Prior to 2020, the idea of healthcare practices nationwide losing half their weekly business was unfathomable. But the COVID-19 health crisis made that an unfortunate reality, with incredible speed.
The CDC had recorded the first 14 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. by February 23, 2020. Just one month later, with the novel coronavirus running rampant, medical practice appointment volume dropped 56 percent.
The level of challenge to healthcare practices throughout this time can never be understated. Not only did the pressing need for care delivery continue, of course (enter the lightning-fast expansion of telehealth), but the world was only starting to understand a virus that had people fearing for their well-being.
A shorter road to COVID-19 recovery for tech-ready healthcare practices
We now know that 36 percent of patients delayed care due to the pandemic. For patient health and practice survival, local care delivery had to continue as regularly as possible, as soon as possible. For practices already equipped for the transition to a digital patient experience, that return was faster.
Data shows healthcare practices that had already adopted and implemented digital practice management tools were at a measurable advantage. These practices stood a better chance of getting back to pre-COVID appointment levels — in this case, established the week of March 1, three weeks before the first state stay-at-home order.
The following chart shows that practices using the PatientPop all-in-one practice growth platform were able to recover faster, and more successfully, than a national average of practices.
Sources: appointments: PatientPop platform data; visits: The Commonwealth Fund, “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Outpatient Care,” 10.15.2020
Healthcare practices recover to pre-COVID numbers — and then experience growth
In March, appointment volume at PatientPop practices dropped 56 percent from a pre-COVID baseline, typical for practices nationwide. The difference is that PatientPop practices returned to that baseline just 10 weeks later.
This return to normal appointment volume occurred 14 weeks before a national average of practices reached a pre-COVID baseline of patient visits.
This story of practice well-being goes further. Once PatientPop practices returned to that baseline, they showed a consistent, steady pattern of appointment volume growth. From August on, PatientPop practices performed 20 percent or more above the pre-COVID appointment baseline for 9 of 10 weeks.
Whether an all-in-one practice growth platform has been the primary reason for this level of recovery, we certainly see it as a major contributing factor. Everyone at PatientPop believes it is our obligation to respond to our practices in times of unexpected crisis. So, a few weeks after the pandemic took hold of the nation in March, our practices had access to a telehealth video platform that we had quickly integrated into our product offering.
For practices offering telehealth options (regardless of their video tool), our teams spread the word in their market via SEO and online profiles, led by recognized SEO expert and PatientPop director of local search, Joel Headley. With this fast strategy application, practices were well-positioned for local patients to seek and find them for care.
Beyond those initial months, throughout all of 2020, PatientPop practices were properly equipped to bring greater levels of convenience and communication to patients — essential during this time of confusion and trepidation.
This includes email campaigns to inform patients about practice operations and safety protocols, online scheduling with easy options for telehealth when applicable, automated appointment reminders via email and text messaging, and opportunities to share feedback via automated patient satisfaction surveys.
Practices could also identify their strengths and patient needs, with performance insights like appointment phone call tracking and online reputation management. These are aspects of our all-in-one platform any day of the year. But during this time, practices making the most of these digital advantages were well-positioned to survive the unforeseen and even thrive.
Being prepared for the future of private practice success
The COVID-19 pandemic has advanced the digital transformation of healthcare at significant speed, and success will depend on each practice’s ability to answer the call for technology. A November 2020 Accenture study on the patient experience states “many patients are looking for a safer, more secure and convenient experience — and they will switch providers if they aren’t getting it.”
Healthcare practices that embark on the post-pandemic world with technology and proven know-how position themselves to satisfy new patients and successfully cultivate relationships with current ones. Data and conventional wisdom both point in that direction for 2021 and beyond.
Methodology: PatientPop data based on appointments made with 3,266 healthcare providers on the PatientPop platform from before February 2020 through the entire period up to the week of October 4, 2020, with online booking and phone call tracking enabled. National average visit metrics are from the Commonwealth Fund study “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Outpatient Care,” October 15, 2020. Details available within that study.