This winter may be the “most difficult time” in the public health history of this nation, according to the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Robert Redfield.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to significantly affect the healthcare industry, including private practices. In a December survey conducted by PatientPop, 16 percent of patients said they are either hesitant about visiting their doctor’s office or do not feel safe at all.
That represents a considerable potential for no-shows and cancellations, resulting in gaps in care and financial strain on the practice. It also emphasizes the need for healthcare providers to tell patients specifically how they are keeping them safe, and to share frequent communication about the latest precautions and protocols.
With an increasing number of COVID-19 infections, how can you help patients feel as comfortable as possible about visiting your office and looking after their health?
Here are four ways you can help patients feel safe and more comfortable about appointments during the winter coronavirus surge. These tactics benefit not just those hesitant to keep their appointment — they also help you set expectations for all patients, keeping them well-informed and trusting your practice.
- Let patients know about your current and comprehensive safety processes. Take a proactive stance to tell your new and existing patients about your most current safety measures, including mask and social-distancing requirements, temperature and symptom screenings (for patients and staff) before check-in, staff protective equipment use, visitor restrictions, disinfecting routines, and any other procedures or in-office steps that will set expectations, and help people feel more confident about an in-person appointment. You can share information about your safety measures through your practice website (we recommend a specific COVID-19 page with answers to common questions as a starter), blog, and social media channels, with outgoing text messaging and email campaigns to your established patients.
This type of ongoing communication helps patients understand how your practice responds when the health environment changes in your community, or the CDC and other health organizations update their recommendations.
- Use digital registration to eliminate waiting room anxiety and lower the risk of virus exposure. Rely on healthcare practice technology to have patients complete digital registration, intake, and check-in before they arrive at your office, using their mobile device or laptop. The pre-appointment intake can help people feel more at ease about in-person visits because they can avoid the traditional waiting room and its requisite pens, papers, and clipboards. Not only does this eliminate the use of items that have been handled by others — and minimize the risk of spreading illness — but it also expedites waiting time, as patients complete forms in advance, online.
More practices are also checking in patients from their cars now, so having an organized communication system is key to keep appointments running on time. Once a patient arrives in their car, you can have them text your office, and then receive a reply text or call from your practice once their exam room is ready.
- Ask patients about their concerns while they are in the office. During this time of heightened pandemic concern and fear, what you say during an in-office patient visit can impact how safe and secure patients feel about their next appointment. They’re likely continually weighing the risk of ignoring their regular health care and maintenance with that of virus exposure. Some patients might feel more anxiety, but are reluctant to speak up if they are uncomfortable. To help them feel more secure, ask them directly about their concerns.
Tip: Instead of asking “Do you have any questions?” go with “What questions do you have?” This slight change will help them open up and share more.
- Make your practice available for telehealth visits. Telehealth is now a necessity for some patients, especially those in high-risk categories related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While you may currently use telehealth for a limited type of appointment, you may want to expand your telehealth availability during times in which the number of cases is high.
Because COVID-19 continues to spread and protocols change and evolve, high-risk patients may need to talk with your providers or staff before or after an in-person visit to feel more comfortable. Telehealth is extremely helpful for those types of conversations. You and your practice are seen as a trusted source of medical information through this time — the need for patients in your community to communicate directly with you has rarely been greater. The coronavirus pandemic has a significant impact on the way patients experience care now. While you can’t push patients into attending medical appointments, you can help build the trust they need to feel safe and secure when they are in your care and to see them through to better times.