More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains challenging for healthcare consumers to stay engaged with their health. One in ten consumers say they avoided in-person healthcare services during spring 2021 due to coronavirus. Meanwhile, providers are cancelling elective surgeries and appointments to manage growing caseloads.

Delayed care can lead to negative outcomes downstream because patients fall out of touch with their health. According to research from the Cleveland Clinic, most consumers don’t know their last blood cholesterol (55%), blood sugar (62%), or blood pressure (43%) readings as a result of the pandemic. Providers across the country have also observed worsened conditions in patients who have missed routine screenings, delaying intervention for heart disease and cancer. 

There is a growing disconnect between patients, their providers, and the state of their health. PriceWaterhouse Cooper estimates that the financial impact of this disconnect will add up to a 6.5% increase in medical costs by 2022.

Several digital access strategies can help providers bridge that divide and engage healthcare consumers. 

3 Digital Strategies for Engaging Healthcare Consumers Through the Pandemic

  • Keep Patients Informed Using Multiple Digital Channels.

Consumers consistently trust their providers, but only 35% say health system websites are their top source of healthcare information. To keep patients informed of changing policies, appointment availability, and regional COVID-19 data, providers should leverage every channel at their disposal when engaging healthcare consumers.   

Use a multi-channel and cross-platform approach for engaging patients, including social media posts, digital ad campaigns, email outreach, and automated text messaging. Targeted digital campaigns can help educate existing patients about a facility’s latest safety procedures and practices. To reach entire markets, leverage public channels such as provider websites, Google My Business profiles, and the media to ensure patients seeking care find accurate information wherever they search. 

  • Use Proactive Outreach to Schedule Preventive Visits and Screenings

Don’t wait for consumers to come to you — prompt them to schedule their next preventative visit with proactive outreach. 

A recent consumer survey indicates that consumers want providers to remind them to schedule preventative care using email and text messages:

  • 71% of consumers would be likely to schedule preventive care appointments if they received text/email reminders from their doctor’s office.
  • 41% would like to receive information about and scheduling options for preventive screenings.
  • 40% of respondents do not receive communication from their doctor between visits. 

Health systems who proactively reach out to patients see increased engagement. For example, Prevea Health launched outreach campaigns for cervical cancer screenings and annual wellness visits in November 2020. Their automated emails received an average 54% open rate, resulting in new appointment bookings for screenings and wellness visits.

  • Direct Patients to Telehealth to Provide Continuity of Care.

When in-person visits are limited, virtual visits can provide a lifeline for patients seeking care or advice. Nearly all telehealth users (91%) say that telehealth provides them a sense of “access and continuity of care,” and half (54%) would have delayed care without telehealth.  

Add scheduling calls-to-action to search, social and health plan digital assets to emphasize telehealth as a convenient, safe channel to care. Incorporating telehealth availability into provider directories and search tools can also effectively navigate patients towards virtual options. Lastly, send pre-visit email and text reminders to patients scheduling virtual visits. Despite the explosive growth of telehealth, engaging healthcare consumers remains vital for decreasing no-shows.

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