The challenge of a global pandemic like COVID-19 has impacted most in-person businesses, but perhaps one of the most surprising impacts has been in the patient experience arena. People around the country have reported being fearful of visiting their local healthcare practice because of the perception of a higher risk of infection in a medical environment. Some are even foregoing critical treatment or testing due to these fears. If you’re a provider who has noticed a drop off in regular appointments, here are three considerations you should keep in mind when formulating your patient experience for the remainder of the pandemic:
3 Critical Considerations in Your Covid-19 Patient Experience
1. If possible, make telehealth options available (but do it right)
The single easiest way to allay fears about possible infection is to provide virtual consultations to your patients. Telehealth options allow your patients to receive assessments and important updates from the comfort of their homes — and in conjunction with remote testing options, support a wide variety of standard care practices. While telehealth does remove the fear of infection or transmission, it unfortunately adds some anxieties of its own. Less than half of patients surveyed responded that they would trust a telehealth diagnosis, particularly if they were a new patient.
Because of these considerations, it’s critical that if you use telehealth options, make sure your virtual consults build trust and confidence with your patients. Be sure to use video, which will help provide visual cues while asking diagnostic questions. Be on time for virtual appointments, which patients new to the technology may find confusing. If you are delayed, have your front office staff start the call and run through preliminary screening. Finally, stay focused on the patient for the duration of the call. Even minor distractions on your part will undermine their confidence in you.
Unfortunately, not everyone can access telehealth options (both on the provider and the patient side), so an in-office visit will be required. For in-office care, the remaining considerations are even more critical.
2. Clear communication is more critical than ever
When patients delay preventative care, diagnostic screenings, and required procedures due to fear, their overall prognosis can be greatly diminished. It’s essential, then, to get in front of these concerns with clear communication about the current state of your practice. Some of the most important topics that need to be communicated are:
- Additional precautions being taken regarding office hygiene
- Alterations to hours or schedules during the pandemic
- Any changes to availability of in-office procedures or screenings
Additionally, many practices are seeing increased interest in monthly newsletters from their providers, outlining tips for protecting family and friends from infection, along with other general healthcare information, including dietary tips (“Dropping the Corona 15”), personal healthcare practices, and lay interpretations of the current CDC advice.
Finally, if you’re not using your EMR to generate standard screenings and preventative care reminders, now is the time to get started. Generate lists of patients due for vaccines, cancer screenings, and chronic disease management — which covers conditions like asthma, diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — and send follow-up reminders for these services. Reviewing practice-wide data can also help you identify where to dedicate more time and resources. For example, if the data shows you’re seeing a big drop in vaccinations, you can feature vaccinations in your following newsletter, and pair that with reminders to individual patients based on their records.
3. Create visible safety in your practice waiting rooms, exam rooms, and scheduling
The realities of reducing the spread of Covid-19 mean that you may need to make some visible changes to your practice location to conform with CDC guidelines and create visible safety to establish confidence in your patients. Consider implementing the following changes:
Control the flow of patients in your practice: Stagger scheduling to reduce total waiting room volume, and request that patients reduce the number of visitors accompanying them during visits. Remove or block off chairs to maintain distance between patients in the waiting room.
Take extra steps to protect the vulnerable: Schedule appointments for the elderly, sick, or immunosuppressed early in the day, when the waiting room and exam rooms are the cleanest and chances of infection are lowest. Implement additional cleaning and hygiene steps in the waiting room in the middle of the day.
Add pre-screening to appointments to check for signs of infection: Patients reporting cold or flu symptoms should be treated as high-risk and, if possible, be seen virtually via telehealth. Adding diagnostic questions to the scheduled confirmation call can also help determine if a patient is potentially high-risk.
The realities of the current pandemic may require additional thoughtfulness to bring your patient volume back up if you’ve experienced a drop-off. Still, by focusing on a safety-centric patient experience and enhancing patient communications, you create an environment where patients feel safe to return and confident in your commitment to their health.