4 Steps To Patient Engagement During COVID-19

May 21, 2020 Bri Jones

It’s now been a few months since COVID-19 officially turned our lives upside down. Our favorite retail stores shuttered their doors, our favorite restaurants became carry-out only, our jobs made the transition to being full-time remote, and a majority of our healthcare went into pause mode. Our dentist and veterinary offices closed with the exception of emergency services, our preventative care appointments got cancelled or deferred (or moved to video calls if possible), and our elective surgeries got put on hold.

Despite the idea that healthcare has been seen as being in “overload” mode for the last few months, elective surgeries and preventative care are actually major revenue drivers for many healthcare organizations, and healthcare—like many other industries—has felt the impact from the loss of income from these services. According to a recent report released by TransUnion Healthcare (NYSE: TRU), a survey of more than 500 hospitals reported declines ranging from 32-60% in visit volumes over the month of March 2020. But, now that the spread of COVID-19 has slowed in most parts of the country, many healthcare organizations have been given the green light to resume these types of patient activities, or “business as usual” in some capacity.

However, a recent survey (April 13th) sent by TransUnion showed that more than one in four patients surveyed (27%) said they had an elective surgery, appointment or procedure delayed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic—and of the patients who had an elective procedure deferred, nearly 50% indicate they will only reschedule once they no longer believe there is a high risk of COVID-19 infection or once guidelines advise it is safe. 

Most healthcare organizations also have a backlog of 3-4 months worth of elective surgeries and appointments to reschedule, and will also want to work to maintain appointments that were already scheduled for future dates. With this volume of patients that will need to be engaged or re-engaged, the ability to do so at scale—while also communicating in a personalized way to mitigate uncertainty—will be critical for any healthcare organization’s comeback strategy.

We’ve already talked about the importance of digitizing the patient experience, but how can healthcare organizations specifically approach the patient experience in the days of COVID-19? Below are 4 tips for healthcare marketers to follow as they move forward with re-engaging their patients.

 

  1. Get your strategy together.

With a lengthy backlog of appointments, it’s important to first take a look at the appropriate patient journeys to implement, knowing that patient engagement and communication surrounding the era of COVID-19 will likely need to span the course of several months.

Not only will healthcare marketers want to think about how they’re driving patients to reschedule (especially without overwhelming their front office staff with phone calls), but they’ll also want to provide frequent and thoughtful updates about how the organization is taking the extra, necessary precautions to maintain patient safety, and also how they might react if there is another spike that will cause these activities to be put on hold again.

For healthcare providers who have dialed back or stopped their sending volume, it's also extremely important to create a plan around re-warming your IP.

When building a strategy, healthcare marketers should think about how to segment and prioritize patients, what content they can produce to share timely and relevant updates, how and when to communicate this information, and most importantly—how to provide a positive experience for their patients.

 

  1. Have the right tools in place.

To streamline the online scheduling process and reminders, healthcare marketers can leverage an integration between Health Cloud (or Sales or Service Cloud) and Marketing Cloud, with Health Cloud used as a means to integrate with your EHR to exchange relevant patient data between systems. To ensure a HIPAA-compliant exchange of data between systems, you can use a special configuration to develop field-level encryptions to protect identifiable patient data, while still exchanging the necessary information to properly segment patients for more personalized journey experiences. These integrations can help marketers build their lists effectively and easily, create truly personalized experiences, and put patients into the right journeys to drive higher engagement. Best of all, having a cross-cloud solution in place enables entire organizations to have a true 360 view of the patient and make informed decisions about their care.

Once these integrations are in place and your online scheduling system is set up, the next step is to think beyond rescheduling, and to start thoughtfully putting your communications strategy in place to help patients feel comfortable and confident in their decision to move forward with their elective procedures and appointments. 

 

  1. Get patients to opt-in to hear from you.

With 3-4 months worth of a patient backlog to re-engage, it’s needless to say that solely leveraging the front office staff or call center to re-engage patients would be an overwhelming approach for employees—especially when patients will likely have many questions regarding patient safety and adjustments being made to their care at this time. 

Depending on where a healthcare organization is in their digital transformation, there may be several different ways to drive opt-ins to receive emails and SMS from the organization. Below are a few ways a healthcare organization could consider encouraging patients to opt in to receive their messages:
 

  • A series of posts on the organization’s social media pages, driving patients to opt in and/or set up accounts

  • Ensuring there is an opt-in checkbox when a patient is setting up an online account with the organization, and implementing a pop-up message when a patient logs in reminding them to opt in to receive messages

  • An integrated direct mail campaign that encourages SMS and email opt-in

  • Leveraging the organization’s website to drive opt-ins for patients

  • Pushing notifications through your mobile app and encouraging opt-ins upon login (assuming they haven’t already opted in)

  • Including opt-in language in patient consent and financial responsibility documentation that all providers are required to obtain and maintain

 

  1. Start building your patient journeys.

Knowing that many procedures can require up to months of preparation for patients, healthcare marketers can consider the following types of content in their patient re-engagement journeys:

  • Content to help patients understand how their preparations may change to ensure patient safety

  • Information on how the organization is adapting to restrictions and precautions regarding COVID-19

  • Updates on timelines and wait periods for rescheduling surgeries

  • Instructions on how to reschedule and the best ways to communicate with the organization’s staff (i.e., office hours, deferring to self-service resources vs. calling, etc.)

  • Scheduling and appointment reminders

Leveraging highly-segmented lists based on urgency to reschedule and type of care needed, healthcare marketers can implement cross-channel journeys leveraging dynamic content based on preferred location, type of care, primary physician or specialist, and personalized links. Optimizing the use of personalization during this time will help cut through the noise and build relationships with patients at a critical time in their patient experience.

 

Now more than ever, it’s important for healthcare marketers to take a patient-centric approach. As everyone is adapting to our new reality, adjusting the approach to patient communication to focus on more thoughtful, personalized interactions will be critical in providing a positive patient experience and maintaining patient trust. 

Having the right team—and partner—in place to help quickly scale and develop new digital strategies and communications will be key to a healthcare organization's success in adapting to the COVID-19 world, and here at Lev, we’re here to help. Want to learn more about partnering with Lev to optimize the patient experience? Let’s get in touch.

 
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