As we enter the second year of the pandemic, it’s important for the healthcare industry to reflect on the past and learn for the future. While the long-term impacts of Covid-19 are still unfolding, here are four ways hospitals and health systems are beginning to understand the monumental impact of the pandemic on the healthcare industry.
The emergence of a contactless experience
To remain operational, various industries like hospitality, retail, and restaurants implemented contactless service, which in many cases required digital support. The healthcare industry has faced similar challenges, requiring the rapid adoption of low-contact patient interactions such as digital appointment scheduling and check-in, virtual waiting rooms, contactless payments, and virtual visits. While this type of interaction increased in popularity because of the pandemic, it’s here to stay, and that means patients will expect options with minimal contact moving forward. Online scheduling allows patients to easily book appointments from their smartphone, computer, or tablet. This eliminates the back-and-forth phone tag and long wait times that can come with traditional scheduling. Patients can book appointments during off-hours and reschedule with ease. Another contactless service is a virtual waiting room, which satisfies an ever-growing desire for live status updates, similar to a text notification from a restaurant when your table is ready. When it comes to virtual waiting rooms, a recent survey found an overwhelming majority of patients preferring them. Patients can check-in from their mobile device and remain in their vehicles until an exam room is available, bypassing the traditional waiting room.
The implementation of a hybrid care model to reach all patients
It’s no surprise that the pandemic has brought telehealth to life like never before. When used effectively, telemedicine can be a powerful vehicle to drive patient access, action, and adherence. It can be convenient, efficient, and comforting to conduct a virtual visit at home. However, telehealth is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
The transition to telehealth must be made with great care, or it will only worsen existing issues faced by underserved and under-resourced communities that are already disproportionately impacted by healthcare access issues. Logistical challenges such as a private space within one’s home or basic health literacy can impact one’s ability to take advantage of telehealth visits. Additionally, non-native English speakers may not have a successful virtual visit since most telehealth platforms are built in the English language, even if the provider speaks their language. Hospitals and health systems should serve these patients in an alternative manner and be well equipped to offer a hybrid care model, where physical care joins digital care to create a cohesive experience for both patients and providers. This will help to ensure visits are productive, and patients feel in control of their health.
The essential components of a seamless Covid-19 vaccine rollout
While the nationwide rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine is a historical first in many ways, some experts are beginning to believe that we may need to revaccinate on an annual basis, similar to the flu vaccine. Once children are included as well, the Covid-19 vaccine program may become an even larger, annual event. Saving lives, improving patient trust, attracting new patients, and potentially repeating large-scale vaccinations yearly should be a clear incentive for creating an efficient and repeatable process for patient engagement throughout the vaccine distribution. Continuous, effective communication reduces patient confusion and frustration, makes a vaccine clinic run smoothly, reduces no-shows, prevents vaccine waste, and alleviates strain on staff members. Of note, user-friendly, HIPAA-compliant scheduling options makes it easy for patients to schedule, confirm, or reschedule vaccination appointments in the channel of their choice while keeping protected health information safe.
Hospitals and health systems should consider the logistics behind vaccinating large groups of people at once. Understand how you will protect the vulnerable yet still vaccinate as many people per day as possible. Recognize how you will socially distance patients after they’ve been vaccinated but still monitor them for adverse reactions. Prepare for inclement weather and perhaps even hire security should tempers flare while waiting in line. All of these considerations and more should be outlined in one’s rollout plan. It must be comprehensive and flexible and be able to easily and rapidly scale to handle continuous waves of high volume and frequent changes in patient eligibility and availability of vaccine.
The importance of tailored patient engagement and education As a society, we’re currently experiencing an information problem as questions around the vaccine are left unanswered and people are turning to social media and unreliable sites to obtain information. It’s important for hospitals and health systems to position themselves as a trusted resource. This includes policing social media activity, tailoring content to specific subsets of patients, creating a feedback loop to know which questions are being asked and if they’ve been answered appropriately, and ensuring staff members have access to one global knowledge base so answers are consistent. Many patients have delayed care in fear of contracting Covid-19, so it is increasingly important to educate patients on the safety precautions that are put in place to ensure they are returning to routine care.
Americans with low health literacy might be fearful of receiving the vaccine because they don’t fully understand its benefits and purpose. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it hard for patients to feel in control of their health, even more so for patients with low health literacy. At a time when the public needs access to reliable and comprehensible health information, much of the content that has been provided was written in a format that only a small percentage of Americans can truly comprehend. In California alone, for example, there are more than 200 different languages spoken, and nearly seven million people face a language barrier. To assist with the language barrier, your health system can offer virtual or in-person classes to discuss the importance of being vaccinated, for instance. By offering classes, you can combat any doubts they might have and explain when, where, and how to get vaccinated. The burden of low health literacy doesn’t just rely on the individual; health systems must promote patient education and engagement to improve patients’ health literacy.
The pandemic will continue to shape healthcare as we know it, but communicating effectively with patients and being the trusted source of information should always be the priority.