Study shows that some practices are losing money due to missed appointments and poor follow-up.
The COVID-19 pandemic magnified existing weaknesses in patient communication and scheduling, according to a study.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a combination of lockdowns and fear set off massive cancellations of in-person medical services and the postponement of elective surgeries. Roughly half (51%) of patients in the survey report being contacted “fairly quickly” about rescheduling their cancelled appointments. However, for more than one-quarter (27%), it “took a while” for their health care providers to contact them to reschedule. Another 8% of respondents were still waiting to hear from their providers months after their existing appointments were cancelled.
Here are other key findings in the report:
Patients who rescheduled cancelled appointments were prompted by a phone call (56%), did so with no prompting (22%), text message (15%), letter (5%) or email (2%). Conversely, patients’ preferred communication channels are email (37%), phone call (30%), text (28%) and video call (5%).
57% said multiple reminders help them avoid cancellations.
When asked whether their providers effectively communicated their COVID-19 policies and procedures prior to attending scheduled appointments, 37% of respondents said “no.” Of those who had received prior instructions, the primary channel was by phone call (35%), followed by email (27%), text message (24%) and pamphlet via mail (9%). Only 5% received multichannel communication — representing an opportunity for providers to broaden their communication strategies to more effectively reach patients in their preferred channel.
Poor provider communications contributed to health systems experiencing a 13% drop in patient satisfaction during the pandemic, with 60% of respondents reporting being “very satisfied” compared to 73% pre-pandemic.
More than half of the respondents (54%) felt rushed during their medical appointments, an increase of 35% compared to pre-COVID experiences.
Another potential area of concern is whether health systems are losing patients because they can’t provide appointments when patients want and need them. Most respondents (82%) are willing to wait up to seven days for non-emergency appointments before they look elsewhere for medical assistance. Anything longer than seven days and physicians risk losing patients to more responsive and available providers.
While 29% of respondents said they did not utilize telemedicine services at all prior to the pandemic, the number of virtual visits grew during the COVID-19 outbreak, with 36% saying they’ve accessed care via telemedicine or virtual channels three to four times since COVID-19 began and 31% using it one to two times.
When it comes to virtual waiting rooms, 81% preferred them during the pandemic while post-pandemic, 55% of the respondents said they would prefer a physical waiting room. Of those who have used a virtual waiting room, 65% reported a positive experience. This is an indication that consumers will likely embrace a dual in-person and virtual model in a post-pandemic world.
The number of consumers seeking mental health treatment jumped by 10% during the pandemic, with 26% saying that the events of the past months including the pandemic, presidential election and social inequality have caused them to seek mental health treatment. More troubling is the finding that nearly one-quarter of consumers (23%) missed their appointments with their health care providers due to their mental state.
Prior to the pandemic, older age groups (55 and older) made up the largest percentage (40%) of those seeking mental health treatment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, younger consumers (aged 35 to 54) made up the largest portion (47%) of those who answered that they sought treatment for issues related to the pandemic or political events.