5 Tips to Rebuilding Patient Volume During COVID-19 Crisis

On average, medical practices saw a 60% decrease in patient volume since the beginning of COVID-19, according to the Medical Group Management Association. Many patients delayed or canceled preventive care, follow-up visits, screenings, and nonurgent procedures. Now that states have been lifting stay-at-home orders and reopening their economies, patients are re-engaging with their providers as well. However, one question remains: will patient volumes eventually increase to pre-pandemic levels?

Perhaps, but not automatically, says Rob Klein, MA, founder and CEO of Klein & Partners, a healthcare research and consulting firm in Chicago. “If doctors want to get patients back, they need to be very proactive, and they need to adapt,” he says. Klein, whose research conducted in early May focuses on how COVID-19 has impacted consumer perception and behaviors, says providers who prioritize the patient experience will be most successful in terms of re-attracting patients to the practice as well as weathering any additional waves of the virus. He provides these five tips to rebuild patient volume in the short- and long-term.

1. Outreach patients proactively. Healthcare is a service industry, and as with any service, customers want to feel valued, says Klein. How can healthcare providers ensure this? Call patients to let them know the practice values their business and that it’s safe to come in, says Klein. Start with those who have upcoming appointments and then focus on patients who are overdue for physicals, vaccines, and more. During these conversations, focus specifically on what the practice has already done to keep patients safe—not what it hopes to do in the coming weeks—and what patients can expect when they come into the office. Practices can also post this information on their websites or social media pages as well as via secure text or email or even direct mail.

Here are the top five safety-related practices that patients want to see:

• Social distancing in the waiting room
• Seeing providers wearing masks and gloves
• Keeping coronavirus patients in a completely separate area
• Being given a face mask and gloves when you arrive for your appointment
• Seeing providers wash their hands

2. Provide training for front-office staff. "Never before have front office staff been so important in terms of helping maintain patient loyalty,” says Klein. “They aren’t just schedulers. They’re quasi-therapists. Schedulers are key to getting people back in.” With that said, these individuals may need additional training in empathic communication because they’re likely interacting with patients who may have lost their job or a loved one due to COVID-19 or who might be facing a whole host of other pandemic-related challenges. If front office staff don’t engage patients effectively during a time of extreme emotional vulnerability, they risk losing business.

3. Accommodate patients as quickly as possible. Now that practices are reopening, patients may not want to wait months or even weeks for an appointment, says Klein. Thirty percent of consumers say they would switch providers if another provider could see them more quickly, according to Klein’s research. Other top reasons for switching? Their current provider lacks empathy (21%), another provider is willing to work with them on out-of-pocket costs (20%), and another provider has demonstrated better safety and cleaning procedures to protect patients from COVID-19 (19%). Consider extending office hours or offering weekend hours to meet consumer demand, says Klein. Also present patients with the option of seeing a nurse practitioner or physician assistant instead, he adds.

4. Embrace a long-term virtual care strategy. “Virtual care is our new normal,” says Klein. “Successful practices will be those that continue to innovate quickly.” When appropriate, provide virtual care as an option for patients who don’t feel comfortable coming into the practice, he adds. Other patients (e.g., working parents, those without access to transportation, or elderly patients) may also appreciate having the option to choose virtual care.

5. Provide behavioral health support. “We’re going to have a mental health crisis in this country like we’ve never seen before,” says Klein, adding that patients will likely struggle with suicide, depression, bankruptcy, divorce, anxiety, and more in the wake of COVID-19. Physicians will need to build strong referral networks or even embed a behavioral health specialist into their practices to provide patients with the support they need. Moreover, if you are a behavioral health specialist running your own clinic, download our latest guide to help optimize your business to accommodate the increased workload of more patients seeking mental health services.

The most important takeaway point is that practices can’t sit idly by and hope that patient volumes eventually return. “If you’re passive, you’re going to go out of business,” says Klein. “Some practices already have.”

While it is important to be proactive to build your patient volume, it is also imperative to collect all monies owed to your practice, which can be tricky with patients in a COVID-19 era. For assistance with patient collections, download Kareo’s Blueprint for Patient Collections Success here.

About the Author

Lisa A. Eramo, BA, MA is a freelance writer specializing in health information management, medical coding, and regulatory topics. She began her healthcare career as a...

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