No industry has undergone the ‘stress test’ that the healthcare industry has as a result of Covid-19. Thrust onto the frontlines at the onset of the crisis, the industry has had to overcome challenge after challenge along the way. The pressure this has created around running a business is evident in the widespread bottom line impact. A recent MGMA report found that 97% of practices have experienced a negative financial impact related to Covid-19. Further, the average medical practice saw a 55% decrease in revenue in the early months of the crisis as in-person visits — those critical to the financial health of an organization — seized amidst new health & safety concerns.
The just released COVID-19 & The Future of TeleHealth Report shows that these challenges still persist, with 84% of Americans saying they are concerned about their health and safety when visiting a healthcare facility. This fear, which has led to high incidences of patience skipping in-person appointments is worrisome under any circumstances, but particularly so today as we find ourselves at the convergence of Covid-19 and flu season.
Doctors and health officials are urging Americans to get vaccinated against influenza in record numbers this fall to avoid the worst case scenario: a bad flu season and a surge in Covid cases that results in overwhelmed hospitals, doctor offices and laboratories. This ratchets up the urgency for providers to find ways to instill confidence in their patients to get them in the doors for vaccinations and other healthcare needs.
While the challenges are undeniable, research shows that as telehealth becomes more prevalent, an extra dose of contactless and real-time communication can go a long way toward safeguarding both the medical health of their patients and staff, as well as the long term financial health of their organizations.
Build Confidence with Real-Time Communication
More than half of Americans (54%) say that they have postponed or skipped an in-person doctor appointment because of health and safety concerns since the onset of Covid-19. While this makes sense and follows in line with recent consumer shifts around how people are visiting businesses in person, skipping a doctor appointment can have real consequences. And when you consider that 40% of individuals 65 and older — those with the highest risk — say they have postponed or skipped an appointment it becomes even more concerning.
Similar to what we saw in our Covid-19 & the Future of Commerce Report, with consumers saying that real-time and contactless communication from businesses about health & safety protocols would make it more likely for them to visit in-person, we are seeing parallel trends when it comes to healthcare. In fact, 81% of Americans say that proactive updates on health & safety standards and protocols prior to a visit would increase their likelihood of visiting their healthcare provider.
With technology such as text messaging healthcare providers can alleviate much of the concern. From pre-arrival messages to communicating new safety standards and procedures to providing a manageable channel for two-way communication across the new patient journey, messaging can play a crucial role in getting patients confident enough to get them through the doors for the treatments they need, while keeping staff and other patients safe in the process.
Alleviate Strain on Teams By Empowering them to Do More With Less
The pandemic has placed an extraordinary strain on healthcare providers and their teams. From unprecedented surges in urgent patient inquiries to the configuration of practices being flipped upside down overnight, it’s no wonder that teams are facing meteoric spikes in burnout. The many unknowns related to COVID-19 only further complicate the matter as hospitals, clinics and pharmacies work to stay on top of ever-changing details that need to be communicated to patients and colleagues.
However with a proper communications strategy powered by text messaging providers can better manage their workflows and scale communications with patients and team members without compromising patient centered communication. Intelligent text messaging platforms enable teams to automate messages such as updates on health & safety protocols, appointment reminders and test results and also automatically escalate to a team member when a more personalized, human approach is needed.
There are plenty of benefits for patients as well, including quick and direct lines of communication that allow them to stay updated on ever-evolving situations that could impact their health, avoid waiting through long hold times and receive the information needed to keep them safe. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that a resounding 73% of Americans said “yes” when asked “If you had the option to communicate with your doctor or healthcare provider via text, would you do so?” Additionally, 64% of respondents said they would opt in to text updates on COVID testing, results and vaccine availability and 38 % said that their preferred method for receiving updates and results for test results (COVID or any other) is text.
Listen, Learn and Improve the Patient Experience
The rise in telehealth has been critical to help combat the global health crisis. With 60% of Americans saying that they’ve had at least one virtual doctor appointment since March there’s no question that these innovative technology solutions are the future of healthcare. As these models advance, so too must the communication surrounding them.
Until recently, communication between health care providers and patients has been for the most part limited to in-person appointments and phone calls. In recent years, providers have instituted patient portals where patients can message their providers directly. However, calling this ‘communication’ may be a stretch as it often takes days to hear back from a physician and many responses come from administrative staff.
It’s absolutely crucial that communication between providers and patients evolve alongside telehealth tools to create a positive end-to-end digital experience. According to our recent research there’s a lot of room for improvement, with only 37% of Americans saying that their healthcare provider’s use of technology to facilitate real-time communication around their medical needs is “great.” The majority of respondents said that it is just OK (55%) and an additional 8% said it was poor.
By utilizing digital — and contactless — forms of communication such as text messaging and an intuitive interface that allows you to capture patient experience signals, and respond to valuable insight in the moment, providers can easily handle rapidly changing circumstances and provide fast, frictionless patient experiences.
Research continues to support that health care patients are not loyal to their providers. In fact, Accenture found that consumers are less likely to advocate for their healthcare providers than for their banks, hotels, consumer electronics and retail companies. As digital health experiences become more prevalent, the friction that exists in switching providers will be eroded. When it becomes easier for patients to switch it will come down to a couple factors. Plagued by a history of less than stellar communication and a future where concern around health and safety issues will remain top of mind, communication will be the differentiator.
Healthcare providers that have the tools to listen and understand new patient concerns and expectations, and use those learnings to develop and execute a communication strategy, have a tremendous opportunity to drive confidence and loyalty in real-time.