For two decades, healthcare consolidation has been a strong industry trend. But in the COVID-19 era, big healthcare is proving to be a big problem.
Once the community spread of COVID-19 became apparent, large systems turned off the spigot of specialty and nonessential services almost immediately. Now, as these organizations try to entice patients back into services, they face consumers who have good reason to fear the large, populated spaces these systems are built on.
As patients return for care and treatments, large hospitals and health providers need targeted approaches to overcome risk and obstacles. Here are nine strategies to consider for restarting patients:
1. Identify patients and instances with care disruption and high risks associated with care deferral. Knowing which patients are at high risk due to missed appointments plus other risk and time-based analytics will be useful in targeting efforts to bring patients back. Use various technologies to identify prior scheduled procedures and diagnostics.
2. Create a clinical flow for patients in each treatment or appointment category so communication to patients is clear as they are recruited back into the system. The clinical flows should determine which patients will receive telehealth services and who will need physical exams, along with how imaging or laboratory services will be handled to safely address patient time and access to services.
3. Use population health technology to target patients by risk level for services and deferral reasons. Patients who were infected with COVID-19 should be indicated and targeted for services, since this calls for additional surveillance of new risk factors associated with the disease.
4. Contact patients for pre-appointment discussions prior to actual telehealth or personal visits and services. Identify data to collect from patients on symptoms, social determinants and concerns about healthcare or COVID-19 infection so patients can vet their concerns and upcoming discussions with physicians can be more informative.
5. Reimagine the role and functions of some specialists. Because specialty practices are often located in close proximity to many diagnostic services, primary care physicians, who tend to be off campus, can provide initial services in a low-density setting and leave the procedures to specialists.
6. Consider aligning with smaller or more localized services for diagnostics, or provide wearable devices that capture needed clinical data.
7. If feasible, consider whether physical access to some care locations should be redetermined in the short or midterm for patient ease of access.
8. For physical visits or treatments, adjust scheduling to accommodate patient and staff density in clinical or waiting areas.
9. Involve specialists in care and space redesign as well as designing risk criteria. Every specialty will have unique issues that should be accommodated in the design of restarting services.
Planning to improve and strengthen connections to patients in larger healthcare operations will go far toward helping them gain confidence to return during this phase of the pandemic. Now more than ever, we can’t afford a systemwide hit or miss.