By Josh Weiner, Solutionreach
All over the country, businesses are cautiously opening back up. This includes healthcare. While some healthcare organizations never fully closed, all were impacted by the shelter-in-place orders that have happened across the country. And as we return to our “new normal,” there are a few things that you need to help patients understand. I was recently chatting with a friend of mine who helps run a fairly large healthcare organization. After reopening last week, one of his offices had a run-in with a confused patient. This patient was caught off guard when she was told upon arrival that she would need to wear a mask while in the facility, and since she didn’t know to bring her own, she would need to wear one of theirs. While his office staff had been trying to remind patients over the phone about new protocols, apparently she didn’t get the message and felt unprepared for her appointment. We want to avoid situations like this if possible. The better your communication is, the less likely you are to run into problems like this. This means that you may need to “over-communicate” with patients for a while. Here are some tips for patient communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Should Healthcare Organizations Be Communicating To Patients?
Most of us know that healthcare organizations need to let patients know about any changes that may impact them, but you also should tell them about things going on “behind the scenes.” This will help patients recognize all the extra time and effort you are putting into keeping them safe. It may also help them understand the “why” behind any special requests you make of them. Sharing this type of information is a great way to help combat some of that “skittishness” certain patients are feeling about the idea of returning to a healthcare setting.
Changes you should share that impact a patient include things such as:
- Requirements for face coverings in the office. Many states and national healthcare organizations are recommending that patients wear some sort of face-covering while in a healthcare office (except for during a procedure requiring access to the nose or mouth). If you are following these guidelines, be sure to ask patients to wear a mask and explain the reasons for doing so. You also will want to have your own masks available for patients who don’t have one.
- Alterations to your waiting room process. This might include required distances between patients or the removal of items such as magazines or toys. Many organizations are opting to have patients wait in their car rather than try to maintain safe distances in the office. Be sure to communicate this new check-in process well. If you are limiting the number of people who can accompany a patient, this should be communicated as well.
- Any health conditions that preclude a visit. For many specialties, patients with a fever, cough, or other symptoms should not be seen. If you are one of those specialties, be as diligent as you can to make this very clear with patients before their arrival. If you are a primary or urgent care facility and DO see patients with these symptoms, be sure to communicate what processes patients should go through before coming into the office.
- Contactless payment or intake processes. A good way to eliminate contact between patients and staff members is to move to digital payment and intake processes. This gets rid of clipboards, pens, and other items that may inadvertently spread germs. Using these new tools may require some education and support for patients. You may want to put together an FAQ document with answers to common questions to help patients know what to expect.
- The addition (or focus on) telehealth visits. Telehealth has taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic. While most patients are happy to meet virtually with their doctors, many might need some guidance on how that process will work. Be sure to send clear communication before each telehealth visit so patients can know what to expect.
Changes that patients may not directly see, but should be shared regularly (every week or two is best) to bring awareness to your heightened safety protocols might include:
- Cleaning and sanitization
- Additions of PPE
- Staff health
- Changes to patient scheduling or flow
- Procedures for managing exposure to a COVID-19 patient in the office
- Closure of office to salespeople or deliveries
During this time, transparency is critical—especially when it comes to changes you’re making for the health and safety of everyone involved. These changes should be communicated in every way possible but especially using a patient’s preferred method of communication. This may be via text message, email, or phone call. In addition, it is a great idea to alert patients to changes via text message, newsletters, social media, video, office signage, and even on your voicemail message. Don’t just send a message one time but continue to reiterate the changes repeatedly. By conducting your due diligence in this way, you have the best chance of bringing wary patients back into the office, strengthening current relationships, and avoiding situations involving irate patients.
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.