Healthcare practices across the country are reviewing options to reopen their doors for elective or non-urgent medical procedures while keeping a close watch on COVID-19 concerns. As providers prepare to take on more in-person appointments, they must also communicate closely with patients. Office hours are ever-changing, appointment scheduling may be different, and every practice is applying procedures to protect the health and safety of their patients, practice staff, and the general public.
Read on for tips on how to connect and communicate with patients while continuing to navigate the changing pandemic landscape.
Patient communication: 4 best practices when reopening your office
1. Ensure reopening information is up-to-date and available online.
COVID-19 may have caused you to temporarily change many of your standard business practices or close your offices. Keep your business information updated online, wherever your practice appears, or is listed. The goal is to keep both current and prospective patients in the loop as you reopen to see them in person, where possible.
If you are reopening on a particular date or changing your hours of operation (and types of appointments), update your office hours on your website and high-visibility online profiles such as Google My Business and Facebook. If you use automated tools like appointment reminders, don’t forget to re-enable notifications so patients are aware and know about their upcoming appointment.
Depending on your specialty, it’s possible you will receive a high volume of requests for appointments, due to pent-up demand for care while your offices were closed or had reduced hours. Let patients know if you have a preferred method of contact as you reopen for in-person visits — for example, a direct phone line or email address — so you can streamline requests to best serve them. Ideally, direct patients to online scheduling on your website, so they can easily book a virtual or in-person visit with you. This also reduces the workload for your staff as they adjust to new schedules and procedures.
It’s also important to let people know if you’re accepting new patients or referring only generally healthy patients to your reopened facility. For example, to minimize exposure to the virus, you might send patients displaying symptoms of COVID-19 to a testing site or hospital setting, rather than your office.
2. Share facts from reputable sources and tackle COVID-19 misinformation as your practice reopens its doors.
There is still a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 on the web. In a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans said they trust their healthcare provider when it comes to the virus. in addition to your own expertise, only share data from reputable sources like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Medical Association (AMA).
Being clear and factual is necessary, especially as the scientific information available about the virus continues to evolve, leading patients to make assumptions that may or may not be useful. When sharing information, always cite your source, in conversation, and in written material. This increases your credibility and helps ensure your message isn’t misunderstood as people read and share your updates.
3. Touch base often to keep patients well informed.
Patients depend on their trusted healthcare providers during a healthcare crisis, and they have most likely kept in touch with you as needed via telehealth appointments. As your patient’s options for in-person appointments expand, keep them informed about how you’ll deliver care while keeping everyone safe. Regularly update patients with any safety requirements for office visits, and let them know what protocols your practice will use.
If you’re a primary care physician, family doctor, or pediatrician, you might share daily updates. These regular updates let patients know what to expect as your practice and community approach different phases of resuming ‘normal’ life.
4. Use multiple channels to ensure messages are received.
Not all patients use the same communication channels. Share messages across multiple channels to reach as many people as possible.
Send emails, post updates on social media, and share blog posts to help educate and inform. Also, post the most crucial information on your website homepage.
It’s also a good idea to share information using Google Posts. For patients, this feature allows you to share messages on your Google My Business profile, making it easier for them to quickly determine whether your practice can meet their needs.