Avtex surveyed 1000 people in an effort to better understand the average patient's viewpoint regarding the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of our survey revealed a number of interesting insights that healthcare providers should consider when planning strategies to reactivate patient relationships.
For readability and clarity, we've broken our findings down into a series of blog posts:
1. Why Patients are Avoiding Healthcare, and What They Need to Return
2. The Impact of Age on Patient Sentiment in Healthcare
3. Engage Patients with a Multi-Channel Healthcare Experience
4. Safety Practices, Messages and Communication Tactics for Healthcare Providers
COVID-19 stole patients’ sense of safety and their confidence in the ability of healthcare providers to protect them. For healthcare providers, regaining that sense of safety and patient confidence is critical to returning to “business as usual” following the pandemic.
As part of our Patient Sentiment survey, we asked a number of questions to help better understand what patients need to feel protected and comfortable going back to their clinician again. Exploring these questions and the responses to them can shed light on the crucial steps healthcare providers should consider.
Which practices are most important for you to know that healthcare providers do?
Actively putting precautions in place was the most important factor, as well as the expectations of patients around masks, disinfecting, PPE, social distancing and screening based on temperature.
When you go back into healthcare settings in person, what can providers do to make you feel more comfortable with your visit?
- Address how COVID-19 is spread, incubation period and effective treatment. – female, 65+
- Assure clinic and exam room space is sanitized and that there is no risk. – Female, 35-44 years
- Clean after each appointment, wash hands frequently, have hand sanitizer present, have a mask on regardless of what you are doing, and don't contaminate objects you already cleaned from the previous patient. – Male, 18-24 years
- Allow me to go into the office when the doctor is actually ready for me, and let me wait in my car until then. – Female, 65+ years
The Most Critical Provider Actions
Across our survey data, the following actions were described as the most important things providers can do to make sure patients feel safe and secure.
- Disinfecting surfaces between patients: 88%
- Requiring staff, patients and visitors to wear masks or face coverings: 85%
- Having sufficient PPE for staff : 86%
- Enforcing social distancing in the waiting room: 84%
- Taking staff temperatures before they begin working: 83%
- Regularly testing staff for COVID-19: 80%
- Providing hand sanitizer: 80%
- Requiring staff to wear gloves: 79%
- Taking patient temperatures as they come in: 78%
- Sending communication to patients about safety procedures: 72%
- Pre-visit screening for COVID-19: 71%
- Displaying signage about COVID-19 safety: 71%
Communication and Messaging
- 75% would use online appointment scheduling
- 60% would use text-based appointment scheduling
- 50% would use live chat on providers’ websites (chat with a human)
- 29% would use automated chat on providers’ websites (chat powered by a bot)
- 79% would highly value electronic check-in in healthcare settings
As we can see from above, the most important actions to consumers are disinfecting surfaces and requiring masks, but patient communication and messaging also stood out as an easy, low-cost way for providers and health systems to raise patient confidence about returning for in-person care. While communication to patients can start with simple actions like messaging around safety, the group of patients who classified themselves as “more concerned” about returning for in-person care revealed the following tactics that providers can use make things easier:
Providers Need to Increase Patient Communication Frequency, Transparency
With the uncertainty around COVID-19, patients have come to desire more frequent communication from their healthcare providers, especially before an appointment.
- 31% of consumers won’t go to a provider without receiving communications describing safety procedures
- 72% consider this either “extremely” or “very” important
- 41% of post-graduate patients will not go to a provider without first receiving communications describing safety procedures
With this in mind, it is important that healthcare providers explore new messaging tactics to help improve patient confidence in coming back and to create stronger provider-patient relationships.
Viable messaging strategies include:
- Educating patients with more frequent communications, including information and tips for protecting themselves and their families, up-to-date information around COVID-19, and real time information about any changes to procedures, practice protocols, staff and other patient-interfacing details.
- Explaining the efforts being taken to minimize the risk of COVID-19.
- Describing safety procedures in place and how to navigate them before appointments and on-going as practices are updated.
- Explaining and offering options to make appointments easier (e.g. electronic check-in).
- Providing pre-appointment and post-appointment messages to help create a caring atmosphere and trust.
Frequent Communication is Key
Many of the messaging tactics above may seem contrary to the way things have been traditionally done, but the shift in patient sentiment toward consumerism has driven this increased need for communication and transparency. During COVID-19, patients lost security and confidence in more than just the healthcare industry. They also became afraid to travel on planes, go out to restaurants and shop for groceries.
Healthcare providers need to take a page out of the airline industry book – communicating even when consumers aren’t using services. When airline travel drastically declined, and fear resulted in cancelled flights and high levels of anxiety about traveling anywhere, airlines took to email to provide consumers with updates about what they were doing to make flying safe again, and how much they cared about their flyers. As travel opened back up, airlines got specific with their communication about the safety procedures in place to protect their customers from COVID-19. They chose to engage their consumers weekly, not just when they needed to fly.
Healthcare providers should look to evolve their patient communication strategy to include more frequent messages, non-appointment specific topics and overall health awareness. Communication should not just happen during each episode, but year-round. Patients have many choices for their health care, and as a result, providers need to create positive emotional ties to keep their current patients as well as earn new ones.
Build Trust with Communications, Safety and Digital Practices
Patients want to take care of their health but need greater reassurance and more options to do so in today’s environment. Of our surveyed patients, 36% still said they are going to wait at least six months before going back to the doctor voluntarily because of COVID-19.
Patients want to live a healthy lifestyle, but it’s up to providers to create an adaptive, safe and frictionless experience that fits within the realities of a COVID-19 world.
Avtex is here to help. Within our research, we’ve uncovered valuable data, offered procedures and practices to implement to help providers get patients back in the system and increase revenue, as well as provided key messages and communication initiatives for providers to use in today’s evolving healthcare world.