The Mayan “Doomsday” calendar predicted the world would end in 2012. You’ve got to hand it to them--they were only off by eight years.
All joking aside, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt the world over with roughly a quarter of a million deaths to date in the U.S. and nearly 1.5 million worldwide. The health crisis has left a wide swath of casualties in terms of total confirmed cases and taken a heavy toll on health organizations and systems in every country and in every region, from metropolitan centers to rural areas.
But the novel coronavirus has been much more than simply a health pandemic. It’s impacted economies and businesses, including those very health providers whose caregivers are on the frontline against the disease.
In terms of medical staffing alone, the virus has left U.S. hospitals in at least 25 states critically short of nurses, doctors and other staff. In a survey conducted by Primary Care Collective, 35 percent of respondents experienced an inability to fill open positions, 61 percent had persistent challenges with COVID-19 testing, and 35 percent faced supply shortages, particularly for personal protective equipment (PPE). And two major American medical centers, including the Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, found that the nurse-to-patient ratio increased from its recommended 1:1 to 1:4 during the pandemic.
Staffing isn’t the only sector that’s been hard hit. The average loss of revenue by health providers since March 2020 has been over 35 percent, including 37 percent in primary care, 39 percent in pediatrics, and 32 percent in urology. Moreover, healthcare professional revenue has plummeted nearly 50 percent in the U.S. over the last nine months and the New England Journal of Medicine says hospitals will lose an estimated $323.1 billion in 2020.
That, of course, means that patient care has also been affected and that health organizations are grappling with ways to recover. Office-based providers have witnessed a 60 percent reduction in visit volumes in just the first months of the crisis.
But despite these setbacks all is not gloomy. In fact things on the COVID front are starting to look up with the recent news that vaccines by Moderna and Pfzier had high efficacy rates in testing and should be available within the next couple of months. The New York Times has even posted a vaccine calculator that estimates when the public may be able to receive the vaccine.
The other bright spot is that health organizations’ renewed efforts toward patient communication can go a long way in helping them bounce back while keeping patients informed and engaged. As we prepare for the vaccine’s arrival, there a few steps you can take to reach out to your patients, provide them with valuable information about the virus, and reassure them on how they can stay safe.
- General information: Make sure you keep patients informed about COVID-19 through sending bi-weekly or monthly newsletters on how the situation is changing at your organization or in the community. Social media should be updated daily with the latest data and guidance in your area. If something unexpected or urgent occurs, you can send out an extra email or text message. Remember, err on the side of too much information.
- Specific information: You should also share information about how your health organization is responding to the crisis. This might include changes in hours of operation, processes or procedures or adjustments to the types of procedures, and information about changes to waiting area protocols and social distancing. Patients also need to know what do if they do become sick. Encourage them to get tested for COVID if they do become sick.
- Safety information: It’s imperative that you share with patients what you are doing to keep them safe. For example, you may want to let them know if you offer telemedicine or other safer virtual health options such as digital patient forms and payment tools that may help resolve any concerns about receiving care. Every little bit of encouragement can help patients feel more comfortable coming in for their next appointment.
While we’re not completely out of the woods yet, we are starting to the turn the corner on COVID as we await the release of vaccines. As you continue efforts to keep patients informed about COVID in your area and what your health organization is doing to keep them safe, it will go a long way in helping dispel their fears and getting them the care they need.
If you want to learn more about how patient communication preferences have changed during COVID to be more successful during your outreach, download our new research paper, "Patient Communication Preference: The COVID-19 Impact."