ENSURE PATIENT ENGAGEMENT AND BUILD TRUST
Between February and March of this year, ambulatory surgery centers experienced a 55% increase in appointment cancellations, according to Provista data. A top reason for the cancellations was patient fear over COVID-19. That’s why it’s paramount for the healthcare industry to understand the importance of patient trust in any strategy toward resuming elective surgeries and procedures during a pandemic.
A recent webinar with Vizient, Provista’s contacting partner, sheds light on patients' current feelings. When asked the question “How safe would you feel if you/family member needed a procedure today?” respondents said:
- 56% somewhat safe.
- 4% very safe.
- 13% very unsafe.
When the question changed to a procedure in three months, the results changed:
- Very safe increased to 13%.
- Very unsafe decreased to 4%.
- Somewhat safe moved to 46%.
Healthcare providers who effectively communicate information about COVID-19, including testing and treatment options, help reduce patient uncertainty. Effective communications also promote equity in disadvantaged populations that may feel marginalized during the pandemic.
Because much uncertainty exists about the current coronavirus, one of the most beneficial “treatments” that ESS facilities and other providers can offer is to ensure that patients understand what is being communicated. There’s now a need to explain every detail, ensuring all steps are safe and being reviewed.
Facilities should have current information about their safety procedures on their websites, but they can’t assume patients will visit the site. That’s why facilities must be proactive with their communications. This can include sending emails or traditional marketing mailers, making phone calls or sending texts. Patient portals are also effective, if the facility has them.
Communications should be clear, concise and detail what’s changed in the office. For example, the messaging can say, “We removed the lobby to ensure social distancing, added sneeze guards to protect staff and patients, and installed touchless doors so you can open them hands-free.”
Sending a “what you need to do” checklist to patients or their caregivers prior to a procedure is also effective. The checklist should outline patient expectations and provide a step-by-step overview of what to expect when they arrive at the facility. This way, there are no surprises when the patient walks through the door.
An effective approach to help with in-office communication is “Teach Back.” Using this method, once a concept is introduced, providers should ask patients to repeat back what was said to ensure they correctly heard and understood. This approach fosters the development of shared decision making, which is a critical component of facilitating trust between patients and providers.
Setting healthcare expectations and following established processes take on new importance as ESS resume. In addition to adhering to best practices, facilities must practice universal precautions to maintain and ensure patient and staff safety. During this time, as facilities ramp up to help patients by providing ESS and also by easing their fears, they have the opportunity and obligation to model safe behavior while delivering outstanding care.