When patient volume plummeted due to COVID-19, two specialty groups leveraged digital health to win back their patients. 

Greystone hosted leaders from National Spine and Pain Center (NSPC) and Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute (JOI) in a free webinar, “How Two Specialty Groups Are Meeting the Resurging Demand for Accessing Care,” to discuss their strategies for recouping lost patient volume. Moderated by Jordan Pisarcik, SVP of Growth and Customer Engagement at DocASAP, the webinar dug into how digital health technology connects patients with timely care when access becomes difficult.

“Patient access is a cycle that is an ongoing journey between the patient and the provider,” Pisarcik explained in his introduction. “This is especially important during COVID-19 when access has fundamentally changed, and also as providers are thinking about how to get back to business and offer elective visits and procedures again.”

Open Constant Patient Access with 24/7 Scheduling

A key step in regaining patient volume is to open multiple patient access points, including online channels. Relying on a call center alone limits the opportunities patients have to schedule an appointment–especially when a call center is already busy managing a resurging demand for care. 

For example, JOI found that patients who injured themselves in the evenings or on weekends could not schedule an appointment because its call center was closed. During business hours, patients were often put on hold as call center agents addressed a backlog in demand. JOI thus leveraged online appointment scheduling with DocASAP to relieve pressure from its call center and acquire patients in need of a timely appointment.

Bill Koleszar, Chief Marketing Officer at NSPC, said that 24/7 online appointment scheduling is especially important for chronic pain patients. 

“When people are in pain, they need help as soon as possible,” Koleszar said. “It certainly relieves strain from our call center reps, but more importantly our call center reps are not always available to make an appointment. DocASAP is often the best and fastest way to secure time on a physician’s calendar.”

Koleszar added that the ability to easily self-schedule an appointment at any time can grant patients a modicum of relief. 

“Simply the peace of mind online scheduling can give someone a better state of health,” Koleszar said. “When they are in pain and worried about seeing a doctor, taking care of that easily certainly improves their quality of life.” 

Create Virtual Experiences that Resemble In-Person Care

Both webinar panelists reported leveraging telemedicine to offset losses in patient volume during the COVID-19 crisis. Koleszar shared that NSPC onboarded telemedicine at 70+ locations across 200 providers in 5 days. Within weeks of rolling out telemedicine, 80% of NSPC appointments were virtual visits. 

“We took a dip [in patient volume], but have recovered almost to our pre-COVID visit levels in large part to telemedicine,” Koleszar said. 

However, sometimes patients need more than a virtual visit to care for their injury or condition. To accommodate patients who needed in-person care, both JOI and NSPC adopted virtual waiting rooms patients could access while they waited in their cars. Medical staff could then approach their vehicles when it was time for their appointment, screen the patient, and then guide them safely into the care setting. 

Since NSPC’s patients skew older, the specialty group designed its virtual channels to resemble traditional in-person care.

“Our patients have been going to doctor’s offices for decades, so one of the things we thought about from a consumer perspective was how we could make this experience as familiar as possible,” Koleszar said. 

To achieve this, NSPC created a virtual waiting room on their website organized by state, location, and provider. Patients scheduled appointments using the same channels as usual, and they saw similar messaging as they would receive in a regular waiting room. Providers also recorded voice messages for patients to reassure them of their safety.

Proactively Market New Capabilities to Boost Patient Volume

The pandemic’s total disruption of care delivery left consumers uncertain of how to access care. As COVID-19 cases stabilized and providers began to resume normal operations, healthcare organizations like NSPC and JOI went on the marketing offensive to refill provider schedules.

JOI leveraged email blasts and SEO-friendly content to promote online scheduling and spread the word about new COVID-19 protocols. The organization also gave out free fridge magnets containing scheduling information to patients in their offices. 

Meanwhile, NSPC added clear calls to action across its website, social media pages, and Google My Business page that directed patients towards scheduling telemedicine appointments online. They also created 12 pages of content to bolster its telemedicine messaging and updated their PPC ads to include their new virtual offerings. 

“Through the extraordinary efforts of our operations and technology teams, our providers, our call center staff, and our marketing team, we significantly recovered our patient volume through a combination of telemedicine and in-person visits,” Koleszar said. 

Next Steps

To learn about shifting consumer preference for care, patient satisfaction with telemedicine, and the most in-demand digital tools, view our eBook, Telehealth: Taking the Healthcare Consumer’s Pulse in the New Normal.

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