In the industry-wide race to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, health systems have rapidly innovated their patient access procedures to ensure a safe environment for delivering care. 

SHSMD brought together four health care provider panelists to share their best practices and biggest lessons in a free webinar, “How Health Systems Are Responding to COVID-19.”  Moderated by Jordan Pisarcik, VP of Growth and Customer Engagement at DocASAP, the panel discussed how they’re navigating patients to alternative care settings and how they’re providing their communities vital, timely information about receiving care. 

Mobilizing Employees to Meet Patient Demand

COVID-19 has pushed healthcare organizations to quickly leverage their resources with an unprecedented amount of internal coordination. According to the panelists, this fast mobilization ran the gamut from erecting drive-thru testing sites, virtualizing call centers, and adopting weekly meetings to keep the entire organization aligned.

The sheer scale of the COVID-19 crisis has created challenges that require all hands on deck to solve. Tony Bristol, Director of Ecommerce at Providence, shared that Providence shifted staffing across its 2,500 clinics and 55 hospitals to ensure its telehealth services could accommodate the surge in patient demand. 

“We didn’t have the supply in place to manage the rush of folks taking advantage of [telehealth],” Bristol said. “It was as much setting it up with our staffing as it was curbing how our consumers actually engaged with us. Prior to this, we would see a few hundred virtual telehealth sessions a week. That expanded within two weeks to over 10,000 virtual visits. We had to ramp up quickly with our providers.”

Nichole Stevens, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Roper St Francis Healthcare, said that a surge in patient volume led to 2-3 hour wait times through their virtual care provider. To take the pressure off telehealth, Roper St. Francis created a new Ask-a-Nurse hotline in only five days to both answer patient questions and alleviate their fears. 

Questions about your health? We’re here for you. The Roper St. Francis Healthcare Ask a Nurse Line is staffed by…

Posted by Roper St. Francis Healthcare on Wednesday, April 1, 2020

‘We pulled nurses that had been called off other areas of our organization to answer questions from the community,” Stevens explained. “We learned after a week or so of being live that people just wanted to talk to a clinical person. It didn’t have to be a physician. People were calling for medical advice or to ask few testing questions, but mostly they were just scared.” 

Bridging Access to Telehealth

What was once an alternative care option has rocketed into the mainstream thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. An informal poll of webinar attendees revealed that nearly 100% are either already using or planning to use telehealth in their COVID-19 response strategy.  

Amber Allen, Executive Director, Primary Care, Innovation, and Quality at Prevea Health, shared that telehealth adoption in Wisconsin had been low due to regulatory barriers. For example, patients previously could not attend a video visit inside their own homes and instead needed to travel to designated healthcare facilities for virtual appointments. Now that those barriers are lifted, Prevea has implemented a broad telehealth platform that supports video services across every specialty it offers.

“Primary care, cardiology, pulmonology, everybody’s on board,” Allen said. “We’ve trained over 300 providers in a week and a half time to get them up and running to offer video services for their patients so we’re not seeing any disruptions in care. We hope this is something we can continue to offer beyond the pandemic. It is a wonderful service for patients and they have appreciated and adapted to it quite quickly.”

Multiple panelists also noted that there remains a knowledge gap in how to access telehealth, especially among older patients. Nathan Altand, Communications Center Director at National Spine and Pain Centers, shared that their call center had to pivot towards a technical support role in order to help patients successfully navigate telehealth. 

Telemedicine appointments are now available to patients! It's important during this challenging period, to continue to…

Posted by National Spine & Pain Centers on Friday, March 27, 2020

“Our patient base tends to skew older, so the challenge that we had was that many of our patients were using telehealth for the first time ever,” Altand said. “Consequently, our call volume at the call center exploded. It was a lot of technical issue calls, questions, and confusion. We found that there really is no overcommunication with people right now. You need to set expectations and communicate what patients need to prepare for.”

In addition to call center agents providing technical support, the panel discussed using video walkthroughs, website content, and email communications to help patients access telehealth.

Predictions for the New Normal

Healthcare is changing right before our eyes. Digital tools that were once scarce in the industry are becoming baked into the patient experience. As the webinar concluded, panelists listed the changes they predict will become a part of healthcare’s “new normal” after the pandemic subsides:

  1. Telehealth will become a new standard for how patients are treated across different specialties. 
  2. The home will become its own care setting, enabling home screenings and diagnostics, pharmacy delivery, etc.
  3. Healthcare organizations will leverage care-driven outreach to communicate to patients where to go and what to do in certain situations.

Access the Full On-Demand Webinar

Hospitals, physician practices, and health plans can learn more about how these panelists responded to the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Best practices for assessing patients for COVID-19 symptoms
  • The importance of care-driven outreach during health crises
  • Winnings strategies for patient and community engagement

To get more information, insight, and ideas, access the full webinar recording.

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