The nation’s health systems are facing unprecedented challenges in the face of COVID-19. Hospitals, clinics, and private practices are under stress like never before. These are uncertain times. Cities are shutting down. Hospitals are over capacity. And patients are, understandably, scared.
As demand for care surges, even the nonclinical aspects of a practice, like ease of contact and effective communication, become mission critical. Getting ahead of patients’ fears and engaging local communities can alleviate some of the strain placed on the overtaxed healthcare system, freeing doctors up for their primary purpose: taking care of people.
Check your listings information across the vast healthcare web.
Under normal conditions, maintaining accurate, up-to-date listings can be a necessary but complicated task. You need to ensure patients access the right phone number, office hours, physician specialties, and more wherever they happen to be searching. Considering that most patients check at least two or three sites before deciding to make an appointment, the correct data needs to be syndicated web-wide, not just on your own website. In particular, double-check that your Google My Business profile is updated, as an influx of “near me” searches means your knowledge panel will experience higher-than-usual traffic. Highlight important messages and special announcements on your profiles by way of eye-catching banners, callouts, or even all-caps text.
Leverage one-to-many communication platforms to tell patients about your practice’s plan during COVID-19.
Anxiety is at an all-time high, and patients are likely clogging your phone lines and flooding your inbox with questions and concerns. Patients who have routine or elective appointments may want to reschedule, and many physicians are temporarily closing their doors to limit face-to-face contact and the spread of COVID-19. Curb this surge of incoming calls, emails, and texts by anticipating questions and sharing answers via mass communications. Explain new protocols, office hours, and more through one-to-many communication platforms that let patients better self-serve. Capitalize on the opportunity to emphasize your care philosophy as well as the ways you are focusing on the safety of your patients and your team. You may even try out video to put a face to message during this period of social distancing.
Monitor reviews to identify problem areas.
Reviews can tell you a lot about the performance of your practice, clinic, or hospital — both the positive and the negative facets. Since many reviews focus on nonclinical aspects, including wait times, staff demeanor, accessibility, and communication, they can point to locations or teams that might be reaching or surpassing capacity. Test-drive sentiment analysis to take the pulse of what’s happening outside of the examination room. These tools can shed light into specific needs and areas of improvement that you can immediately start to address.
Modify your online scheduling capacity for your practice’s needs.
Online scheduling is not only preferred by patients, but there are significant benefits to practices as well. Notably, it frees up time for your front-office staff to handle more pressing issues — like screening patients, sanitizing the waiting room, or handling increased in-office demand.
If you’re staying open later, starting earlier, have blocked out specific hours for walk-ins only, or are offering virtual appointments, adjust your hours to reflect your availability. And if you’ve temporarily stopped seeing patients entirely, use the vacation settings to block out the time you won’t be accepting appointments.
Partner with a telemedicine platform to limit spread.
Telemedicine is more than a buzzword. Advancements in technology coupled with an increased reliance on digital tools have led to a boom in patient trust for the field, which has seen a significant uptick in recent years. New fears about COVID-19 have further spurred interest in telemedicine’s capabilities, as face-to-face interactions are considered unsafe and patients are advised to limit travel. Virtual doctors’ visits can curb the spread of this virus (and others) to you, your patients, and your staff; screen concerned individuals; and reserve in-office appointments for those who truly are at risk, not suffering from seasonal allergies. HIPAA penalties are even being relaxed for healthcare providers who choose to use audio and video technology to communication or diagnose patients during the COVID-19 emergency.
Today, we are a nation facing unprecedented healthcare challenges. We will undoubtedly survive this pandemic thanks to the physicians, nurses, nonmedical staff, and others on the front lines working tirelessly to care for patients and slow the spread. With the correct digital strategies in place, health systems can operate more smoothly to mitigate risk and alleviate patient fears and frustrations. In uncertain times, such as these, engaging your physician should be dependable and as stress free as possible—when everything else is not.
Mara Kaufman is Chief Customer Officer for Doctor.com. Mara and her team are responsible for ensuring ongoing engagement and success post-sale. Mara oversees client success, client operations, implementation, research/production, and client marketing across Doctor.com’s global team. Mara’s experience with client management spans from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, with a specific emphasis on healthcare. She is a graduate of New York University and joined Doctor.com in 2014.