Over four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home (WFH) and remote teams have become the norm for many industries. Telemedicine is in full swing and many of the major adoption, implementation, and reimbursement challenges have been worked out. On average, physicians, staff, patients, and their carepartners have gone through the learning curve and settled in to virtual care. In this virtual care world, where technology, workflows, policies, reimbursement frameworks, and the status quo have rapidly changed, why is the outdated concept of a patient still frozen in time?
What if we regarded patients and their carepartners as part of our practices’, hospitals’, and healthcare delivery (HDO) organizations’ remote teams? From this perspective, what would you need to do differently to best support these remote team members?
Many entities and HDOs celebrate their efforts to elevate the patient experience. In the midst of this pandemic world, everyone in the healthcare ecosystem is looking for ways to reconnect with patients and rebuild trust.
In the same way you wouldn’t leave your remote teams and colleagues who are WFH in the dark and out of the loop, the post-pandemic patient experience must focus on supporting patients and carepartners who WFH on their care. Here are five ways to get you started:
- Task Management: Proactively coach patients through what they will need for their next appointment to be a success. This can be done either during an in-person or virtual visit. Encourage patients to write-down this to-do list at the end of the appointment, record a voice memo on their smart device, or record the tasks in a to-do list app. Bonus points for conferencing in the patient’s primary carepartner to also follow along with the discussion and be aware of the to-do list.
- Hack the System: Share insider tips with patients on how to accomplish their to-do list. Connect them with the right point person in the office for any questions or follow up. Introduce them to the nurse navigator. Give patients a list of key office staff with their direct numbers and emails. Give patients copies of their medical records, such as their most recent bloodwork or imaging report, explain why they may need images on CDs or how to get a pathology second opinion. Encourage patients to use libraries to bridge internet gaps for access to computers or hotspots that may be borrowed with a library membership. Share financial resources like GoodRx, Healthcare Bluebook, Patient Advocate Foundation. Connect them with a peer health support group that can be helpful in navigating life with a diagnosis, especially in the post-COVID world. Don’t have a peer health support group to refer your patient to? Time to start an in-house list! Make it a point to share at least one helpful tip at each visit. Help patients level up by helping them connect the dots!
- How to Pivot: The patient experience and an individual’s journey through healthcare is anything but a straight, continuous line. Stop shaming no-shows. Start thinking about no-shows as a challenge you can win by communicating better with patients. The reality is, we haven’t met people where they are in their journey. Teach patients about all the ways to communicate that are available to them. Encourage patients when to pivot to a virtual consultation and vice-versa. Emphasize the importance of continued connection and communication. Plans for seamless next steps need to be emphasized at the end of each appointment. When an in-person visit can’t happen, due to cancer treatment related side effects, lack of child care, chronic pain, or a broken pipe at home, encouraging patients to quickly pivot to virtual care instead of cancelling can bring empathy, convenience, and continuity to the relationship. Emphasize you want the patient to keep talking to you and all the ways they can do so.
- The Digital Divide: Patients need to be educated about the role of digital in their care. Share credible resources online for disease specific information. Teach them about healthy social media strategies for finding credible information as well as how to connect with other patients and experts. Share relevant keywords and hashtags to use to get patients and carepartners started. Talk about the latest innovations and benefits of updating to a digital medicine cabinet. Share information on digital technologies like a scanning thermometer, pulse oximeter, BP monitor, glucose monitor, smart scale, ECG, personal ultrasound, and apps for helping with health. Include primary carepartners in these conversations and share how these technologies may help with remote monitoring and caregiving responsibilities, especially during COVID-19 where social distancing is in place. Introduce patients and their carepartners to any digital front doors that your organization may offer as well as different channels for communication. Consider having a digital sherpa in your organization as the point person for follow up questions and credible information.
- Introducing WFC: Due to COVID-19, many HDOs, hospitals, and practices have strict no visitor policies and only permit the patient to enter the facility. Primary carepartners who may have previously attended every appointment and encounter with the patient are now left sitting in the car. These individuals working from cars (WFC) and are left completely in the dark about what is happening inside the four walls of medicine. I have sat in five different hospital, imaging center, cancer center, and COVID-19 testing site parking lots just this week alone as a primary carepartner. Not a single doctor contacted me even though I have routinely been at essentially every single appointment accompanying my family member for about 20 years. While WFC, I have precerted procedures, filled prescriptions, called the receptionist for updates, left messages for nurse navigators, coordinated care, cried, and wished for a bathroom after hours of sitting in the car or pacing outside. I’m waving my arms above my head frantically here: please don’t forget about all of us who are now WFC. You have the technology to connect with us.
Actual footage of my new remote carepartner office: WFC
Staying connected with patients and caregivers is critical during this time when things change to rapidly. Two-way text messaging is a great way to do that. One way to use two-way text is with a park and text waiting option. Find out more about how successfully implement park and text in this simple checklist.