The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need–and demand–for a more modern healthcare consumer experience that incorporates digital tools to drive easy, frictionless access to care. Though most health systems have laid groundwork for this new era of healthcare, the onset of COVID-19 has sped up the process exponentially. As website traffic has skyrocketed with consumers seeking information, assistance, and access online, digital technology has played a powerful role in helping health systems triage and route patients effectively.
In late April, Kyruus held a virtual forum on “Digital Access Approaches During COVID-19,” featuring Christen Castellano, VP of Customer Experience Channels at Banner Health; Jennifer Junis, SVP of Digital Health at OSF HealthCare; Nick Patel, MD, Chief Digital Officer at Prisma Health; and Sara Vaezy, Chief Digital Strategy Officer at Providence Health. In a discussion moderated by Kyruus’ Chief Medical Officer and SVP of Account Management, Erin Jospe, MD, panelists shared insights about the digital access strategies their respective health systems have been implementing and adapting in order to meet the changing needs of their patient communities. They also addressed the role these changes are playing in ushering in a new era of patient access innovation. Below are five key takeaways from this discussion.
1. Flex the Technologies You Have
- In times of crisis when health systems are working against limited resources, the most valuable technologies are those that allow flexibility. Health systems are thinking creatively, leveraging their existing capabilities and also pivoting—and potentially fast tracking roadmaps—to adopt new ones. For many, this has meant rapidly adapting virtual care offerings, virtual assistants, and SMS communications already in place to address the needs of COVID-19 patients and others turning online for help. The ability for these technologies to adapt to address multiple types of care makes them valuable not only during a health crisis but also afterward as well.
2. Remove Routine Barriers to Create a Frictionless Experience
- A common theme among the panelists was the need to make the digital consumer experience friction-free. To negate the need to pick up the phone, health systems are looking at ways to remove roadblocks so patients can find what they need online. One example of this is, when possible, connecting patients with resources or tools that do not require them to remember a password to take action or obtain the information they need.
3. Speak the Language of the Patient
- The patient is at the center of everything health systems do. Many health systems have culturally diverse communities and must consider social determinants of healthcare to ensure that patients receiving their outgoing communications can understand them. In addition to meeting patients where they are, health systems need to be able to speak their language. Employing translators or adapting communications to reach different populations is important to empower all patients with actionable information to find and receive care.
4. Enact Layered Approaches to Provide Safety and Care
- Though virtual care has been critical to limiting the spread of the disease, it is not the answer for every situation. Thus, health systems have been taking layered approaches so patients can be home, communicate with a care team regularly, and escalate to physical care if needed. One health system launched a health worker program in which non-clinicians serve as a first touch point to monitor symptoms and walk patients through health apps. These health workers build relationships with patients and then escalate care if symptoms worsen or if certain conditions need immediate attention through physical visits. This method provides constant, personalized care for patients while also limiting spread, protecting healthcare workers, and preserving limited emergency resources.
5. Leverage Your Brand to Build Trust and Confidence
- For many consumers, there are safety concerns associated with going back to in-person care. However, health systems have an opportunity to act now to build relationships and be there for their communities in their time of need. The trust they gain as a result will be easier to maintain if health systems leverage their brand to develop a roadmap so consumers can access care safely. For example, proactive communication with their communities can help health systems ease consumer fears and give them a place to connect safely.
While putting unprecedented strain on health systems, the pressures of this pandemic are in some ways propelling healthcare innovation, especially when it comes to digital access and virtual care delivery. Health systems can adapt practices established in this present environment for other healthcare service lines beyond ambulatory care such as primary care, mental health, and chronic conditions. They will be able to use the existing and new technologies as stepping stones toward a modern and multi-faceted access experience in an eventual post-COVID-19 world.