By Josh Weiner, CEO, Solutionreach
As COVID-19 continues to impact the United States, scientists are learning more and more about how and when transmission takes place. We now see that the virus comes in peaks and valleys. And in a country of enormous geographical size like the U.S., we inevitably have areas all along the spectrum. And whether we call these peaks and valleys an extended first wave or a second wave, it doesn’t really matter. For the foreseeable future, COVID-19 isn't going anywhere—and this means you need to be prepared for whatever might come.
A big part of successfully navigating this pandemic is the establishment of clear and effective communication with patients. Patients should be receiving regular email updates on the pandemic and how your organization is adapting. When changes occur in your area, text messages should be sent to alert patients. In addition, you should be carefully regulating your recall and reminder messages. It may seem overwhelming, but fortunately, healthcare organizations don’t have to be alone in the process. There are a variety of patient communication tools that can be used to share (and automate) a lot of this information.
The Type And Frequency Of Messaging Depends On The Condition Of The Virus In Your Area
To communicate most effectively, healthcare organizations need to keep a close eye on the situation at hand. Patients want different types of communication from their healthcare providers depending on just what is going on around them. Are things calm? Are cases on the rise? Are you seeing a big surge and the healthcare system is getting taxed? Each of these situations calls for different messaging. Here are some best practices depending on the state of the virus in your area:
Urgent phase: If you are seeing large numbers of cases, are designated a high-risk area, or are amid shutting down, you need to increase the amount of communication you are sending to patients. In an urgent phase, reach out to patients at least weekly. Teach patients about best practices and try to motivate adherence to guidelines that will help stem the tide of cases. Share information about how and when they should be seen. Early research is suggesting that many patients have avoided being seen for fear they will only add to the chaos. Be sure to let patients know that if they are experiencing any serious health symptoms (COVID-19-related or not), that they should not hesitate to reach out. During an urgent phase, leverage telehealth as much as possible and be sure to share details with patients about how to access that service.
Recovery phase: On either side of the peak, lie those in this group. Some areas may have hit a peak and are now heading down into a valley. On the flip side, some areas have not yet hit a peak but may soon. These groups both require similar handling when it comes to communication. Reach out every two to four weeks, depending on your specialty and patient base. Continue to share relevant information on staying healthy and reducing spread. In addition, be sure to let patients know how your organization is seeing patients. If your office is open, communicate with patients about safety protocols within the practice. Some organizations struggle with this. Most sent out emails, changed their website, and let patients know in signage or over the phone about new safety protocols early in the pandemic. And yet patients continue to show up for appointments seemingly unaware of these changes (and irritated when informed of things they didn’t expect). The truth is that organizations need to continue to reiterate these changes in every way possible. Plan to include your new safety protocols in messaging through the rest of the year.
Preparation phase: Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. Even if your area has already seen a large wave of cases, another wave will undoubtedly follow. During a calm phase, continue to reach out monthly. It is important to not let communication die off because you will likely see another peak in the future. In fact, experts are warning that the upcoming fall and winter may be very trying due to coronavirus infections and influenza cases occurring at the same time. On July 14, CDC Director Robert Redfield explained, “I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we've experienced in American public health.” If you are in a phase with low spread and few cases, you should be reaching out to patients encouraging them to get seen for more routine procedures now. Preventative care, elective surgeries, and regular check-ups should be done now as they may not be able to take place later.
First wave, second wave, peaks, valleys—however, you want to describe it, it is now apparent that COVID-19 will be around for some time. Never has patient communication mattered so much. It is important to adjust the level of communication depending on where your state and city are in the crisis. Doing so will ensure you give your patients the highest level of care possible, engendering loyalty and trust for years to come.
About The Author
Josh Weiner is the CEO of Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Prior to Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife, daughter, and golden retriever Willow (who often makes cameos at the Solutionreach office). Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah’s mountains and deserts. Connect with him on LinkedIn @joshfweiner.