How to evolve your patient communication strategy during COVID19

August 6, 2020

Tactics should be built on a foundation of the three pillars: Educate, identify and treat.

Practices across the country, from primary care to specialties, are struggling to keep up with the constantly changing landscape brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. While cases are declining in some areas, thus allowing practices to open up to patients who feel more comfortable to come in, other areas are seeing cases skyrocket and impacting how, when, and where they can deliver care. Given this uncertainty and rapid rate of change, one thing that practices can and should prioritize is engaging and communicating with their patients.

The way we communicated with patient communities pre-COVID is likely no longer enough to keep them engaged, calm their fears, and inform them of changes to practice hours and policies. Therefore, it’s important to review and update that strategy to ensure its relevance for today’s landscape and that it’s flexible enough to evolve as that landscape (inevitably) shifts.

Three pillars to every strategy

When it comes to building a patient communications strategy, there are three core pillars that are important for your practice to design around: Educate, identify, and treat.

These pillars provide a structure for ensuring every patient is a part of your practice’s engagement process, even if each is not relevant to them right now. For example, a patient may not currently require treatment, but they do need to be educated about COVID-19 prevention and best practices for healthy behaviors.

Educate

There are many within your patient community that have likely not been seen by your practice recently, nor are in need of care right now. That doesn’t mean it’s not important to communicate with them. In fact, it’s critical to connect with all patients to share best practices, keep patients healthy, and address any misconceptions. 

As numbers of cases fluctuate in cities and states, you can be the source of accurate and reliable information about evolving prevention practices based on the local situation. By educating your patient community, you can help ensure they are prioritizing their personal and family’s health.

For example, you can send a text message that targets patients with a specific condition that puts them at higher risk of complications from COVID-19:

“PATIENT NAME, given your history, you are at higher risk of getting a complication if you were to get sick with the novel coronavirus. We recommend you take extra precautions during the outbreak by doing your utmost to avoid contact with others. Please click here for more details.”

Identify

Of the entire patient population under your clinic’s care, a subset of patients may experience symptoms that indicate a COVID-19 infection. It is critically important to determine which of these patients have a more common illness such as the flu, and which patients are infected with COVID-19.

You can leverage tools that enable you and your team to identify and triage those patients who are infected. And, in those parts of the U.S. where the virus is more widespread, you might want to conduct broader screening.

For example, you can send a message to screen patients for symptoms:

“You are living in a high-risk area for the novel coronavirus. To help us take better care of you and prevent unnecessary complications, please fill out this short questionnaire. “If you have a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, please call {facility phone number} to speak with a nurse.”

Treat

Those patients who are identified as having a COVID-19 infection need to be triaged appropriately to ensure they receive the proper care while reducing the risk to other patients and practice staff. One way to do that, of course, is via telehealth. With a virtual care delivery tool or suite of tools, the care team can monitor a patient’s symptoms to see if they are worsening or if they require in-person treatment.

Beyond COVID-19 patients, a “hybrid” model—mix of face-to-face and virtual care—is critical to treating a practice’s patient community. In order to identify which patients should receive which kind of care requires the education and identification described above.

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. 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.