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By: Samantha Pond on June 23rd, 2020

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Pivoting Patient Access Strategies: Connecting Patients to Care During COVID-19

Digital | Clients | Patient Experience | Patient Access


The digital front door is not a new concept in healthcare. Before COVID-19, many organizations were already investing in their digital properties to capture the attention of healthcare consumers. While most had patient portals and find-a-providers, some driving engagement beyond their site by using local listings, adoption for newer technologies, like mobile applications, virtual care, and online scheduling remained low.

Then COVID-19 happened. With many health systems struggling with high volumes of patients, innovation became less about competition and brand differentiation and more about simply connecting patients to the care they desperately needed. To respond and better serve their patient populations, organizations across the country have had to pivot quickly, implementing multi-year digital roadmaps in a matter of days or weeks.

To hear how our customers have approached this challenge and share best practices for ensuring access to care during this time, we hosted a webinar with two of our innovative partners, Dr. Sylvia Romm, Chief Innovation Officer at Atlantic Health System and Pamela Landis, VP of Digital Engagement at Hackensack Meridian Health, last month. Here are a few takeaways from the discussion:

  1. Centralize support for virtual care programs to streamline implementation: Like many health systems during COVID-19, Atlantic Health had to pivot to virtual care overnight, moving up their six-month timeline for instituting virtual care to be deployed within weeks. Atlantic saw a surge in virtual care visits, and though it took their team some time to acclimate to this new form of delivering care, they were able to pool resources together to support their provider practices through the transition. This included sharing best practices for using the new consumer-conferencing technology, good website manner, and taking notes, leading to a more robust patient experience.


  1. Leverage chatbots to reduce pressure on other areas of your organization: One of the first steps Atlantic took after seeing the number of COVID-19 cases rise in nearby New York City and within their own community was to set up a physician hotline to help patients understand COVID-19 symptoms. After seeing a spike in call volumes and patient interest, they also implemented a chatbot on their website to screen for COVID-19 symptoms, collect information, and route patients to the correct level of care. Not only did this take pressure off of their hotline, but it also helped patients get the information they needed without having to go into a provider practice.


  1. Look at what other teams or industries are doing to inspire innovation: Without a doubt, this pandemic has challenged all of us to think and approach problems in new ways. When innovating, Atlantic sees the process as belonging in two buckets: outside-in and inside-out. During COVID-19, inside-out innovation included listening to Atlantic’s front-line workers and sharing what they learned from the first wave of the pandemic to improve efforts across the organization moving forward. However, realizing that existing technology couldn’t meet all of the demands of the current situation, Atlantic pursued outside-in innovation as well, which took form as partnering with external companies to extend their ability to provide patient-centric care.


  1. Take an integrated approach to communicating with patients: Like Atlantic, Hackensack Meridian Health stood up a COVID-19 hotline, but to meet the increased volume of patient demand, they quickly expanded their communication tactics. Their efforts included a COVID-19 patient page (since converted to a “Get Care Now” page), COVID-19 team member page, virtual call center, MyChart video visits and instant activation, social media campaigns, and more. Additionally, Hackensack has launched several surveys, including one that asks patients about their virtual care visits, to learn more about the impact of these initiatives and improve them.


  1. Use technology to make patients active agents in their health: To prepare for a new era in patient access, Hackensack is beginning to pivot to focus on how to keep patients engaged and using these digital tools to expand access to and management of care–safely. They plan to continue issuing a constant communication stream of messaging to turn the new wave of digital consumers into active participants of their care using the digital tools implemented during the pandemic. Tools such as iPads, baby monitors, and virtualized call centers will be mainstays of a new hybrid model of care that allows continued monitoring in safe environments that minimizes inconvenience, as well as risk.


Responding to the immediate crisis, health systems have connected to patients on an ongoing basis, and patients have become active participants in their care using the digital access offerings made available to them. Going forward, health systems must embrace a new model of connecting patients to ongoing care through communication, technology, and organizational alignment.

Watch the full discussion here.