How To Bring Patients Back

According to a recent survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Jarrard Inc., more than 55% of individuals in the U.S. have delayed medical care or have a person in their household who has. The primary reason given for delaying medical care is a concern for safety in terms of COVID-19. A total of 35% said they did not feel safe visiting a hospital or medical office and more than half said they rated the safety of medical facilities as below five on a 10-point scale.

With this major concern for safety in the healthcare setting, how long will it take for individuals to start seeking medical care again? The findings were as follows:

  • Visiting a doctor’s office: Forty-five percent said it would take them between two and six months to return to see their provider. Nine percent said it would take them a year or longer and 2% said they never plan to return to their doctor’s office.

  • Scheduling an elective procedure in a hospital: Thirty-eight percent said it would take them between two and six months to schedule an elective procedure. Twenty-four percent said it would take them a year or longer and 5% said they never plan to return to a hospital for an elective procedure.

  • Scheduling an elective procedure at an outpatient facility: Thirty-nine percent said it would take them between two to six months to schedule a procedure. Twenty-three percent said it would be a year or longer and 4% said they would never return to an outpatient facility for an elective procedure.

In total, 34% of respondents said it would be more than a year before they schedule an elective procedure at a hospital or outpatient facility. With many questioning the safety of hospitals and a concern for getting sick, hospitals can help patients overcome fears and return to their facilities by following the indicators that patients said would encourage them to seek medical treatment again. These indicators include:

  • Decrease in COVID-19 cases in their area

  • Isolation of infectious diseases at medical facilities

  • Doctor saying it is safe

  • The government saying it’s safe

  • Local hospitals saying it’s safe

Armed with that information, hospitals can devise communication plans that address patients’ concerns and reassure them that it’s safe to return. By focusing on these touchpoints, hospitals can craft messages that speak to what the hospital is doing to address each:

  1. Be Transparent about the number of COVID-19 cases: Disclose the current number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and tests performed at your facility each day. More importantly, focus on how many have recovered at your facility. The best way to provide this information is to have a daily update on your website and social media pages.

  2. Provide details about isolation areas and policies: Many are afraid to return the hospital because they fear being exposed to patients who currently have COVID-19. The best was to assuage this concern is to clearly communicate how you are isolating COVID-19 patients. Let patients know where in your facility COVID-19 patients are being treated and the precautions being used to separate them from other patients, such as using different providers or closing off a section of the hospital. Include this information on your website, social media and in email communications. Consider handing out flyers and setting up posters to show patients and visitors the isolated areas.

  3. Allow your providers to be heard: As trusted partners, having providers provide communications will resonate well within the patient community. Consider filming physicians and posting their messages on your website and social media pages. Engage the local media to have the physician quoted in an article or featured in a broadcast interview. If your facility offers a community publication, consider profiling the physician. Contact the provider’s patients through email, direct mail or phone call to let patients know that their doctor says it’s okay to come in for a visit and what to expect. Rely on frontline employees to communicate what safety precautions are being implemented and to reassure patients they are being protected.

  4. Disclose cleaning and sterilization procedures: It’s important to not only perform proper cleaning and sterilization measures but to also communicate what is being done. Offer clear information about the protocols that are being implemented to protect patients and visitors. Place posters at the entrances of facilities so that patients know what measures they will encounter and how they will be protected. Before even visiting the facility, provide a list on your website, social media and in emails. Consider submitting a press release to the local media to let the community know what you are doing to protect patients, visitors and staff.

  5. Provide updates from government agencies: Keep patients up to date about the latest guidance from the government. Let them know what’s reopened at your facility and what procedures are permitted to be conducted. Provide guidance from governing bodies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concerning measures for wearing masks, social distancing and the like.

  6. Communicate your hospital’s commitment to community health and safety: Hospitals play a crucial role in making patients feel safe again and this is an opportune time for hospitals to shine as trusted health partners within their communities. Hospitals can achieve this by continually providing communications and addressing patient concerns and questions. Facilities should strive to be their community’s COVID-19 resource as well as provide guidance around the return of elective procedures. While it’s important to communicate with patients and visitors on-site, hospitals should also employ digital strategies to reach the rest of the community. To let the community know it’s safe to return, provide communications through website updates, frequent social media posts, email campaigns and digital advertising.

There are many opportunities for hospitals to bring patients back. Employing appropriate tactics and addressing patients’ concerns is the best way to bring them back and to reinforce your position as a community health leader. If you need guidance on how to bring patients back and position your facility as the preferred provider of community-based health services, contact Applied Health Analytics to discuss strategy and consulting services.