Tips for Educating & Communicating with Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Estimated trajectories for the spread of novel coronavirus underscore the importance of what experts refer to as “flattening the curve” of the pandemic. Michael Mina, Associate Medical Director of Clinical Microbiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston tells KQED, “I think the whole notion of flattening the curve is to slow things down so that this doesn’t hit us like a brick wall. It’s really all borne out of the risk of our healthcare infrastructure pulling apart at the seams if the virus spreads too quickly and too many people start showing up at the emergency room at any given time.”
But you don’t need to look much further than a social media feed to realize that people are responding to this news in radically different ways. The range of attitudes — from those trying to adhere to medical advice to those refusing to let COVID-19 change their routines — reflects a challenge that healthcare providers face every day: how do you increase patient engagement across a population when individuals bring varying beliefs and attitudes regarding health and wellness?
Develop patient communications that resonate on a personal level
Of course, flattening the curve starts with communications that break through the noise surrounding the outbreak. It’s a Herculean task given the daily press briefings from federal, state and local governments, breaking news alerts on radio and tv, and the steady flow of posts across social media channels. But it’s also a necessity if healthcare providers want to positively impact two key areas:
- Teaching patients best practices and motivating adherence to help prevent the contraction and spread of novel coronavirus.
- Effectively treating less serious cases of novel coronavirus without bringing patients into healthcare facilities where they could potentially infect others.
Both of these areas are crucial components in the effort to slow the progress of COVID-19.
As we’ve seen from the experiences of healthcare providers in other countries, the unchecked spread of novel coronavirus strains healthcare resources to the limit. Empowering patients with timely, relevant educational materials — in plain language, not medical jargon — encourages healthcare consumers to actively reduce the spread of the virus, which will in turn relieve pressure on our country’s healthcare infrastructure.
An automated patient engagement platform makes it even easier by sending these communications by patients’ preferred methods — email, interactive phone calls or text messages — that allow for simple two-way communication. This capability can significantly reduce the human resources needed for follow up, allowing healthcare providers to reallocate those resources to focus on the most at-risk patients.
But just how can healthcare providers ensure these critical messages hit the right notes to motivate behavior change — even among the most resistant of patients?
Use psychographic segmentation to motivate patient engagement
Breakthrough patient communications require a breakthrough approach. That’s where psychographic segmentation can help. The proprietary segmentation model used by the PatientBond digital engagement platform, for example, leverages a series of questions to classify patients into five different psychographic segments.
- Self Achievers: Proactive, self-directed patients who are more likely than other segments to “spend whatever it takes to be healthy.”
- Balance Seekers: Open-minded patients who say that “Physicians are just one resource for me; I consider many sources when managing my health and wellbeing.”
- Priority Jugglers: Busy patients who are more likely than all other segments to admit, “I'm more worried about other family members' health than my own.”
- Direction Takers: Well-intentioned patients who say that, “I will go to the doctor at the first sign of health concerns,” but sometimes struggle to do so.
- Willful Endurers: Reactive patients who live and the moment and insist, “There are better things in life to focus on than healthy behavior.”
Clearly, patient communications that might motivate a Self Achiever are unlikely to inspire action with a Willful Endurer. And the differences between segments go beyond the types of messages that will inspire action. Members of different segments often have different preferences regarding the channels of communication used; some prefer the convenience of email or text messages while others prefer a letter or phone call.
By better understanding the unique perspectives of different segments, hospitals, urgent cares and private practices can fine tune patient communications and deliver them via preferred channels to motivate behaviors that lead to more positive health outcomes.
Consider ‘no-touch’ communication channels for patient engagement
As mentioned above, a patient engagement platform like PatientBond can support two-way interactions with patients, from providing advice on healthy behaviors to delivering medication refill reminders.
Healthcare providers can also go a step further by implementing telehealth services. Such options can help reduce the spread of germs by allowing convenient access to healthcare providers from home. Not only does this help currently healthy patients avoid potential exposure while traveling to and from medical appointments or waiting in the doctor’s office, but it increases the likelihood that self-quarantining patients will reach out to their doctors should symptoms worsen, allowing healthcare providers to prepare appropriately should the patient require in-person treatment.
We know that a personalized approach to patient communication yields positive results including better health outcomes and even increased market share. As the novel coronavirus pandemic takes hold across the country, PatientBond is here to help healthcare providers empower patients by offering digital patient engagement services branded to your practice at no cost, with no further obligation. The services will consist of weekly COVID-19 email education emails covering a variety of topics, as well as two-way interactive text messaging for virtual triage patients presenting with novel coronavirus symptoms.
For more on psychographic segmentation and how it effectively motivates patient behavior, we also invite you to download our whitepaper.