The Importance of Patient Communication
Medical practices now have more obligations on their plate than ever before. Already contending with schedule changes, increases in safety procedures and staff shortages, a deep sense of uncertainty also surrounds how best to communicate with patients during the pandemic. Important information like changes regarding patient care and education about the safety precautions your practice is taking during the COVID-19 pandemic are need-to-know details for your patients. But what’s the most impactful way to let them know?
To show your patients that your practice is available to help them during these times, effective communication is key. With a wide variety of methods at your disposal, extending your message of reassurance and support is easier to accomplish than you might think. Leverage these vital communication tools to reach your patients quickly and conveniently with the information they need.
Email Mass Messaging
A long-time favorite (and arguably mandatory) staple of medical practices and businesses alike, email outreach is one of the top communication tools available. Practically everyone has an email address, and your front desk staff have likely collected this information from the large majority of your patients at registration. Utilizing a mass email platform remains the most effective way to get relevant information, such as office closures or alternative hours, in front of your patients. Email also allows the kind of long-form content that you can use to notify patients that you have telehealth availability, educate them on the benefits of using telemedicine, and so on.
In recent weeks, who hasn’t spent just a little more time than usual on social media? It only takes a cursory glance at your own social media feeds to see just how many people have ample free time on their hands. During these widespread stay at home orders, everyone craves connection. Meet your patients where they are and share valuable practice information to your social media channels. Posts are dated each time you share, so patients can see that they’re getting the most up-to-date information based on when the practice last posted. Stay engaged with patients who respond or ask questions in the comments, as your public feedback and support may be helpful for other patients who have similar concerns.
Utilize the online real estate your practice calls home – the practice website. A COVID-19 statement or alert at the top of the home page is now standard company practice regardless of industry. Take this a step further at your practice by creating a designated COVID-19 page or customized FAQ section. Answer the most urgent questions your patients have posed, such as how COVID-19 can impact them, and ease their minds regarding safety, appointments and more. Provide step-by-step instructions for how patients can screen themselves for the virus. Finally, be sure to make them aware of reliable sources of information like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and include links to each source for reference.
A direct, succinct way to deliver notices from your practice into your patients’ hands (literally) is via text messaging. This method of communication capitalizes on contact information you likely already have in your database, and in our increasingly-mobile world, your patient is almost guaranteed to receive your message in a timely manner. Put your patients’ mind at ease with a text message update from your office before they even need to ask. Certain compliance rules apply, of course, but provided you have their consent, you may be able to reach out to patients about billing and appointments using text messaging. Subject matter that doesn’t involve PHI such as home health instructions and prescription notifications are additional examples of topics well-suited for text messaging.
Phone Calls & Office Voicemail
Staff shortages might mean fewer hands on deck to field incoming calls than when you were operating business as usual. Despite this, making time to reach out to your patients over the phone to discuss their concerns or answer their questions is often a valuable, appreciated gesture from your patients’ perspective. People crave human contact now like never before, and reassurance from a trusted source like a personal physician makes quite an impact. Setting an outgoing message to your office voicemail is another effective point of contact where you can provide necessary practice information to help patients navigate their care during COVID-19.
Doing an appointment reminder is an efficient way to inform patients about any changes to office policy due to the pandemic. For this particular task, many practices are going the way of automation. Automated software that manages appointment reminders allows staff the time and space to manage more critical tasks. Your practice can take a modern approach to appointment reminders with a tool like Breeze by Carecloud, which makes it possible for patients to request, reschedule, pre-pay and get reminders for appointments without overburdening limited staff resources.
The Impact of Practice Communication
Considering just how much is likely changing within your practice lately, it’s easy to understand the lack of certainty providers and practice managers experience regarding patient communication. We’ve never had to attempt to maintain clear communication with our patients during a time complicated by constant media updates and evolving health information.
Patients will look to you to be the calm in the storm as the health crisis dominates global consciousness. The good news is that the best way to comfort them is by continuing to do what you’ve always done. Be there to give them trusted, expert advice, address their concerns and reassure their worries. Effective practice communication and outreach in the coming days can mean the difference between patients who make uneducated decisions based on limited or unreliable information, and patients who confidently navigate their own health as a result of the valuable education obtained from their providers.