Every week since the COVID-19 crisis began in the U.S., health systems are faced with a new set of challenges.
First it was triaging and caring for COVID-19 patients and establishing social distancing protocols. Not far behind: eliminating elective procedures and furloughing staff members due to low patient volumes. Clearly, the industry at the center of the crisis has been hit on multiple fronts.
With restrictions being lifted in many states across the country, healthcare faces yet another hurdle: re-engaging patients who have left the healthcare system and are hesitant to return.
Pressing Pause on Health
According to a survey conducted by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) of America, 32% of consumers had already made or were planning adjustments to spending on healthcare visits as a result of COVID-19. Additionally, 78% said they would skip at least one visit, whether it was a well visit, a maintenance visit for a chronic illness, an elective procedure, or a recommended lab test or screening. A TransUnion survey found that of the patients who had deferred an elective procedure, nearly 50% indicated they will only reschedule once they no longer believe there is a high risk of COVID-19 infection or once guidelines advise it is safe.
The reason for the significant drop in healthcare engagement is straightforward: the health and financial risks are too high. People don’t want to increase exposure to the virus by visiting the doctor, and they don’t want to spend money on non-urgent treatment given the economic uncertainty and rising unemployment. From the patient perspective, it looks like a lose-lose situation.
But, that’s not necessarily the case. A survey of nine major hospitals found the number of severe heart attacks being treated dropped by nearly 40% since the COVID-19 outbreak in March, and another survey found a similar decrease for stroke patients.
Healthcare professionals are concerned about negative patient outcomes for those who avoid seeking treatment for deadly conditions due to fear of catching the virus. This has prompted leaders of heart organizations to launch outreach programs, author op-ed pieces, and create social media campaigns targeted at concerned patients.
In a CNBC article, Dr. Harlan Krumholz at the Yale School of Medicine said hospitals need to get the message out that they are safe and that there are systems in place to protect non-coronavirus patients.
What Does This Mean for High-Risk Populations?
Monitoring population health trends has also been a challenge for health systems during COVID-19, particularly because many high-risk patients are not currently seeking treatment.
Delayed care for patients with chronic conditions can have long-term negative effects on significant numbers of patients nationwide. Mental health is also a big piece of the re-engagement puzzle, both for those already associated with a health system and those who are not; it will be increasingly difficult to treat this growing population in the current healthcare climate.
This is because, unfortunately, many high-risk patients do not have access to critical information — health systems haven’t communicated it. The PwC HRI survey found only 14% of consumers have received health information from health systems about what to do during the pandemic.
According to the report authors, health systems need to shift from transactional communication to staying connected with patients even when they are not directly interacting with the system. This involves understanding the biases and barriers keeping patients from re-entering the healthcare system; with this behavioral insight, organizations can establish trust and build loyalty over the long run.
Virtual Care Can Bring Patients Back
Telehealth solutions have proved valuable during the COVID-19 crisis and are one option for navigating many of these challenges and bringing inactive patients back into the healthcare system. In fact, of the 5% of Americans who reported that they or a family member used telehealth for the first time during the pandemic, 88% said they would use it again.
But in order for patients to adopt virtual care, they need to know what their options are. On the first episode of our webinar series: “Re-engaging Patients and Employees Post-COVID-19,” psychiatric nurse practitioner at TeamHealth Tonya Durant discussed the barriers to getting patients on board with virtual care. She noted that many patients simply don’t know they have the option to receive care over the phone or video chat. “It’s education. It’s getting the word out there that we have these resources…Educate. Educate. Educate,” she said.
Behavior Change AI Closes the Healthcare Communication Gap
Health systems can stay better connected with patients by employing personalized communication. Patients don’t want to receive generic messages that don’t resonate with their situations — they need to know how to approach their specific health needs in a post-COVID world. To create personalized messages, health systems need to understand how people make decisions, particularly in light of the health and financial risks posed by the pandemic. This will then equip them to compensate for the cognitive biases and barriers at play.
Patient-centered communication drives action. Not only can you inform patients about options like virtual care, you can also tailor your messages in a way that will drive them to participate — for improved patient outcomes overall.
Lirio’s behavior change AI approach helps facilitate this action by creating hyper-personalized communications that can be deployed at scale. Here’s how it can support your patient re-engagement efforts:
- Our behavioral science experts diagnose the barriers to patient re-engagement and design communications to effectively drive engagement with virtual and elective care and post-COVID health options.
- Delivery can be tailored to your processes and priorities, now as well as in the near and long-term, to overcome patient fears, ensure safety, and re-establish trust.
- Our platform leverages these behavioral science strategies with artificial intelligence to quickly process data streams about your patients, process their actions, iterate, improve, and repeat this indefinitely for hyper-personalized experiences.
- We scale what behavioral scientists do on a one-on-one basis to elicit actions to re-engage your patient population and improve health outcomes.
Watch Our Recent Webinar
The healthcare industry has only just begun to see the impact of virtual care on healthcare delivery in a post-COVID world. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done and a lot more we need to learn about how to set organizations up to promote increased access to care while maintaining empathy.
That’s why Lirio is hosting a webinar series: “Re-engaging Patients and Employees Post-COVID 19.” Check out Episode 2, “How Virtual Care Changes Population Health Management Post COVID-19.” I spoke with Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of American Telemedicine Association about the role of virtual care in the re-opening phase and the opportunity to meet people where they are.
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