By Mike Pietig
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant transformation across the healthcare industry. No provider has been untouched. Fortunately, we’ve witnessed how our healthcare system can quickly prepare and adjust to the crisis to ensure patients receive the care they need. Certainly, we should all be extremely grateful for the work of healthcare staff on the front lines. Their commitment has not gone unnoticed. We all hope this pandemic will come to an end sooner rather than later.
Planning for Recovery
How healthcare providers respond in the days, months and years following the crisis will be just as important as the actions taken during the pandemic. As hospitals and clinics prepare to reopen their doors to all patients, it’s critical to develop a strategy that puts the patient experience at the forefront. When developing a post-COVID-19 Patient Experience strategy, healthcare organizations should focus on reducing patient effort, empowering patients and delivering personalized experiences.
Streamline Interactions and Processes
Patients are hyper-sensitive during this time of uncertainty. With that in mind, it is important to make it as easy as possible for patients to schedule appointments for elective procedures or search for information regarding preventive care or minor conditions. A few extra steps might cause a significant hit to your satisfaction scores. Take the time now to review each patient journey and individual interaction to identify unnecessary, redundant or inconvenient steps along the way. If these steps are not directly necessary to support patient care, access, security or privacy, remove them. Eliminating unnecessary steps and potential pain points along these journeys will reduce patient frustration and help to reduce the strain on front-line staff and your contact center.
This crisis has caused many health systems to furlough staff, eliminate positions or reduce salaries. In addition to streamlining processes, consider temporarily shifting staff to address the increased volume of patient appointments. Recruiting non-contact center employees to act as additional patient support agents will help to reduce the frustration your patients experience and ensure the quality and efficiency of your organization’s response to incoming care requests.
Providing self-service options for patients to execute specific requests or find desired information will improve their overall experience and reduce the number of interactions requiring the involvement of a live agent.
If you haven’t already, implement self-service tools like chatbots, enhanced IVR, self-scheduling solutions and automated payment options. Consider adding solutions that can provide initial triage while on hold or allow patients to add their name to a waitlist should an earlier appointment cancel. If you already employ such solutions, take the time to review their efficiency and update any outdated messaging or functionality.
By giving patients options and support to execute these tasks, you expand your capacity to serve patients and make it easier for them to do business with you. In return, you’ll likely see an increase in patient satisfaction and loyalty, which lead directly to increased revenue. These options also reduce the burden on your staff and there is a direct correlation between employee experience and patient experience. Remember, your employees are just as anxious about this crisis.
Develop Personalized Communication
Demonstrating that you know your patients, value their business and can help them resolve their health concerns will be especially important in the coming months. To effectively convey these emotion-based notions, healthcare providers should take the time to develop personalized communication strategies and messages for each of their patient persona groups.
For example, patients with conditions requiring immediate or ongoing care should contact the health system immediately. These patients need to know that their clinic, hospital or dental office is safe, and that their care providers have taken steps to protect them.
Create personalized outreach to every patient group to share information on the steps you have taken to ensure their safety, the efficiency of care and your plans for managing the high volume of patients seeking treatment. Provide details regarding available information sources, support tools and alternative options for scheduling appointments, if available. Offer information on which patients should be seen first, which appointment slots are available, and what patients can expect during their first appointments following the crisis.
One recent healthcare executive told me, “if a health system is not preparing for the recovery, they are already behind.” By taking the time to develop a strategy now, healthcare providers can deliver exceptional patient experiences, recover lost revenue and ensure a return to efficient operations as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Mike Pietig leads the healthcare experience team at Avtex, a full-service Customer Experience company focused on helping healthcare organizations build trust with their customers, patients and members by aiding in the identification, deployment and optimization of business processes and technology platforms to fuel exceptional experiences.