Guest Column | February 10, 2021

COVID-19 Communications: Meeting Patients Where They Are

By Josh Weiner, CEO, SR Health by Solutionreach

COVID 19 Coronavirus

There’s been a spate of good news in recent weeks on the COVID-19 vaccine front that is cause for hope and optimism in the war against the coronavirus. The pace of vaccine production and distribution by the U.S. government has been accelerated, making more doses available to more people sooner. In many states, the prioritized rollout has transitioned from healthcare workers and long-term facility residents to vaccinating adults 70 years of age and up. President Joe Biden has set a goal to administer 100 million shots of the vaccine in his first 100 days in office.

In short, healthcare organizations and government authorities have made efforts to refine and speed up the distribution process while addressing numerous logistical issues to get more vaccines in arms. As of Feb. 3, the government has released nearly 53 million doses to the states and almost 33 million doses have been administered. In total, more than 26 million Americans have received one or more doses of the vaccine.

Supply may also soon see a bump. Progress reports about candidate vaccines Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca look promising, with both achieving high levels of protection against the virus during clinical trials. It’s expected that the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca versions of the vaccine will receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization within the next couple of months, which would increase overall vaccine production supply alongside the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

However, significant challenges rolling out the vaccines that range from distribution to administering the COVID-19 shot to individual patients still face healthcare organizations. Certainly, one of these is overcoming the myriad logistical issues of receiving, properly storing, managing, and administering first and second doses quickly without major hiccups. Providers must factor in these complexities and create tangible plans that consider the many moving parts and potential pitfalls of dispensing the vaccine.

Yet one of the timeliest and perhaps most obvious hurdles to getting patients the vaccine is efficient and effective communication between providers and patients. At this moment, in February 2021, providers’ most important mission is to prepare the community they serve to receive the vaccine. So much concerning the vaccine has transpired in recent months that people are confused, they have questions, and some have fears. Vaccine hesitancy still hovers around 20 to 40 percent. Providers should act as trusted authorities to reach out to patients to inform, answer questions, and help them overcome concerns to get butts in seats during vaccination drives.

For effective hospital-patient engagement leading up to the vaccinations, providers need to meet people where they are. That means connecting with patients and the community using the same forms of communication they use rather than relying on the traditional forms such as a phone call or even email. What’s the answer? In a word, texting. No longer is it just the go-to communication favorite of younger generations. A recent patient communication preferences study showed that nearly 80 percent of patients want to receive texts from their healthcare provider. It’s because texting is accessible, quick, convenient, and effective. Upwards of 80 percent of American adults own a smartphone and about 96 percent use it to text message.

When it comes to the vaccine rollout, speed is the name of the game and no communication method is faster than text. Research shows that 95 percent of people read text messages within 15 minutes. Text messages are also 209 times more likely to be responded to than a phone call. And those responses usually come in less than 90 seconds. One provider in Alaska experienced this rapid delivery and response as they rolled out the vaccine. They used text messages to alert patients of a vaccine clinic. They got the word out about scheduling vaccines so fast through text, that it hadn’t been reported yet anywhere else. Patients began posting screenshots of the text to Facebook and it went viral.

Providers who want to reach out to patients with well-sourced patient education about the vaccine should use texting as the format. It’s also the ideal way to send out automated pre-vaccination surveys to gauge patients’ attitudes about receiving the vaccine, pre-visit instructions, and vaccination follow-up group messages. Employing a digital patient communication system to automate vaccine education messaging and scheduling is a sure-fire and cost-effective way for providers to meet patients where they are while freeing up staff resources for more complex duties.

And meeting patients where they are is not only a one-way proposition. Seventy-three percent of participants in the patient communication study said they wanted to be able to send texts to their healthcare provider. Two-way text messaging enables patients and providers to connect in a dependable and timely way that supports greater access to vaccinations. It allows providers to be more responsive to patients by quickly answering questions about the vaccine while letting staff engage with multiple patients simultaneously. Through HIPAA-compliant text messages, a healthcare organization can be there when a patient needs them, which means attaining a higher level of patient engagement, and in the end, a better patient experience.

Healthcare organizations that are agile in adopting today’s modern, more accessible communication tools will be more successful in connecting with patients for COVID-19 vaccinations and their healthcare. No wonder over 80 percent of providers who use text already believe that it improves both patient experience and outcomes.

About The Author

Josh Weiner is the CEO of SR Health by 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. Before 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 and two children. 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.