The arrival of this year’s flu season brings some unique challenges for healthcare providers. Early data from the southern hemisphere, often a forecast of what’s to come in the US, suggests an early start to flu season with high infection rates. Fewer COVID-19 restrictions could enable the flu virus to spread more easily, while COVID-19 itself remains prevalent. With hospitalizations as high as 710,000 in previous flu seasons, providers must find ways to prepare for flu season. This means finding ways to tackle rising patient volumes and manage the risk of infection among patients and staff.
Healthcare experts are encouraging the population to remain vigilant in the face of a dual threat from COVID-19 and flu, and seek flu vaccines and COVID boosters if eligible. However, there’s a risk that this could be met with hesitation from patients, as “pandemic fatigue” and a false sense of security around infection risk prompts many to disengage with healthcare campaigns. Clear communication and easy scheduling will be key.
Leveraging digital tools to prepare for flu season as it collides with COVID-19
As services come under increasing pressure, providers can turn to digital and automated solutions to ease the burden on staff. More patients mean more appointments that need to be scheduled, more registration forms to be filled out, and more people sitting in waiting rooms.
Opening the digital front door can help manage high volumes, by allowing patients to complete more processes online and prevent bottlenecks. Here are three strategies providers can implement to support staff and patients through a potentially challenging few months, and prepare for flu season:
1. Manage infection risk with online self-scheduling
An online patient scheduling platform has two clear benefits – it relieves pressure on staff during busy times and gives providers control over patient flow. Fewer calls need to be placed with call center agents. No-shows are less likely because patients can book, reschedule and cancel appointments, and receive automated reminders, which makes the best use of physicians’ time. Online scheduling can also play a part in infection control as providers can incorporate screening protocols to identify patients with symptoms of COVID-19 or flu, and manage their onward care pathway appropriately.
Empowering consumers to take control of their own health care with a patient scheduling system might even encourage vaccine registrations, which in turn could help reduce the burden on health services at a time when physician burnout is at an all-time high.
What’s more, patients now expect the flexibility and convenience of scheduling appointments at a time and place that suits them. A recent report commissioned by Experian Health and PYMNTS found that urgent care patients are among those most likely to schedule appointments via digital channels. Offering online self-scheduling is a smart strategy, then, as infection rates could bring more patients into urgent care.
2. Facilitate mobile patient registration when demand for health services is high
Should patient volumes increase, patient access staff are going to be under even more pressure than normal. Anything that can reduce the administrative burden will be a win. Experian Health’s Registration Accelerator allows patients to complete intake forms and insurance checks through their mobile devices, before coming in for care. Their details can be pre-filled automatically, reducing the risk of error. The outcome is a quicker, more reliable patient registration experience that minimizes issues for staff to resolve.
Completing registration from the comfort of home is also appealing to patients, as they can complete these tasks at their convenience. It also helps reduce in-person interactions, thus minimizing exposure to infection among staff and patients.
And when 61% of patients would switch healthcare providers to one that provides patient portals, providers that offer online patient intake solutions will have a clear advantage in attracting potential new customers during times of high demand for healthcare services.
3. Reassure patients with digital consumer engagement strategies
Finally, providers need to communicate proactively with patients to keep them in the loop as the situation evolves, and provide information about safety protocols vaccines, and accessing care.
A personalized communication strategy will build strong patient-doctor relationships during times of uncertainty. Patients welcome personalized outreach and are more likely to respond to information that’s tailored to their needs. Reliable consumer data can be used to provide targeted information to patients based on their individual circumstances and preferences. With data on the social determinants of health, outreach can be automated to at-risk populations, to advise of ways to stay healthy during flu season.
One way to deliver personalized messages is through secure patient portals. These act as a gateway between services and patients, allowing providers to send real-time updates about any service changes or new protocols. In turn, patients can manage many aspects of their patient journey in one place, including online scheduling, self-service registration, and convenient payment options.
Contact Experian Health today to learn more about how digital patient access solutions can help healthcare providers prepare for flu season.