The recent discovery of the Omicron variant has placed the world on high alert. As COVID-19 continues to transform and evolve, erupting as “new” pandemics within the existing pandemic, it is becoming clear that digitally-enabled clinical care and access to that care are some of the world’s tools to mitigate its spread. Should infection rates rise, providers can anticipate fluctuations in patient volumes, which may trigger a return to the scheduling complexities seen earlier in the pandemic. Streamlining patient access with digital scheduling to minimize wait times, free up hospital beds, and ensure efficient intake workflows is going to be crucial.
New variants could also exacerbate existing healthcare staffing shortages, which is a major concern for providers whose capacity is already at a “tipping point.” With a winter flu season “twindemic” looming on the horizon, and more people traveling over the holidays, this challenge may only get tougher.
One route through this uncertainty is to continue the digital pivot seen in the early days of the pandemic. Here, we look at how flexible self-scheduling tools and other digital services can continue to help providers maintain operational efficiency as they navigate the implications of this new coronavirus strain.
Uncertainty about Omicron – and future variants – could trigger patient scheduling complexities
The new variant could trigger a rise in patient numbers, as seen with the Delta variant. In parallel, some providers and states may follow New York’s lead to try to manage non-urgent care and postpone certain elective treatments. Patients, too, may decide to hold off on booking appointments if they’re worried about contracting the virus while visiting their doctor.
This means that the scheduling (and rescheduling) challenges seen throughout the pandemic could resurface. Providers should be ready to offer easy and convenient self-scheduling options. Digital patient scheduling platforms allow patients to book essential care and reschedule deferred appointments from the comfort of their own home, using whatever channel suits them best. Not only will this ease pressure on busy staff and reduce the number of people sitting side-by-side in doctors’ waiting rooms, but it’s also a quicker and more reliable way for patients to plan their care.
Liz Serie, Director of Product Management at Experian Health, says, “A couple of key items come to mind when we think about how healthcare providers can prepare for the emergence of the latest COVID-19 variant. Putting patient access and convenience in the center of the preparation process will help get through this emerging phase. Online scheduling, specifically for both COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-19 testing appointments, will streamline the total operations and simplify access to care for patients.”
Providers can augment these operational efficiencies with digital scheduling and registration tools. Registration Accelerator can reduce the burden on patient access teams by allowing patients to create user profiles and fill out pre-treatment information from home.
“A couple of key items come to mind when we think about how healthcare providers can prepare for the emergence of the latest COVID-19 variant. Putting patient access and convenience in the center of the preparation process will help get through this emerging phase. Online scheduling, specifically for both COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-19 testing appointments, will streamline the total operations and simplify access to care for patients.”
– Liz Serie, Director of Product Management at Experian Health
Double down on convenient vaccination scheduling
New variant outbreaks also add a layer of urgency and complexity to the ongoing vaccination program. Boosting the country’s vaccination rates is a crucial defense against existing strains of COVID-19. Patient-friendly digital scheduling tools can make it as easy as possible for people to arrange an appointment, thus helping to bump up vaccination rates.
Of course, if more people are encouraged to seek vaccinations and boosters, the scheduling process could get even more complicated. Again, digital self-scheduling tools can ease the pressure, by using real-time databases and automation to ensure that patients book appointments within the requisite vaccination window.
Automation can also be used to deliver personalized patient outreach reminders, nudging patients to schedule their vaccine appointment if they haven’t made one already. Comprehensive consumer data can help identify the most appropriate messages and channels for different patients, to make it as easy as possible for them to plan and book their appointment.
The federal response to new outbreaks has included provisions for vaccine outreach campaigns and education initiatives. Providers should consider how their own outreach campaigns are performing, as well as ensure that their scheduling platforms are ready to meet the increase in demand that’s likely to follow.
Automation and digital scheduling tools could help alleviate staffing shortages
Behind the scenes, providers are still wrangling with ongoing staffing shortages. According to an analysis of US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, hospital employment declined by nearly 100,000 between February 2020 and September 2021, amounting to a financial cost of around $24 billion.
New variants could make this worse. If more staff are infected, healthcare organizations may find it more difficult to handle the increase in patient volume. Automating manual tasks can free up capacity by helping to manage the growing demand for services and reduce call volumes. These automated tools and systems are designed to be user-friendly for busy staff, and for patients looking for a stress-free patient access experience.
With streamlined self-scheduling options and more efficient staff workflows, providers can feel more prepared in the face of uncertainty. Contact Experian Health to find out more about how digital scheduling tools can help your organization prepare as the Omicron situation unfolds.Contact Us