Vulnerable and isolated patients may experience elevated levels of fear.
These days are tough for everyone, but especially for those who are quarantined with COVID-19 (or something else that’s keeping them from leaving the house).
As healthcare providers, we are on the frontlines of ensuring our patients-whether in our office or in their homes-receive the highest level of care. That’s a challenge, of course, given the reality of the pandemic and the growing obstacles we face as a result: increased patient load, longer hours, and reduced care teams.
So how can we stay connected to our vulnerable and isolated patients in a way that fits into our workflows? The below tactics are a good place to start; they will likely look different for each individual provider or clinic.
Automate communication (as much as possible)
Leverage patient-centric technology to automate regular check-ins with your quarantined patients. For example, ask them questions to determine whether symptoms are progressing. Using this approach to engage with those patients can help prevent unnecessary hospitalizations, while ensuring those who need acute care are triaged quickly.
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To improve access and participation rates, you can leverage a solution that allows you to automatically send pre-screen forms and information via text message.
Create filters for and send group messages
Of the entire patient population under your care (or the clinic’s), there will be subsets of patients who can and should be “grouped” together. Within your patients who are in isolation, determine as specifically as you can what subsets they fall into.
For those with high-risk chronic illnesses, for example, the messages you send to them should be geared towards their unique risks and how to care for themselves based on those risks. If you have patients without pre-existing conditions who are-with the exception of COVID-19-otherwise healthy, your messages should be tailored to daily monitoring of the disease and its progression, ways they can treat their symptoms, and how to keep others in their home safe and healthy.
Be consistent in tone and cadence
Right now, people are scared, and those who are isolated are even more so. As providers, we need to be a calm and steady voice of support as they work to either contain the spread or get back to health. That means sending new information as it’s available from sources like the CDC, updates about the virus in your community, reminders about prevention and ways to treat the virus’ symptoms.
Over – not under – communicate
The best thing we can do is give our patients something to expect from us-whether that’s daily, weekly, or sometime in between. The reality is, people are going to go looking for information if they don’t have it, which opens the door for inaccurate messages about critical things like prevention, symptoms and treatment.
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Therefore, given how quickly everything is moving and how all-encompassing the topic is, I recommend more often than less in order to ensure your patients have access to timely and accurate information directly from a trusted source (examples of messages can be found here).
Check in virtually (with telehealth visits)
There are so many unknowns with this new disease; all of us are learning new things every day. That said, as providers, we can often determine whether our patients are in need of an examination or hospitalization with a quick conversation. As we know, COVID-19 causes severe shortness of breath, which can be mistaken by an individual as something else. With a quick video chat, you can assess whether they are in need of further intervention. Without those check-ins, infected patients could end up delaying a visit to the ER to their detriment.
Consider scheduling a block of time each day when you can check in virtually with a few patients who are sick and at home. This will help you keep a close eye on each person’s progression, and proactively identify concerns as they arise.
Dr. Tashfeen Ekram is a radiologist in Santa Rosa, California and chief medical officer at Luma Health. He received his medical degree from University of Michigan Medical School and speaks multiple languages, including Arabic, Hindi and Urdu.