The changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected patient care and challenged the well-being of private practices. Stay-at-home orders caused practices nationwide to limit office hours (or close). In-person visits dropped off as much as 69 percent in April. To deliver care, and stay afloat financially, most practices adopted telehealth as a primary way to see patients.
In the midst of a relatively uncertain healthcare situation, and potential safety issues, patients have been faced with uncharted decision-making. Do they feel comfortable seeing a healthcare provider in their office? Are they satisfied with a virtual visit? Are they delaying care?
To find the answers to these questions, PatientPop sent a survey to patients in August, as an addendum to What patients want, the results of our 2nd annual patient perspective survey from earlier in 2020.
The responses highlight some opportunities for healthcare providers by illustrating patients’ willingness to reschedule past appointments and their preferences for future visits.
Scheduled appointments during the pandemic
Safety concerns and stay-at-home orders forced patients to rethink or reschedule their healthcare visits.
Survey data shows that, of those who had an upcoming visit, many patients were proactive about getting care:
- 40.6 percent told us they rescheduled a missed appointment.
- 25.1 percent said they missed an appointment, but are planning to reschedule.
Opportunity: Have your staff follow up with patients who haven’t yet rescheduled a missed or postponed appointment. Based on the above result, for many, their interest and motivation is there.
We know the situation at many practices was stressful and potentially hectic at the start. Take time now and reach out to close the gap on these appointments. Don’t wait for patients to come to you.
As for the rest of our patient respondents, another quarter (25.3%) said they kept a scheduled visit with a healthcare provider during COVID-19.
Most patients are comfortable visiting the doctor’s office
About 7 out of 10 patients — 71.3 percent — feel safe seeing a healthcare provider in person. Conversely, about one-quarter have enough hesitation to consider not showing up, and a small percentage don’t feel safe at all.
Q: With appropriate safety measures in place, how do you feel about going to an appointment in your healthcare provider’s office?
Opportunity: Address those patients who are hesitant about going to your office. That’s an ideal situation to send out an email communication that reinforces the safety protocols you’re following specifically at your practice.
Whether your hesitant patients are concerned about protection from the virus, or are simply anxious about what to expect, a short set of details can help put their mind at ease.
For patients with upcoming appointments, eliminate potential no-shows by including the same information when you send an appointment reminder. Explain each step of the safety process.
They will sense your confidence and focus on safety, and will also understand what they’re responsible for (such as filling out a COVID-19-related questionnaire, waiting in their car, attending their visit alone). Clarity is key.
Patient experience with telehealth in 2020
Nearly half of patients surveyed experienced virtual care some time this year, with 48.5 percent of respondents having a telehealth visit in 2020. Although the 45-60 age group made up the largest percentage of these patients, telehealth visits spanned all age ranges.
For those patients with a virtual visit, 75.8 percent said they were satisfied with the experience.
Q: How satisfied were you with your telehealth appointment?
One-half of patients would prefer telehealth visits sometimes. More than one-quarter (26.2%) are the real virtual care advocates, wanting to see their providers via telehealth whenever possible.
Levels of comfort with telehealth
Patients who’ve taken part in telehealth visits are 17 percent more likely to be comfortable with the experience. Even 2 out of 3 patients without a 2020 telehealth visit (67.1%) are still comfortable with virtual care.
What are patients’ top telehealth benefits and concerns? The current healthcare situation certainly affects the top benefit on the list — though it has been relevant for primary care providers even before COVID-19.
Q: What do you feel are the biggest advantages to seeing a doctor via video?
Q: What do you feel are the biggest issues or problems about seeing a doctor via video?
Opportunity: As all states gradually opened their businesses after stay-at-home orders, telehealth visits declined as a percentage of total patient visits. That’s understandable, and to be expected. But telehealth should not be seen as an all-or-nothing option for practices, to be shoved aside as the national healthcare crisis improves.
Instead, forward-thinking healthcare practices see virtual care as a growth opportunity, to be integrated into their operation in a way that works best for their specialty and their business.
As groups petition for a continued expansion of telehealth access and reimbursement, the technology can be a crucial complement to in-person care: in addition to meeting patient preference and keeping patients and staff safe, telehealth can be a convenient time-saver for providers. Appointments are shorter and more flexible, and the ease for patients can mean fewer no-shows and greater patient adherence.
PatientPop has provided telehealth strategy tips to practices throughout 2020, and communication is important. Just as with in-person safety protocols, letting patients know what to expect with telehealth — and why you’re offering it — is essential.
After you determine the types of patient visits for which virtual care fits well at your practice, tell your patients why it works. Explain how you can assess their needs during a telehealth visit, and that you can effectively diagnose and treat them.
In terms of the third and fourth items on the “issues or problems” list, we recommend two actions:
1. When conducting a telehealth visit, look at or near the camera whenever you can, so you’re making eye contact with the patient. Avoid looking off to another screen in your office.
2. Make sure you know the technical basics of your telehealth platform, so you can answer simple questions that may arise before or during the appointment.
Summary: Seeing the doctor in 2020 and beyond
With all the chatter about “the new normal,” one thing from the pre-pandemic days remains true and constant: Patients will always need care. The extra processes required to help deliver that care have changed, and will probably evolve over time. Technology used during an emergency can bring a strategic advantage to your practice in the months and years to come.
A major key to success is listening to and understanding patients’ concerns and preferences, recognizing the trust patients place in their providers, and being ready to adjust as the situation changes.
Be proactive about keeping your patients informed. Connect with them if they’ve skipped an appointment or feel hesitant about one, whether it’s in person or onscreen.
The more information you can provide, the more likely you’ll retain and see patients even during difficult times, and maintain a well-run practice that’s looking to the future.
Survey methodology: PatientPop surveyed 614 patients across the nation in August 2020, using the SurveyMonkey Audience program. Respondents were 55.8 percent female and 44.2 percent male, with a generally even distribution across four age segments, ages 18 and older.