It is almost impossible to fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on the healthcare delivery system. Across the U.S., hospitals have been pushed to capacity. Extreme measures, including the costly elimination of elective procedures and the creation of temporary hospitals, have allowed health professionals to effectively treat COVID-19 patients in addition to those suffering from other life-threatening medical concerns.
These massive changes have undoubtedly saved lives, but they have also upended virtually every ounce of normalcy that defined the workflows of payer and provider organizations just a few months ago. For example, budgets have been destroyed and frightening deficits have become all too familiar. While we are all yearning for the day that we will return to a “new normal,” the transition out of a full quarantine for the healthcare delivery system will not take place overnight. For providers and payers, this will take a significant amount of planning and clear communication. The sooner you start, the more successful you will be.
Here are four tips to consider:
All provider and payer organizations have unique organizational structures and various levels of employee resources. However, we recommend that you identify folks within your organization who are currently not directly involved in the COVID-19 response and create a post-COVID-19 committee that can start virtually meeting to plan for what life will look like down the road. The main focus of this group will be to ensure that there is an infrastructure in place to successfully return to more traditional operations when it is safe to do so, such as communication plans about updated regulations, remote working expectations, or infection control policies.
Just because something is deemed elective does not mean that it is not critically important to patients. When the decision to cancel all elective procedures was made, it essentially put all hospitals on a level playing field. When these procedures resume, there is likely to be a high demand. Hospitals should not take this for granted: Suddenly, patients have choices because provider calendars across the region are open in ways they have not been before. Therefore, it is prudent to develop marketing and communication strategies that will distinguish your organization as a hospital of excellence with outstanding patient care. Additionally, consider what service lines are strengths within your organization that can help you to financially recover from COVID-19 deficits as efficiently as possible and allocate an appropriate amount of marketing resources to those areas.
As part of your communication and marketing efforts, it will be critical that you clearly articulate what infection control measures you took during and after COVID-19 to ensure that the hospital is safe for patients to return to for elective procedures. Despite many public education efforts, hospitals nationwide have reported seeing a decrease in patients (because they are nervous about contracting COVID-19) who would normally have sought treatment for important medical concerns, such as neurological or cardiovascular issues. While safety and quality have been points of major emphasis across health care for years, examples of your rigorous infectious disease prevention efforts will be critical moving forward as a way to reassure patients that they are safe.
While COVID-19 brought many challenges and setbacks, it also brought an expanded opportunity for patients to engage in telehealth and other technology in ways that they never have before. Several of our clients, including Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Physician One Urgent Care, immediately ramped up their existing virtual offerings. Some patients will want to continue to utilize these services, so rather than forcing them to stop, consider how you will allow these offerings to continue while also moving back towards traditional medical visits. In many ways, telehealth can be a positive engagement tool for providers and payers, so this is an opportunity to solidify it as part of the American healthcare delivery system in ways we have been unable to do before COVID-19.
COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. While many in this country are continuing the courageous battle against the virus, it is crucial that health care leaders simultaneously prepare for our post-pandemic lives in order to ensure the long term viability and success of our critical health care organizations.
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