COVID-19 has dramatically changed the delivery of outpatient care in healthcare settings. Hospitals and clinics are being forced to defer elective and preventive visits to decrease the risk of transmitting the virus to patients and healthcare providers while attempting to quickly implement telehealth options under unideal conditions.
Many patients are also avoiding visits and leaving home due to the risks of exposure. In fact, the number of visits to ambulatory practices declined by nearly 60% in early April 2020. A small rebound has occurred in urban hospitals, but the number of visits in rural settings is still roughly one-third lower than it was prior to the pandemic.
This document serves as a guide for best-practices when attempting to grow patient volumes amid COVID-19.
5 Ways to Grow Outpatient Volume
- Solving these issues will result in the better delivery of patient care. Concerns, at least for the moment, will probably revolve around sanitation and self-protective measures. Discuss these problems with patients and learn what their wants and needs are. Be willing to make these changes in your inpatient and outpatient service delivery.
- Telehealth services and peripherals your competitors provide for comparison, your competitors’ patient-recommendation rates, who controls the purchasing conditions for your market, who controls the purchasing decisions for your market, what share do you have of the business that originates with these groups, and list 3-5 things that your organization can do to get more business from those groups.
- A good leader is more important than a good business plan. Putting a competitive person in charge of your inpatient and outpatient services will effectively boost your chances of growing your patient volumes amid COVID-19.
- very clear signs with visuals on how they should be wearing their masks, sanitizing their hands, and explanations of why these measures are necessary. Remember, repeating these measures may seem monotonous, but the more explicit you are with what is expected of them, the less room there is for errors. If your patients are hearing what they should be expecting from hospitals in the media and from other experts, they will expect your hospital to respond with all possible safety measures. Exceed all expectations!
- positive attitude and smile in times like this can go a long way in making your customers feel appreciated and comfortable. Investing in masks with see-through mouth coverings for receptionists and those who help disabled patients would prove helpful.
- Physical Disabilities: Those with physical disabilities might find it difficult to maneuver around your hospital depending on how sanitation sites and social-distance setups are being operated. Have a member of your personnel greet them and ask them if assistance is needed.
- Visual Disabilities: Those who are legally blind or suffer from other chronic/ degenerative vision conditions might need help understanding your hospital’s expectations, as they will likely be unable to read the signs or follow arrows you might have set-up to guide the registration or check-in processes. Have a member of your staff greet them and ask if they need assistance.
- Hearing Disabilities: Those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing will potentially need access to someone who knows American Sign Language (ASL). These individuals rely heavily on lip-reading, and masks make this very difficult and frustrating for them. Investing in masks with see-through mouth coverings for those who assist patients with disabilities would be helpful. If you tell someone who is not following your hospital’s guidelines to do something such as pull their mask up or sanitize their hands, do not immediately assume that they are simply refusing to acknowledge the rules. You might need to approach them for them to hear you. Telehealth visits with a provider and ASL translator should be available if possible.
- Mental Health Disabilities: Mental health disabilities take many forms. Those with mental health disabilities such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, and organic brain disorders might find it very intimidating to come to hospitals at this time. The stress of today’s environment can exacerbate their symptoms and conditions. Very clear guidelines upon arrival for all patients can help ease anxieties about what is expected of them while at your hospital. Make sure to market your facility’s ability to provide Telehealth services, as this might be the best option for those with mental health disabilities.
- Intellectual and Learning Disabilities: Intellectual disabilities also take many forms and can be caused by myriad conditions. If someone is not following your hospital’s guidelines, do not immediately assume that they are simply refusing to acknowledge them. You might need to approach them and talk with them to establish that they need extra help with navigating your new setups. People of all ages and all intellectual conditions will be in your hospital for help. If someone appears confused, do not hesitate to assist them with a positive attitude. They might not even be aware of the COVID-19 pandemic. Be patient with them.
- Develop Real-Time Reports on Volumes, Opportunities, and Problems
Growing outpatient and inpatient services will take customer engagement, good information, effective leadership, great customer service, and accountability reporting. Actively communicating with community members and leaders the steps your hospital is taking to create a safe and inclusive environment for all patients will improve all odds of growing your service volume. Market the Telehealth options your hospital provides and the assistance available to disabled patients in your local media and on your website.