Almost overnight, the world adjusted to a new, socially distant reality. Hospitals put stopgap measures in place to make room for new admissions; providers adopted new telehealth systems, rapidly training themselves, their staff, and their patients how to use them; and just about everyone has been fighting the five-alarm fire that became COVID-19.
Telemedicine suddenly turned into the most “essential business” in the country. Picking up the technology was born out of necessity — even a hastily adopted solution was better than no solution at all. But today, parts of the country are entering the various phases of reopening. Hospitals and private practices are also returning to well-check visits and elective care, and they now have the opportunity to reevaluate — or replace — their telemedicine infrastructure. To transition out of sheer survival mode and start growing a pipeline of new patients, telemedicine can no longer be viewed as a “quick fix” to a temporary problem. It must be an integral part of the patient journey moving forward.
The good news is that the timing couldn’t be better: The spotlight’s on telemedicine and, more broadly, healthcare — what works and what doesn’t. But most importantly, patients are primed and acclimated to change. Commonsense practices that foster convenience and safety are now king. Providers who can adapt quickly, reduce workflow friction, and expand communications, all while delivering the same level of care patients are used to, will have successfully weathered the largest health crisis of our lifetime — and be all the stronger for it. Here’s how.
Create a great end-to-end patient experience.
Now more than ever, patients are navigating their healthcare choices by what they find online. If your social media presence, online marketing, or, frankly, technical savvy is lacking, now’s the time to beef up.
Broadcast your new telemedicine services across your website, third-party sites, and social media; capture appointments online via a scheduling platform; streamline intake with better communications and text reminders; and solicit authentic patient feedback in the form of online reviews. These moves would be wise anytime, but coming out of a national health emergency, adding key digital touchpoints to the patient journey can help educate — and even be a comfort to — patients. Taken together, these efforts should feel consistent and streamlined for both your patients and staff.
Set patient expectations.
Knowing what to expect can help any situation go more smoothly. Ramp up your communication efforts with preparatory phone calls, emails, text reminders, etc. that lay out what patients can expect when they arrive at your office for scheduled appointments or drop-ins. Make it clear that your practice is complying with all Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ recommendations and safety guidelines for reopening, like office head count, curbside check-in, spaced sitting, cleaning procedures, and so forth, and provide additional details in writing or on your website for patients who request it. More (not less) information about what’s changing will only help streamline the check-in process and ease patients’ minds as doors reopen.
Continue to offer virtual appointments.
COVID-19 set in motion healthcare’s reluctant telemedicine revolution — but, like it or not, telemedicine is here to stay. Commit to keeping this powerful tool in your clinical arsenal, and refine the experience for patients as you go along. No doubt your practice pivoted to meet demand during the emergency, but with nothing but open road ahead, there’s time (and business imperative) to keep improving.
The key to integrating telemedicine into your everyday workflow is operationalizing it. Set parameters around when virtual appointments can be scheduled, what types of appointments qualify (triage, consultations, health screenings, prescription refills, etc.), and a script for how each experience should unfold (don’t neglect to schedule follow-up appointments on the call, for example). And know what to look for when identifying future candidates for remote supervisory care.
With more time and telemedicine experience under your belt, you might have decided the platform you quickly adopted leaves much to be desired. The healthcare industry has come to realize that not all solutions are created equal. Some aren’t sufficiently robust to be viable long term. Others lack security requirements and fail to meet HIPAA regulations, which will be necessary after the pandemic ends.
These issues could be overlooked initially, but they will turn into serious complications as telemedicine becomes part of your strategy for growth. If you’re currently facing any of the scenarios outlined above, not all is lost — but you must act with urgency to transition to a new solution and prevent potential patient leakage.
For a virtual platform that’s easy, secure, 100% HIPAA compliant, and free for a limited number of providers, check out VirtualVisit by Doctor.com.
Differentiate your practice and earn credibility through authentic online reviews.
Patient reviews are the new currency of trust for healthcare. They allow prospective patients to confidently book appointments with a new doctor and even educate them on new experiences, like telemedicine and post-COVID care.
From the very early phases of reopening while experiences are still fresh, it’s important to collect as many patient reviews as possible in order to establish the “social proof” needed to earn you your next wave of leads. As your clinic’s online profile becomes more populated and the positive reviews grow, these and other efforts will ensure your clinic’s reputation does nothing but rise.
In the rare case of a negative review, your instincts may be to become combative (or worse, ignore it). But in addition to resolving the issue internally, don’t neglect to address the concern in the public square — i.e., online — where the original feedback or comment was posted. In other words, monitor your reviews on third-party profiles, respond to questions and comments in a timely fashion, and overcommunicate your solutions at every juncture. For more about handling reviews, including a cheat sheet of responses, download our ebook.
Gain insight into your business and stay attentive.
Best of all, the reforms you make now will power incredible insights into your business — helping you make the best decisions possible for the future. Whether you’re using a telemedicine or marketing platform, tracking software, or your own analytics, being able to understand how your business is performing is mission critical as you transition out of lockdown.
Having done the above, your phone will likely start ringing with new patients (or online appointment requests will come flooding in). This is when you may be tempted to take a step back or refocus your efforts elsewhere — but don’t be so easily distracted. Adjust and refine your patient-engagement strategies and tactics, using the bevy of digital tools available, to continue to build upon a thriving patient pipeline and ensure your calendars stay booked month after month.
During the unprecedented healthcare emergency, hospitals and providers approached telemedicine with a “right now” mentality. But as the industry acknowledges telemedicine’s long-term staying power, it’s time to consider what’s the “right fit.”
No matter what, getting up to speed with the tools and technologies your business needs to automate communications, market to new customers, and build your reputation online will not only help your hospital or practice transition out of the chaos of the pandemic but truly help your business flourish in a post-COVID future.
To learn how Doctor.com brings a wide range of technology, reputation-management tools, and marketing solutions to physicians and health systems nationwide, request more information here.