The urgency and scale of the global pandemic required a rapid response to not only triage COVID-19 patients but ensure continuity of other healthcare services. Ninety-two percent of healthcare industry respondents said the virus accelerated their organization’s digital communications transformation—and on average, by six years.
New technology, expanded budget
In their initial response to COVID-19, 94 percent of healthcare respondents said enabling digital communications for customers and stakeholders was either very or critically important.
That said, implementing new communication strategies often comes at a price. Healthcare providers surveyed said that a lack of budget (41 percent) was their biggest barrier to digital transformation, followed by a reluctance to replace legacy software (38 percent); getting executive buy-in/approval (36 percent); and lack of a clear transformation strategy (36 percent).
Yet even an industry as highly regulated as healthcare has seen those barriers fall thanks to the urgency and demands of COVID-19, with 79 percent of healthcare industry respondents reporting that their budgets for digital transformation increased due to the coronavirus. In particular, digital communications saw an increased budget among 54 percent of respondents.
Those investments were directed toward healthcare providers using an average of three channels for the first time: live chat (34 percent), a web-based chatbot (29 percent), and video (27 percent).
Expanded communication channels for and beyond COVID-19
As the use of telemedicine has grown by 173 percent, 97 percent of healthcare leaders reported expanding telehealth access amid the COVID-19 pandemic, per a MGMA (Medical Group Management Association) Stat poll. And this isn’t a short term trend—fifty percent of US consumers between the ages of 18-84 plan to continue using telehealth for physical and mental health post-COVID-19.
Virtual care is shaping into becoming a more standard healthcare delivery modality, as 98 percent of respondents say that the digital communications and technologies used to enable their remote workforce during COVID-19 open up future opportunities for remote work.
COVID-19 isn’t the first time telehealth systems are being tested. The US Department of Veteran Affairs used telehealth to treat veterans after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Massachusetts General Hospital tested its nascent telehealth program during the Boston Blizzard of 2014. The growth of telemedicine has been a 20+ year journey made more feasible recently due to improved reimbursement models and less burdensome licensing restrictions.
Rather than regard digital communication on an as-needed basis in the face of a crisis, a historic paradigm shift is taking place.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and private payers, such as UnitedHealthcare, are supporting the expansion of the scope of virtual care by offering reimbursements for a wider range of virtual services.
Solutions born out of necessity in response to the global pandemic will outlast containment of the virus. As a result of COVID-19, 97 percent of respondents expect their organization to find new ways of engaging customers and other stakeholders.
A consumer-centric delivery model
COVID-19 accelerated changes that were already underway. The scale of the coronavirus shows how healthcare providers that take a consumer-centric approach can shift to value-based care models.
Recent reimbursement reform reflects a desire to move toward paying for the outcomes of those encounters, rather than for the encounters themselves—but that requires patient engagement. Providers must have the right communication and engagement infrastructure in place to ensure the best patient outcomes.
There are four defining characteristics of a patient-centric model:
Rather than simply wait to hear from consumers, a proactive model means initiating timely and relevant engagement to foster consumer goodwill and loyalty.
Receiving a diagnosis and prescribed treatment may not be enough to ensure better patient outcomes—patients need help navigating the complex healthcare ecosystem to get the support they need through proactive outreach, guidance, and check-in from their care providers.
Being a helpful healthcare resource includes providing information to anticipate gaps in understanding, recommending programs that are complementary or supplementary to medications, and communicating with patients throughout their treatment program.
Healthcare providers and consumers alike seek convenience and a positive experience during their interactions.
Automating processes wherever possible is critical to simplifying customer experience. And of course, automation makes providers’ lives easier too, minimizing manual data entry, forms, and cross-departmental steps of record management.
For example, AI is already proving helpful to adjust staffing in support of fluctuating emergency department patient volumes, and to reduce wait times in ambulatory services.
Just as treatments and programs are tailored to an individual patient’s unique situation, so too should be the communications around them. Healthcare is incredibly personal to begin with, and requires an acute sensitivity around what is communicated, when, and how. Just like consumers, patients don’t want to have to repeat information with each new interaction.
Best practice for ensuring information is still correct and nothing has changed from the last doctor’s visit is to simply ask patients to confirm their information is still correct rather than asking them to repeat it. In addition to knowing the particular symptoms a patient is experiencing on the day of their visit, it’s equally helpful for providers to understand non-clinical factors, or social determinants, to have the proper context for the patient visit.
Honoring patients’ preferences for how they are contacted and with what frequency is also fundamental to delivering personalized care.
In practice, this means having the flexibility to engage with patients and across the most preferred, secure, and private customer channels.
See the full results of the survey.