Even while we are all watching in dread as the COVID-19 crisis peaks, for health systems, the next wave of this surreal tsunami is still coming – the recovery phase. Healthcare providers around the world will face challenges unlike ever before, and patients will start to feel unnoticed.
It’s important to look into the future and consider how your team can help and plan for the recovery phase after this virus has been contained. There are several critical moves you can make right now to mitigate the long-term impact on your health system, starting with patients whose elective surgeries have been postponed.
Don’t Forget About Retaining Your Current Patients
Patients who are waiting on a procedure are already nervous and will only grow antsier and antsier as time goes on. If they begin to doubt their level of priority with you, they will eventually start to look elsewhere. That’s business you can’t afford to lose.
Retaining those relationships will keep a solid foundation in an uncertain time.
Here is a quick list of what should be addressed with your patients sooner than later to prevent further financial stress on your hospital:
Tips for Continued Patient Communications
- Don’t say “cancel,” say “postpone”
- Prioritize the communication channel you can implement fastest — call, if you can, and consider follow-up texts, emails, or letters
- Take ownership of the next step: "We will call you back”
- Let patients know the postponement is in part about protecting their health
- Remind them how to get in touch with their questions
Even with reduced staff and resources, you cannot afford to drop the ball with communication to your patients. Whoever makes these patients feel like a priority will get their business in the coming months, which will be critical to financial recovery.
Build a Team to Address Patient Communications
The health systems that start game-planning now about increasing procedure capacity and staying in touch with consumers can gain significant market share. Gather this team virtually to start planning. The ideal team may include clinic leadership, patient appointment scheduling/billing, surgical and preoperative leadership, patient experience, physician liaisons, and marketing/communications.
Use Every Communication Channel
Even if you haven’t typically used all of your available communication channels, now is the time to bring them all out. A phone call from a nurse is ideal, with consistent follow-up communications through secondary channels.
Even a text sent now can prevent confusion and reassure the patient. Ultimately, it’s all about choosing the communication channels your team can implement the quickest. Your primary channel should be phone calls directly to patients, and your secondary channels should be texts, emails, and then letters from providers.
Do Quick Call Training
Even call center workers are being furloughed in many health systems, so the staff who are talking to patients are often overworked and undertrained. By providing them with scripts that communicate care and a few key talking points, you will equip them with needed tools to provide your patients with a positive experience, and ultimately, keep their appointments.
The #1 guidance to share with anyone speaking to a patient whose care cannot be provided via telemedicine right now: We are not canceling your procedure, we’re postponing it. Here are a few talking points to include in patient call scripts:
1. Take ownership and reassure them
- Share plan of action for rescheduling, i.e. “we will call you to reschedule”
- Let them know their procedure will receive rescheduling priority since it was postponed
2. Communicate that their health is important to you
- Reiterate appointments are being postponed in part to keep them safe
- Restate the advisory precautions for the virus
3. Give them a way to get in touch
- Share the best number to call if they have questions
- Remind them of the best telemedicine option for them, and give them tips on how to use it
Below is a sample of how your hospital may want to consider outlining communications in the coming months.
Together, with each of your teams’ expertise at the virtual table, you can continue to tackle the next phase of recovery from COVID-19. It won’t be a quick road, but each step – especially clear internal and external communications – will be important to think through.