The healthcare industry, like most others, has pressed “play” after being on “pause” for the last three months. And everything looks different now, including population health.
Health systems put population health initiatives on the back burner to prioritize treating COVID-infected patients and flatten the curve. The vast majority of healthcare was postponed, revenue was lost, and many healthcare employees lost jobs.
Now, health systems are back in the business of pursuing non-traditional partnerships to improve outcomes across patient populations, but everything about healthcare and the world more broadly has changed. The approaches used to engage patients six months ago are less relevant today. They, like healthcare management and delivery, must adapt to be effective, too.
Engaging patients in a COVID-adjusted environment requires changes. Consider these as you adapt your population health strategy.
1. Get Proactive
Preventive care and proactive outreach have always been critical to population health management, but both need to account for COVID-19-related circumstances.
For instance, your patients need to know that even though many care activities were on hold during the pandemic, non-urgent issues can become urgent if they don’t pursue them. Your job is to proactively communicate with patients about what actions they need to take—whether enrolling in a patient portal, re-scheduling an elective procedure, or scheduling a routine screening, exam, or immunization.
Your communications must take into account your patients’ mindset, concerns, and contextual challenges in light of the pandemic. We refer to these as human decision-making biases (e.g., sunk cost fallacy, cognitive overload), and other barriers (e.g., fear, financial strain, lack of childcare) and facilitators (e.g., COVID fatigue, social norms). Health messaging is more effective when it matches the audience’s current state.
To maximize the impact of your health communications, consider the following health messaging best practices: increase risk perception, enhance self-efficacy, validate your patients’ concerns, and ensure the right messenger is delivering the communications.
Moving patients to re-engage their preventive care regimens helps ensure your schedule of procedures remains steady over the next several months. Preventive care matters, as seen by the disproportionate devastation of COVID-19 on people with preventable, chronic health conditions such as hypertension, obesity, chronic lung disease, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease.
2. Focus on Hard-to-Engage Populations
At-risk communities across the country hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak underscore the need to address social determinants of health (SDOH) in your population health strategy.
This has been the case at Brigham and Women’s Physicians Organization. In a recent Becker’s Hospital Review article, two executives shared how the organization “adapted [its] population health strategy to focus on proactive outreach to vulnerable populations most at risk for coronavirus infection or complications.” They did this by removing barriers to care in these hard-hit communities, proactively reaching out by phone and text, and establishing pop-up sites for COVID-19 testing, SDOH needs screenings, and resource provision.
As part of your population health strategy, consider identifying those at highest risk for COVID-19 infection and deliver personalized messages that speak to COVID-specific concerns and SDOH. Depending on the nature of their risk, you want to make sure these patients either have access to safe options for preventive care or understand the importance of continuing to stay home.
3. Ride the Virtual Care Wave
Getting patients to sign up or schedule their care is only half the battle; the other half is ensuring they show up. The delivery and receipt of care no longer needs to be entirely in person. Some care delivery can take place virtually.
COVID-adapted population health strategies should focus on increasing patient adoption of virtual care, as participation in telehealth will be key to keeping populations healthy during the pandemic and beyond. Carrie Harris-Mueller, Senior Vice President of Population Health at OhioHealth, shared with Becker’s Hospital Review that because of COVID-19, the organization fast-tracked the telehealth component of its population health strategy. “We were able to put the pedal to the floor and deliver new telehealth access points, not just for primary care, but for patients with chronic conditions and behavioral health needs. That resulted in almost 150,000 video and phone visits since the end of March,” says Harris-Mueller.
Virtual care allows providers to meet patients where they are, serving as a “digital front door” through which patients receive care conveniently from their screens. It’s important that the messages you deploy about virtual care mitigate patient concerns, such as the efficacy or privacy of virtual appointments, so you can increase adoption of the technology, and ultimately, adoption of the treatment plan.
Lirio Optimizes Population Health Communications
In healthcare, we’re learning the “new normal” is no normal. The way you operate your organization and engage patients will never look the same. Laying the groundwork now allows for flexibility as changes continue during and after the pandemic.
Lirio’s behavior change AI platform can help you do this by optimizing your population health communications in a way that moves patients to re-engage with your health system. Our process includes:
- Behavioral Audit: We research existing science around target behaviors—like scheduling screenings or enrolling in a patient portal—to uncover contextual and mindset barriers and biases that must be addressed. Then, we assess your existing communications and create a map outlining the steps your patients must take to complete the target behavior.
- Behavioral Analysis: We evaluate what’s being said in your communications and how people are likely to react to it. We also analyze each action path step to uncover potential biases and barriers.
- Solutions Design: We design communications to overcome barriers, align your existing communications with this approach, and design behavioral solutions to overcome barriers or counteract biases in the action path. Our AI platform delivers hyper-personalized messages that meet each patient where they are, thus uniquely moving them along their health journeys.
- Recommendation and Implementation: We recommend improvements to your communications and processes, and when appropriate, implement one of our AI-driven behavior change programs.
Watch Our Recent Webinar
We recently spoke with the team from Bon Secours Mercy Health about what their population health strategy looks like in light of COVID-19. Dr. Erin Fries, Chief Medical Officer of Population Health, and Dr. Justin McGoldrick, Chief Clinical Research & Innovation Officer, joined me for Episode 3 of our Patient Re-engagement webinar series, “Achieving Population Health Targets in a COVID-Adjusted Timeline.” Check it out.
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