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Proactivity is key to re-engaging patients during COVID-19 and beyond

As we come off this winter’s record highs for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, some of us are returning to our places of employment, favorite restaurants, and local gyms and parks. For independent physicians, this renewed activity signals an opportunity to proactively approach patients who have postponed medical care and encourage them to come in for evaluations and workups. Of particular concern are patients with diabetes, heart failure, hypercholesterolemia, or other chronic conditions who routinely take medications and depend on consistent care.1

Have you been clear and concise in your communications to patients about scheduling an office visit or telemedicine visit?

In a study published in the journal Health Affairs, medical office visits were down by 69% in the month of April 2020,2 a finding that was likely due to hesitancy about returning to physician offices for fear of contracting COVID-19. Even with a rebound during the summer and fall, another study reported that the number of weekly visits at year’s end were below the typical-year trend, and numbers suggested a cumulative decline in visits across 2020.3 In a survey of primary care patients, 35% of respondents reported being overdue for a wellness visit, 32% were overdue for preventive care, and 19% indicated they were overdue for a chronic care visit. In addition, 23% of respondents had avoided medical care when they were sick or injured during the pandemic.4 According to a consumer engagement company, from a business perspective, it is imperative to get patients back into the office, not only to keep finances afloat, but to help save the practice from permanent closure.1 Published recommendations may help to keep practices in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.5,6

Proactive communication with patients can have a large impact on patient self-confidence and on expectations that the office is now safe to re-enter. Communication could involve calling patients ahead of time to remind them of appointments or of any changes the practice may have implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, patient anxiety may be reduced through consistent messaging regarding safety protocols (e.g., regular cleaning and disinfectant schedules, mask regulations for all staff, and distinct areas for well versus ill patients).1,7

The best way to reach your patients at an affordable cost to the practice may be through text or email. Consider using current and historical clinical and claims records to identify which patients need to be seen quickly.1 Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, preventive care has declined significantly, leading to, for example, reductions in screenings for cancer and other high-cost conditions. A recent study found that cancer patient encounters fell precipitously from January to April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, with some cancer screenings falling by almost 90%.8

For those who have reservations about coming into the office, even with proper precautions in place, recommend the use of telemedicine services, as appropriate, for patients with specific conditions and situations. Easy navigation tools on practice websites with various options for booking appointments will help drive knowledge and engagement for existing and new patients.1 Direct provider outreach, even through broadcast messaging, that addresses each patient by name can provide a personalized touch that could help your practice stand out among the competition.

Independent practices hope to ensure their success through updated policies and procedures, staff attentiveness and demeanor, and convenience of care, just to name a few. Getting patients back in the door won’t be without its challenges, but by following some simple steps the success rate should certainly be higher than without. Practice Fusion has a network of independent providers and solutions available to help manage the rough times we are facing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information about Practice Fusion’s response to COVID-19, visit our resource page.

References:

  1. 5 ways to reengage patients in the COVID19 era, Physician’s Practice
  2. Primary Care Practice Finances In The United States Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic, Health Affairs
  3. Impact COVID-19 Outpatient Visits 2020: Visits Remained Stable, Commonwealth Fund
  4. C19 Patient Series 1 National Executive Summary with comments.pdf (pcpcc.org)
  5. Tips for keeping your practice in business during the COVID-19 pandemic, American Medical Association (ama-assn.org)
  6. COVID-19: A physician guide to keeping your practice open, American Medical Association (ama-assn.org)
  7. Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility, CDC
  8. Cancer Screenings Plummet During Pandemic, Study Finds, Healthcare Innovation (hcinnovationgroup.com)