandemic rebound. Above all, you must remind people not to delay emergency care. Be sure to share whose guidance you are following when making decisions about reinstating elective procedures, such as the WHO or CDC.  

It is also important to make it easy to get in touch with you. Having a phone number listed on COVID-19 landing pages and other communication channels is a good start. 

 

Appeal to all audiences

Be sure to provide a range of diverse stories in your secure patient outreach. For patient stories, talk to a broad mix of people so all patients feel included in your messaging. And don’t forget to provide content in all languages used in your patient population as well. 

It’s important to listen to what your patients are asking for and provide it. Ask your social followers and email subscribers what questions or concerns weigh on their minds. You can then use a HIPAA compliant email marketing solution to segment your audiences and email people information that is relevant to them. 

 

Engage all marketing channels

It is important to be consistent with messaging across all platforms you use, such as:

  • Text messages

  • Blog posts

  • Website updates and alerts

Communicating the detailed actions you are taking to keep patients safe leads them to conclude that since you have implemented such specific steps, you are probably doing everything possible to minimize risk.

You can’t push people into seeking medical care sooner than they want, but you can pull them along by building confidence in your organization.