Patient access and engagement has rapidly transformed from an industry conversation into a nationwide public health issue. As coronavirus cases escalate and the public and private sectors collaborate to contain the outbreak, health organizations are stepping up to increase access to vital services and directly engage patients with the latest coronavirus news and prevention best practices.

These five responses are defining how healthcare organizations will approach patient access and engagement during this turbulent time:

1. Incorporating coronavirus bulletins into the online patient access experience.

Communication is key during public health emergencies like coronavirus. When patients want to see a provider, they need guidance upfront on whether they need to call ahead or receive COVID-19 screening before booking an appointment. 

Some health systems are providing that guidance within their patient access channels. For example, one of the nation’s largest children’s hospitals in Texas is proactively screening all patients for COVID-19 symptoms. To spread the word about its screening initiative, the health system added custom messaging to its online scheduling portal directing patients who have recently traveled internationally to read its latest coronavirus notices. This messaging is displayed early in the booking process so at-risk patients can learn about screening and make more informed decisions as they seek treatment. 

2. The promotion of telemedicine and virtual visits. 

Organizations across sectors are canceling in-person events and working from home in the name of social distancing, or the practice of avoiding large gatherings in order to mitigate community transmission of disease. In the healthcare industry, hospital systems and health plans are also going virtual to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus.  

Ascension, one of the largest faith-based health organizations in the country, offers an online, 24/7 urgent care option for patients in all 50 states, no insurance required. Patients can use Ascension Online Care to safely see a doctor using their phone or mobile device without leaving their homes. The health system is promoting this option as one of its top five tips for limiting exposure to the virus. 

3. Publishing accessible, up-to-date COVID-19 information. 

Containing misinformation about coronavirus is just as crucial as reducing direct, in-person contact. Since only 41% of Americans trust the news, health systems have become some of the most credible and trusted sources of coronavirus information on the internet. 

As a university hospital, John Hopkins has taken an academic approach to informing the public about COVID-19. Its robust Coronavirus Resource Center includes a global interactive map of coronavirus cases, regular updates on the latest COVID-19 news, and articles on prevention and safety. All of this content is free and mobile-optimized to maximize access to this virtual information. 

4. Waiving co-pays and fees for COVID-19 testing. 

For many Americans, the biggest barrier to healthcare is the cost. To encourage members to seek testing and treatment, health insurance providers are removing this barrier to coronavirus care. For example, Highmark Health, a health plan based in Pennsylvania, will waive out-of-pocket costs for diagnostic testing related to coronavirus. This measure will help those most at-risk for contracting the virus, such as older adults and people with chronic health conditions, access testing more easily. 

5. Proactively engaging high-risk or diagnosed patients.

While many COVID-19 patients can recover from the disease at home, they can’t leave quarantine to purchase medications for their symptoms. Aetna, a payor with 22 million members, is thus pledging to send care packages containing CVS over-the-counter medications to diagnosed COVID-19 patients, allowing members to receive treatment for their symptoms without visiting a doctor’s office or pharmacy in-person. It has also dispatched care managers to contact at-risk members and share how they can protect themselves and get tested for the virus. 

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