According to recent PatientPop survey research, more than half of patients have missed an appointment with a healthcare provider due to the pandemic. Of patients who would see a provider regularly, 43 percent experienced an interruption to that care.
As we noted in the research results, the problem can be potentially grave. The American Cancer Society estimates that 35 percent of patients missed routine cancer screenings due to COVID-19, a reality that’s resulted in delayed diagnoses. Last month, the American College of Surgeons on Cancer issued a statement to encourage patients to resume recommended cancer screenings.
In addition when patients with chronic health conditions — like diabetes, hypertension, asthma, reflux disease — miss ongoing care appointments, that can lead to poorer long-term health and outcomes. Missed appointments are causing widespread concern: nearly 50 percent of surveyed patients said they worry about unchecked health issues. Add this to the fact that many patients still feel hesitant about safety concerns around COVID-19, and practices have a lot to address for a real return to business as usual.
This variety of conditions make it abundantly clear: The time to connect and re-engage with your patients is now. To do so, every healthcare practice needs an effective patient communications strategy. At stake for practices is the strength of the patient-provider relationship and the potential for longer-term practice growth.
The roadmap to patient re-engagement: How to close care and revenue gaps from the pandemic
As vaccine distribution continues to gain momentum, healthcare practices with a sound re-engagement strategy in their community can position themselves for a year of growth as we head toward a post-pandemic environment. But, needing to re-engage patients is new territory for many practices — after all, this is the first pandemic most of us have lived through. To help practices connect and re-engage with patients, the PatientPop team has put together a comprehensive roadmap.
Step 1: Develop your patient outreach plan
Patient engagement is a key activity for long-term patient retention, no matter the market conditions. As evidenced by the recent data shared above, maintaining a connection with patients is more important today than ever.
To begin developing your patient outreach plan, first select the group or groups of patients you want to re-engage right away. Consider patients who are likely to have the greatest need for care — this can be based on the date of their last visit, acuity/patient condition, or simply a history of cancellations and no-shows. If your practice offers the COVID-19 vaccine, you may want to reach out to patients whose health history indicates they’re at a higher risk for complications associated with the virus.
Once you establish segments of your patient base to connect with, what’s the best communication method? While a personal phone call can be very powerful and may be preferred for patients who make it to the top of your outreach list, calling every patient just isn’t practical for most independent practices. This is where email campaigns make a great, recommended solution. A well-prepared email campaign reaches out to segmented patient groups in a scalable way with personalized messaging, and can track activity and results.
Step 2: Collect and export patient email addresses
With an email campaign tool at the ready, use your EHR system to segment your outreach patient lists. Just remember to clearly label each of your exported lists. That way, you can compare segmented campaigns against general ones you may have already deployed to your larger patient population, and so you can modify the outgoing message to each segment accordingly.
When exporting, be sure to include both the patient name and email address. According to Campaign Monitor, personalized email campaigns have significantly higher open and clickthrough rates, proof that patients are more likely to read and take action when they feel the email is intended specifically for them, rather than part of a broadcast email blast. IExperian research shows that emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened.
Step 3: Create the messaging and deployment strategy for your patient re-engagement email campaign
If you don’t regularly rely upon email campaigns to connect with patients, re-engaging with patients via email may sound impersonal. But with the right tone, you can connect with hundreds or even thousands of patients in a meaningful way with the click of a button.
Here are a few sample messages to consider to keep your email campaign feeling warm and sincere:
- For patients overdue for an appointment
“We’ve noticed it’s been over a year since we’ve seen you, and we want to help you be the healthiest you can be.” Include an overview of the health screenings or services they may need to catch up on.
- For patients who missed or canceled an appointment due to COVID-19
“It looks like you cancelled an appointment during the peak pandemic months. That’s understandable. However, our care team would love to see you again. Here is an overview of all the ways we’re committed to keeping you safe while in our office.” Follow with the details of your safety protocols and, if applicable, options for telehealth services.
- For patients requiring regular care or check-ins
“As a patient with a chronic health condition, regular check-ups are critical to your long-term health. We’re here to keep your [asthma, diabetes, depression, GERD] under control. Include data about the importance of keeping their condition under control, with tips and guidance for doing so in between appointments.
For patients who don’t respond or take action, try following up with a personal phone call. This will demonstrate your practice’s commitment to keeping them healthy, and will help drive short-term appointment volume and long-term patient loyalty and retention. If you’d prefer to stick with email strategy for your patient re-engagement strategy, you may choose to send a second email a week or so later, with a different subject line and slightly modified message.
Step 4: Drive appointment volume with a clear call-to-action
Every effective marketing and engagement campaign needs a clear call-to-action (CTA). For a re-engagement strategy, it’s even more critical to make it easy for patients to close the gap and reconnect with your practice.
What “action” should you use to influence your patients? CTAs that drive appointments can invite patients to book a specific type of visit, such as a COVID-19 vaccine, routine screening, or physical exam.
You may also have a secondary call-to-action that’s less appointment-driven: following your practice on social media for practice updates and information, joining an email list, reviewing your office’s COVID-19 safety protocols, watching a video featuring your new providers, or reading a blog post about how to manage a chronic condition.
Step 5: Make it easy to book an appointment.
When it comes to email campaigns, the most effective CTA for driving appointment volume includes a clickable link to schedule an appointment online — making it seamless and convenient for patients and practice staff alike.
While you can include your office phone number within the email, prioritizing online scheduling will often deliver greater benefits. For the patient, it is an open door to book or request an appointment directly without interruption, and eliminates any frustrating hold times on the phone. For staff, it reduces front office workload, reduces calls, and cuts out any unnecessary games of phone tag.
Step 6: Close the loop with automated appointment reminders
If you’re going through the effort of getting patients back to book an appointment, do everything you can to make sure they attend. For those who schedule a visit, use automated appointment reminders to decrease no-shows, eliminate manual phone tasks for front office staff, and even improve patient satisfaction.
Based on patient preference, automated reminders and confirmations can be exchanged via email or text message. Asking patients to confirm their plans to attend can allow practices to get a better view of their daily schedule, and backfill appointments for those who can’t make it rather than lose revenue caused by unexpected no-shows.
Tips for ongoing patient engagement for healthcare practices
Finally, remember that patient engagement should be an ongoing activity, even in non-pandemic times. For dental or specialty care, get that next appointment booked before the patient leaves your office. To convert happy patients into new patients, and drive long-term patient satisfaction and loyalty, we also strongly recommend that practices send automated patient satisfaction surveys following each appointment.