After hospitals halted most scheduled services in response to Covid-19, a surprising—and worrisome—trend emerged: Not only did hospitals see a drop in scheduled procedures (which are arguably safer to postpone), but they also saw a significant decline in necessary emergency care, preventive care, and post-discharge follow-up care.
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The reason behind the care delays boils down to fear: According to a survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians, 70% of consumers say they are very or somewhat concerned about contracting the new coronavirus if they go to facilities to receive care for issues not related to Covid-19. This fear is translating to lower rates of routine disease management and preventive screenings and lower rates of hospitalizations for acute conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, and appendicitis. In fact, according to data from Cigna, hospitalizations decreased by 35% for atrial fibrillation, 31% for transient ischemic attack, 28% for epilepsy and seizures, and 24% for gastrointestinal bleeds compared with pre-Covid-19 levels.
To reverse this troubling trend, providers must take immediate action to inform patients that deferring essential care can pose greater health risks than the risk associated with contracting the virus itself. To help, we've summarized both the potential precautions that your organization should consider to help assure your patients, as well as the tactics for communicating your facilities' safety protocols to patients.
Before reaching out to the community, it's essential that organizations put the proper precautions in place—otherwise, they cannot hope to regain trust within their community. Below we outline six tactics your organization could deploy to create a safe environment for patients.
1. Separate your Covid-19-related services from your other offerings.
While most organizations are cohorting patients to treat Covid-19-positive patients separately from Covid-19-negative patients, health care organizations can take this a step further. For example, you could cohort by:
2. Establish screening and testing protocols.
Media reports have shown there's widespread confusion over screening and testing protocols, which is understandable given they can vary by state and location. But organizations can set patients’ minds at ease by establishing clear screening and testing protocols for their facilities. For example, providers could:
3. Adopt universal masking among patients and staff.
While personal protective equipment shortages (PPE) remain a problem for many organizations, those that have adequate supplies could alter policies to ensure all staff and patients are masked while inside the facility. Many organizations are now giving personal protective equipment to patients if they do not arrive to facilities with sufficient protection. For example, this is one key piece of Tideland Health's "Safe in Our Care" commitment.
4. Continuously sanitize public spaces (in plain sight to patients).
Health care organizations know the value of a clean work environment. To ease patients' minds, take this one step further and ensure you're cleaning public spaces—and that you're doing so in plain sight of patients. For instance, you can:
5. Take physical distancing precautions.
By now, most Americans have become very familiar with social distancing. Grocery stores and other essential businesses have made one-way aisles and placed stickers on floors to make sure people waiting in line are at least six feet apart. Patients, therefore, may be comforted to see similar practices in health care settings. For example, you may:
6. Encourage use of alternative access points when appropriate.
Many health care organizations have limited entry points into their facilities so they can properly screen patients. However, some individuals may still feel uncomfortable entering the facility, and would prefer alternatives to receive treatment. Organizations should:
If you've already adopted the safety precautions outlined above, the next task is to ensure that your community understands the measures you have put into place to create a safe environment.
Don't hold back on this front—despite reports that providers have significantly increased communication with patients during the Covid-19 outbreak, current communication strategies may be falling short of quelling patient anxieties about receiving care. In fact, according to a recent ReviveHealth survey, 57% of respondents want to hear more from their local providers when it comes to Covid-19.
But how you approach these communications is just as important as getting them out to the public. While you're developing your Covid-19 messaging strategy, consider these five tips.
Disseminate communications through as many channels as possible. There are numerous communication channels available in today's digital world. Here are four reliable ways to reach your patients:
Providers should aggressively push out these messages to the public as soon as possible, because while consumer fear and anxiety is warranted and understandable, deferring essential care may ultimately pose a greater health risk to the communities that you serve.
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