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Innovative Communication Strategies for Healthcare Organizations Combating COVID-19

To the healthcare community, THANK YOU for everything you do. Your commitment to caring for those impacted by COVID-19 and searching for a cure are appreciated. We see the long hours you’ve put in and the sacrifices you continue to make day in and day out to put an end to this crisis. No words can truly express our gratitude – but THANK YOU.

Effective communication is playing a critical role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Interactions and regulatory changes between patients, members, providers and government entities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will shape treatment strategies and the overall response to the crisis. With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of updates and recommendations healthcare providers can leverage to optimize communication with patients and other care organizations.

Telehealth

Recently, the United States Department of Health and Human Services announced that it is altering its enforcement of certain rules governing the delivery of telehealth appointments. HHS OCR won’t assess penalties on providers who use non-HIPAA compliant communication technologies to provide telehealth services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. This relaxation of rules applies to all healthcare services, not just those that are related to COVID-19.

According to the announcement, “a covered health care provider in the exercise of their professional judgement may request to examine a patient exhibiting COVID- 19 symptoms, using a video chat application connecting the provider’s or patient’s phone or desktop computer in order to assess a greater number of patients while limiting the risk of infection of other persons who would be exposed from an in-person consultation.”

This means that providers may use any form of personal audio or video communication, such as:

  • Skype for Business / Microsoft Teams
  • Zoom for Healthcare
  • GoToMeeting

Telehealth services may not be delivered via public-facing apps like Facebook Live, Twitch, and TikTok.

While providers should exercise care and discretion when exploring these options to ensure compliance with the announcement and HIPAA regulations, providers may take immediate action to serve patients remotely using solutions already available within their technology ecosystems. Other use cases include physician rounding (no need to visit every patient room) and psych consults. So far, the response to this technology has been amazing. One health system recently reported seeing an 1,100 percent increase of its telehealth services in a single week.

In addition to the expansion of allowable telehealth technologies, CMS also announced that:

  • Physicians may bill for telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits.
  • Hospitals can bill for services that are performed outside their four walls, such as directing patients via telehealth to offsite screening locations.
  • CMS will pay for 80 additional services when provided via telehealth.

The government response is changing daily. For the most up-to-date information, visit the CMS website.

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COVID-19 Bots

Microsoft has partnered with healthcare providers and government agencies to develop and support innovative bot solutions designed to enable information sharing and care delivery. These bots are readily available for healthcare providers and can be invaluable in optimizing patient communication, providing basic triage recommendations, diverting patients and delivering breaking news updates.

Microsoft Healthcare Bot Service
Available to organizations on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot helps screen patients for potential infection and care. The Healthcare Bot service leverages AI to help the CDC and frontline organizations respond to inquiries, freeing up doctors, nurses, administrators and other healthcare professionals to focus on providing critical care.

Using the service, providers can develop their own custom tools for combatting the spread of COVID-19. Microsoft has released various COVID-19 related templates, including COVID-19 risk assessment based on CDC guidelines, COVID-19 clinical triage based on CDC protocols, COVID-19 up-to-date answers to frequently asked questions and COVID-19 worldwide metrics.

View Microsoft’s recent blog to learn more about how the Healthcare Bot service can help your organization address the COVID-19 crisis.

CDC COVID-19 Assessment Bot
Built on the Microsoft Healthcare Bot service, the CDC COVID-19 assessment bot can quickly assess the symptoms and risk factors for people worried about infection, provide information and suggest a next course of action such as contacting a medical provider or, for those who do not need in-person medical care, managing the illness safely at home.

Crisis Management Applications
These applications can help providers and other healthcare organizations collaborate remotely and stay informed via real-time updates. They allow employees to share up-to-date information, coordinate teams and their response to the crisis and report status. Read about some examples built on top of the Microsoft platform.

Personalized Outreach Strategies

Proactive communication to patients and community members is an important strategy for reducing the confusion, fear and frustration associated with the current pandemic. To be truly effective, such outreach should be personalized to the consumer – providing information that applies directly to their unique situation and concerns will further help to alleviate their worries.

While it may seem like a challenge, healthcare providers can personalize outreach to the same level as any retail or service-based organization. Using CRM solutions and Microsoft’s Customer Insights platform, you can develop a customized message campaign based on any number of unique factors and micro segments, including:

  • Risk factors: Personalize outreach based on risk factors developed by the CDC or your own organization, including pre-existing conditions, high likelihood of exposure, social distancing data and more. Keep those at most risk informed of prevention strategies, digital care options (telehealth, etc.), testing details and ways to stay safe.
  • Geographic location:Residents of specific geographic areas are at higher risk of exposure. Alerting patients and members that they reside in these hot spots – and steps they can take to stay safe – should help to manage the spread of the virus.
  • Treatment plans:Patients testing positive for COVID-19 that do not require hospitalization must adhere to a strict treatment plan, both to treat the virus and to stop its spread. Develop a personalized messaging strategy to keep patients updated on their treatment plans and responsibilities. The goal in any effective communication plan is to educate, inform and engage. Additionally, a personalized outreach strategy will keep patients safe at home and not in hospital beds which will be in high demand throughout this crisis.

Help is Available

If you have questions relating to any of these strategies, the Avtex healthcare team is here to help.

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