In the summer of 2020, an estimated 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%) due to concerns about COVID-19. As facilities have implemented safeguards, people are mustering courage to return for appointments—but hospitals will have to work to earn their trust again. Read our recommendations for engaging your patients in new ways.
Despite reports that say most hospitals have seen visits return to 80% or more of their pre-coronavirus numbers, healthcare executives on the front lines have not found this to be true. Peter Shields, deputy director of Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, says his hospital is running at less than half capacity because some patients are still afraid to make appointments. His facility recently began running advertisements designed to reassure consumers. There is no short-term fix for the pandemic. Hospitals must show patients that elective care is still safe.
Due to ongoing restrictions, alleviating patient stress is difficult. Mask requirements might prevent patients from ever seeing the full faces of their caregivers. People are being asked to wait in their cars until an exam room is ready—which minimizes personal interactions. Patients must understand and comply with a series of on-site hygiene rules. All of these measures are designed to streamline care, minimize infection, and ease fears. Yet hospitals’ long-term success is dependent on the precarious balance of establishing safety and building patient trust.
Rick Evans, chief experience officer of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, says that making patients feel safe involves both transparent communication and a commitment to a clean, safe environment. “As I read patient surveys and comments on those surveys, [I] see how tenuous this trust is. If a patient sees one staff member not wearing a mask, they comment. If they see an absence of vigilance in any of [our safety] measures, they let us know.” Patients want to see that hospitals are taking their safety seriously—and hospital staff members must meet their standards.
Your entire team should be explicitly trained to answer patients’ questions. Your scheduling staff and patient access team should be able to ease people’s minds by clearly providing the information they need and minimizing their concerns. With faces obscured by masks, providers will need to go the extra mile to make patients feel comfortable.
By committing to excellently serving patients through the entire care process, you will build a foundation of long-term trust with them. If people feel safe with you, they will return to your facility for future care—even when they are uncertain about the future.