Six Lessons Practices Learned to Boost Patient Satisfaction in a COVID-19 Era
Lesson #1: Convenience is critical.
“For a long time, patients, consumers, and caregivers have been pleading with the healthcare system to figure out how to make healthcare more convenient,” says Jan Oldenburg, owner of Participatory Health Consulting in Richmond, Virginia. The good news is that practices acted quickly to meet consumers’ needs during COVID-19 by adopting telehealth as well as other digital technologies to increase patient self-service and reduce face-to-face contact, she adds. However, they can’t stop there, says Oldenburg. “Practices need to think about how they can strategically continue this momentum and use it to lower operating costs,” she adds.
Laura Kreofsky, vice president, advisory at Pivot Point Consulting in Nashville, Tennessee, agrees. “There’s a need for practices to look ahead strategically,” she says. “The bar is going to keep increasing, and practices need to be ahead of the curve.” Staying ahead of the curve means asking these questions, says Kreofsky: • How can we make telehealth part of our long-term strategy? • How will we continue to market telehealth? • Does our telehealth vendor provide all of the capabilities we need? Remote patient monitoring (RPM), for example, may also be something to consider, says Oldenburg. For example, practices can use RPM for follow-up care, wound management, physical therapy, blood pressure monitoring, glucose monitoring, and much more. “These are the kinds of things that frankly set the stage for better, more lasting connections with patients and the ability to intervene in the moment rather than waiting until an in-person visit,” she says.
Lesson #2: Physicians need to be prepared for emotional trauma.
For some patients, COVID-19 has caused financial instability, loss of a loved one, and a whole host of other challenges. Eighty-two percent of consumers experience anxiety or fear as a result of the virus, according to recent research conducted by Deloitte. Seventy-seven percent feel uncertainty or a lack of control, and 75% feel loneliness or a sense of isolation. “Just like any trauma, it’s going to take time to work through it at personal and societal level, and patients are going to want support from their providers,” says Kreofsky. Physicians must be able to recognize the need for mental health support and be able to connect patients with resources, she adds. This could include a referral to a mental health specialist; however, it could also be something as simple as providing resources on the practice’s website or incorporating an app (e.g., a meditation app for anxiety) into a patient’s treatment plan.
Lesson #3: Patients’ digital experience matters.
Providing a positive and tailored digital experience can help practices attract and retain patients, thereby helping them weather any future fluctuations in volume (e.g., if a second wave of the virus strikes), says Kreofsky. Take the time to ensure the practice’s website and portal, for example, are user friendly. Is the font easy to read? Is the navigation straightforward? Do you provide resources for a diverse population? “You have one opportunity to make a positive web impression with your patients,” says Kreofsky. “It’s worth the time and effort to polish your website, make sure all the functionality works, and think about it in terms of ease of use. The website and portal can’t be an afterthought.” Oldenburg agrees. “I would add that it’s also a time to make sure you’re responding to patient messages in a timely fashion; providing contextual education linked to diagnosis, medications, and procedures; and implementing as many portal features as you can,” she says.
Lesson #4: Patients won’t use self-service offerings unless they know about them.
Simply providing a telehealth option doesn’t mean patients will automatically use it. The same is true for online scheduling, secure messaging, online bill pay, online intake forms, and more. Focus on marketing these technologies and services, and educate providers and staff on how to talk to patients about them to foster adoption and widespread use, says Kreofsky.
Lesson #5: There may be a role for advanced analytics.
“As practices begin to provide more in-person care and address the backlog of care, they need to be clinically strategic in how they do it,” says Kreofsky. One approach is to use algorithm-driven software to identify high-risk patients who have historically needed routine care and monitoring. “They can use this software to identify folks who need to get in sooner rather than later—particularly if they’re in a value-based model and incentivized for keeping people healthy,” she adds.
Lesson #6: Patients need payment options.
As patients face financial difficulties, they may need options for payment plans or loans. Providing these options can make patients feel more comfortable engaging with providers to obtain the care they need during a time of financial vulnerability. “It’s also a moment to make sure your portal makes it easy to pay bills and apply for payment plans,” says Oldenburg. Looking ahead Perhaps the biggest takeaway point during COVID-19 thus far is that practices can innovate—and they can do it quickly, says Oldenburg. The pandemic spurred immediate action to improve patient engagement, and practices must continue to set goals and strive to achieve them, she adds.
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