The Pandemic’s Impact on Patient Engagement and Satisfaction

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Smiling mother and her little son visiting dentist

By Matt Dickson, Vice President, Product, Strategy and General Manager, Stericycle Communication Solutions

As the healthcare industry readies itself for a forever altered post-pandemic world and adapts to new changes in technology and patient sentiment, it’s paramount to reflect on the last year and review how patients have engaged with their healthcare providers. A new study takes a deep dive into the notable shift in patient behavior and expectations around provider communication, insights that are more important than ever during this critical time of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Three learnings from the last year reveal the importance of understanding what patients need in order to reengage with their healthcare journeys.

Patient satisfaction declined

In the survey of more than 500 respondents, 37% reported not receiving effective communication about changes in their provider’s policies and procedures due to COVID-19 before their scheduled visits. When appointments were canceled due to the pandemic, 27% of respondents said providers took “a while” to reschedule and another 9% did not receive a reply by the time the survey was conducted. Simultaneously, patients’ satisfaction in communication with their providers dipped 13%. More than half of the respondents (54%) felt rushed during their appointments, an increase of 35% compared to pre-COVID-19 experiences. Patients felt that their providers did not spend appropriate time examining them, nor did they take the extra moment to better understand his or her underlying concern. Dedicating the time and resources to creating a seamless patient-provider communication pathway is an essential part of increasing patient satisfaction.

Phone calls activate patient engagement

When asked what channel of communication patients prefer to receive from their healthcare providers, 37% of the respondents said email, 30% said phone, and 28% said text messages. For patients who had missed an appointment during the pandemic and rescheduled it, respondents were asked what triggered them to reschedule. Only 2% of respondents said an email had prompted them to reschedule, while 56% of respondents said a phone call was the engagement method that ultimately lead to rescheduling their appointment. Another 15% were prompted to reschedule by a text reminder, 5% by letter, and the final 22% reschedule of their own accord without reminders. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for inducing patient action and it’s important to tailor the communication approach based on outcomes and not just stated preferences. Now is the time to be proactive about reaching out to patients. It’s critical to be able to move past the channel of preference and determine the channel of action and activation in order to get patients back in the door or onto the screen.

Patients are embracing a hybrid model of care

The adoption of telemedicine happened at lightning speed during the pandemic, with most providers only seeing patients on an urgent basis and deferring routine care. More than 80% of survey respondents preferred a virtual waiting room over a physical waiting room during the pandemic, and 67% of respondents used telemedicine or virtual channels at least once since the pandemic began. 

But hospitals and health systems should not see this as a green light to adopt virtual care unilaterally. Instead, they should leverage telehealth as part of a dual in-person and virtual model in a post-pandemic world. For example, 17% of patients are interested in a primary care appointment via telehealth, but only 8% would want to conduct their appointment with a urologist virtually. Low-tech and high-tech approaches can be adopted depending on the appointment type and accessibility considerations, as it’s important to keep those who are not technologically savvy or who may not have access to broadband in mind when facilitating care. 

At this juncture, re-establishing communication with patients’ needs to be a primary focus of hospitals and health systems to get patients on track with their care and reconnected to their providers. During the pandemic, many patients were left behind. Non-essential care was delayed repeatedly as COVID-19 cases limited access, and communication between the patient and provider suffered. By reflecting on lessons learned and implementing proper communication strategies and technologies, hospitals and health systems are better positioned for the future and most importantly, patients will feel supported, informed and empowered in their health journeys. 

Matt Dickson is Vice President of Product, Strategy, and General Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions. He is a versatile leader with strong operational management experience and expertise providing IT, product, and process solutions in the healthcare industry for nearly 25 years. Find him on LinkedIn.

Stericycle Communication Solutions is an industry leader in patient engagement solutions, providing online scheduling, automated messaging, and strategic inbound and outbound call center services to drive patient access, action and adherence. For more information, visit www.stericyclecommunications.com or the company’s LinkedIn.

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