How COVID-19 Will Transform the Patient Experience in 2021

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Man putting on a mask with a worried face. Virus concept

Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Tom Cox

Who could have accurately projected the trajectory for 2020? While many tried and threw their hats into the ring, the coronavirus pandemic had other plans, making many of those 2020 predictions irrelevant while also accelerating others. 

Maybe an understatement, but one thing is certain: COVID-19 has impacted our industry more than anyone could have imagined. There will be many lingering effects of the pandemic on the healthcare industry, but the largest impacts will be on patient access, collections and identity management come next year. 

Digital services a must have 

With elective procedures cancelled or postponed early in the pandemic, patients were forced to navigate their healthcare on their own, and for many, through new technologies like telehealth and remote monitoring. These trends will likely continue as patients are more confident and comfortable in the new technologies. Doing so will also cut back on non-essential in-person visits and give providers a better pulse on worrisome vitals that need immediate attention.

Given the rapid rollout and success of a lot of these new technologies, especially telehealth, patients will also come to expect more of their providers moving forward. If their provider didn’t offer a feature like online scheduling or registration before the pandemic, they may have accepted that as just a minor inconvenience. Now, patients have seen firsthand how quickly consumer-centric technology can be implemented to foster a more convenient and safer experience and they will be far less likely to back down in their demands for similar features moving forward. 

A growing target for hackers 

Unfortunately, healthcare fraudsters don’t take a break during a global pandemic. The exponential rise in virtual care, while hugely beneficial for patients, does come with some risk. As more patients utilize patient portals for remote care and provider communications, we expect to see an uptick in fraudulent activity. 

Until now, providers had only accounted for a certain percentage of their patient population to use the portal. Many weren’t ready for the increase in volume to the platform. As more patients use this technology, shared personal health information is increasing, making it a primary target for fraudsters. 

It is imperative providers bolster their security practices and adopt more sophisticated identity management solutions, not only to protect their own organizations, but to protect their patients’ identities and sensitive health information.

The road to financial recovery

Until this year, the healthcare industry was long considered to be recession proof. We now know better as no one organization was safe from the initial financial impact of the pandemic. We’ve seen several organizations shut their doors over the last few months, and we can expect to see a handful of others—even some of the top-100 provider organizations— either file for bankruptcy or be forced into acquisition by a larger health system. A solid strategy for collections has always been a priority for healthcare organizations, but it will now need a renewed focus, and one centered on patient satisfaction as more individuals find themselves unable to pay their medical bills on time or in full. Providers will need to find other ways to optimize collections while simultaneously providing a positive, compassionate patient experience. 

Looking ahead

We’ve been anticipating the evolution of patient expectations for our industry, but until now it has been somewhat of a slow burn. There hasn’t been a large, driving factor or influence for providers to modify their practices and operations to meet patients’ demands. That is no longer the case. The pandemic has only heightened patients’ demands for convenience and flexibility, and healthcare organizations will have to quickly meet those expectations to overcome the hurdles thrown their way in 2020 and those that are to come next year and beyond. 

Learn more about Experian Health’s predictions for the patient experience in 2021.

Tom Cox is the general manager at Experian Health. 

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