How to effectively communicate to get patients back to the office

September 14, 2020
Christine Blank

87 percent of patients surveyed by MGMA said safety was the number one reason they are reluctant to visit doctors' offices.

While physicians’ practices realized a steep drop in patient visits soon after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of those patients are now starting to return.

At the same time, there are still numerous patients who are not comfortable visiting any medical offices or clinics, so there is a need for operators to better communicate all the measures they are taking to keep protect patients while they are in the office.

In fact, 87 percent of patients surveyed by Medical Group Management Association in July said safety was the number one reason they are reluctant to visit doctor’s offices.

“Safety is our number one concern right now,” Ron Holder, COO of MGMA told Physician’s Practice®. “It’s our Hippocratic oath: ‘First do no harm…’. We have to do a better job of communicating to them that their safety is our number one concern.”

As a result, practices need to “over-communicate” their COVID-19 safety measures, Holder said. “It is not just saying, ‘Hey, come back’. It is providing more robust information about the practice in regard to how safe it is.”

Practices can explain why they are taking the steps they are taking, just as they would during an in-person appointment.

For example, Holder recognizes that patients may tire of being asked the same questions about whether they have been around anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or traveled out of the country. Explain why you are asking the questions, particularly stressing that it is for their safety. “That way, patients are not drawing their own conclusions,” Holder said.

Practices should convey their COVID-19 safety measures in multiple ways, including via mailers, emails, and texts. Some practices are also utilizing YouTube and videos on other platforms to communicate their safety messages, Holder said.

Communicate the variety of ways the practice is spreading out patient visits, including new evening and weekend hours, if that applies.

Explain how the practice is utilizing both in-person and telehealth visits, and when it is best to use each of those services. “Explain that these are things we can do over the phone, and these are the type of things you should come in for,” Holder said.

Recognize that some patients are still not comfortable with telehealth visits. “Patients 65 years and older, particularly may be worried about video visits due to privacy concerns or they don’t have the technology,” Holder said.

In addition to COVID-19-related messages, practices should stress the importance of doctor visits for routine screenings that can prevent a myriad of health problems and diseases down the road. “People aren’t doing their normal screenings right now and early detection is important for cancer, heart disease, etc.,” Holder said.

Another effective communication strategy was recently shared by Tashfeen Ekram, MD.

“A communication strategy today should not just push messages to a practice’s patient community, but should enable them to communicate directly with their care team,” he said.

“Tactics should be built on a foundation of the three pillars: Educate, identify and treat. If you design and execute a strategy with those at the core, you can enable a patient community built on trust, collaboration and openness.” – Tashfeen Ekram, MD

Communicating with patients is vital to the future profitability of practices, Holder points out. In April, 97 percent of practices said they experienced a decline in patient visits; 71 percent said their business dropped 50 percent or more.

While 87 percent of practices reported that their patient volume increased in July, practices in the hardest-hit COVID-19 areas are being impacted more. “In certain hotbeds, you may actually see a delayed response [in patient traffic], so it’s not one size fits all,” Holder said.