Blog Post

'Soft ROI': The unexpected payoffs of your Covid-19 screening and testing

May 20, 2020

    For months, physician executives have been focused on Covid-19 screening and testing. But as they look to "reopen" health care services, many are wondering about the long-term operational and financial feasibility of screening and testing protocols given the associated cost, logistical challenge, and reliability. 

    Covid-19 guidance from clinicians at the forefront

    Last week, Advisory Board's Physician Executive Council facilitated a series of physician executive pop-up forums—virtual discussion sessions with physician executives across the nation—to answer these questions. The takeaway: As clinical leaders reopen sites of care and resume elective procedures, the purpose of screening and testing now goes beyond a public health measure for infection identification. Physician executives are learning how to strategically maximize the return on their screening and testing efforts.

    Below, we've outlined two types of "soft ROI" leaders shared during these virtual forums.

    1. Leverage the immense "signal value" that screening and testing communicate to patients and clinicians.

    Organizations are finding that patients—and clinicians—are hesitant to come back into the hospital and clinic setting. To build trust, strategically integrate messaging around screening and safety into your existing communication channels. For example, organizations can:

    • Improve the perception of safety for patients. Perception is equally as important as reality when it comes to Covid-19 safety. Leaders shared that pre-screening questions, enhanced facility cleaning measures, and walk-through thermal screenings at hospitals—while important for identifying and preventing infections—seem to be carrying more value for their ability to boost patients' confidence and perception that health care sites are safe.

    • Provide psychological relief for clinicians. Leaders are prioritizing putting clinicians at ease by clearly communicating how the organization is implementing best practices for Covid-19 infection prevention and testing—recognizing that when clinicians feel safe they are often the best resource to convey safety to patients. This is especially important as clinicians return to the operating room to perform elective procedures. Leaders have found that testing patients as close as possible to their scheduled procedure provides substantial psychological relief to clinicians.

    • Differentiate the organization as a safe haven in the community. Many organizations are launching marketing campaigns focused on patient and clinician safety, trumpeting their organization's screening and testing protocols as differentiators within their health care markets. Beyond that, as the economy "reopens" more broadly, leaders are tapping their public relations departments to remind patients that health systems have unparalleled screening protocols and safety measures in place—further encouraging patients to prioritize necessary in-person care.

    2. Leverage internal Covid-19 testing data to help determine when to ramp up or ramp down "reopening" efforts.

    As organizations begin efforts to resume postponed services, a big question is: How do clinical leaders know if they should accelerate or scale those efforts back? While many organizations are primarily focused on testing patients due to lack of testing and contact tracing resources, some are investing more in clinician testing—seeing both clinician and patient incidence rates as critical indicators on how to pace a safe reopening.

    For example, one organization is piloting widespread clinician monitoring: testing all their clinicians (employed and affiliated) and then doing a follow-up test one week later. This initial data source provides a baseline exposure rate, and proactively creates a tracer mechanism in the event of a future outbreak.

    While large-scale testing of clinicians and patients may be infeasible for many organizations, leaders across the nation are looking at available clinician incidence rates as an input for internal predictive modeling and a guideline for when to ramp down their reopening efforts. For example, in addition to patient incidence rates, some leaders are looking at the number of employees confirmed with Covid-19 over the total number of employees. Others are looking at the number of health care workers confirmed with Covid-19 over the total number of Covid-19 cases per state/city, depending on their system size. For organizations early in their workforce screening and testing efforts, check out how one organization is scaling their screening efforts digitally here.

    These tactics are a starting point to strategically leverage screening and testing and align it with current organizational priorities to reengage patients, build—and rebuild—trust with clinicians, and collect necessary data to make future operational decisions.

    Looking for answers to your other Covid-19 questions?

    Access Advisory Board's Covid-19 resource page, updated daily.

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