Blog Post November 18, 2020 Strategic Approaches to Patient Reengagement Authors Keith Graff As patients contemplate returning to a healthcare setting, how are you preparing to reengage and meet expectations?As is all too well understood, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the volumes and overall revenues for health systems and other providers across the country. Amid the initial surge, in-person ambulatory visits declined up to 70%, with variations across types and sites of service, age cohorts, and geographic locations. In parallel, the adoption and use of telehealth increased exponentially. While in-person visits have rebounded at present and telehealth visits have begun to decline, neither are at prepandemic levels, and we expect a new normal in the way patients and their families engage with healthcare providers in the future. Factors such as telehealth reimbursement rates, quarantine restrictions, advancements in therapeutics, and the success of vaccinations will play significant roles in returning to baseline levels of activity. However, health systems and providers must pay heed to the perspectives and preferences of patients regarding how they receive care and interact with the healthcare ecosystem. Through a national survey cosponsored by ECG and conducted by the the Martec Group in collaboration with Motion, we found that socioeconomic and emotional factors are the greatest indicators of individuals’ willingness to reengage with healthcare providers and loyalty to their system of care, even more so than geographic location. Health systems and providers have an opportunity to proactively educate and market to their patient populations and reengage through either in-person or remote visits. Remote versus In-Person Trends and Survey ResponsesIn the survey of 1,000 respondents, 59% of individuals stated they have high concerns about being in a hospital environment since the beginning of COVID-19, a drastic increase from 15% prior to the pandemic. Additionally, 53% of respondents stated they have experienced remote visits since the onset of COVID-19, up from 31% prior to March. That being said, respondents do weigh trade-offs between telehealth and in-person visits, as highlighted in figure 1. Surprisingly, factors such as technology ease of use and data security have low impact on respondents’ concerns. A majority (52%) of respondents stated that reduced wait times and improved access to their physicians was a strong advantage of telehealth interactions, while the structure of in-person meetings was a top advantage of in-person visits. Additionally, there is an opportunity to drive patients—both those who have had prior experience with telehealth and those who have not—to the most appropriate modality of interaction with healthcare providers.Further segmentation of patient populations helps reveal the preference and loyalty of providers between engaging either in person or remotely. Through an advanced clustering analytical technique, the respondents could be classified into the following four groups, each with distinct characteristics and preferences.As shown, geographic location (urban vs. suburban vs. rural) and level of COVID-19 restrictions do not factor heavily into an individual’s willingness to reengage with healthcare providers in either remote or in-person visits. For example, the “Apprehensive Reengagers” are predominantly from states with a high level of COVID-19 restrictions while the “Concerned Reengagers” are largely from states with the lowest level of state restrictions. This is encouraging for providers, as organizations can take meaningful actions to drive patient volumes to the most appropriate care setting, but it will take a cross-organizational commitment and the associated resources. Those who manage health systems, hospitals, and other care delivery services should take the following steps as they aim to return to pre-COVID-19 volume levels: Conduct Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses of Patient Needs and Preferences. Similar to the approach taken in this survey, identify the demographic, emotional, and other qualitative factors that will drive the behaviors of consumers willing to participate in either remote or in-person visits. Further segmentation, taking into account the level of care needed for certain market populations, will allow targeted outreach and tactical approaches to better care for patients in the most appropriate environment while meeting patient preferences. Develop Appropriate Outreach and Communication. Once armed with a diagnostic of a provider’s market segmentation, develop targeted marketing and messaging approaches for each desired market segment based on the provider’s services, market dynamics, and strategic priorities. Additionally, an appropriate outreach and communication strategy tailored to the clinical needs and visit preferences of “consumers” not only will help bring back baseline volumes but may also attract new patients, delivering market share gains.Take a Proactive Approach to Patient and Provider Education. In addition to marketing outreach, establish appropriate protocols targeted to appropriate patient populations to seek care either remotely or in person, depending on the needs of the specific patient. There is no one-size-fits-all model when considering either remote or in-person visits. However, patients need to be guided to receive care through the most appropriate modality. This is highlighted through findings of the survey, as there are large percentages of individuals whose opinion was neutral regarding remote versus in-person interactions. In addition to patient education, provider education on best practices and established protocols must also not be overlooked for successful execution. Understand the Impact to Operations. As noted, COVID-19 has significantly increased the adoption and use of telehealth. The level of “stickiness” of telehealth usage is yet to be seen; it probably won’t stay at the levels seen at the height of COVID-19 but will most likely not regress to prepandemic levels. That said, consider the potential implications on long-term financial, capital, and operating plans to appropriately meet the clinical needs and patient preferences of target markets through both remote and in-person care. Additionally, as the longevity of the current pandemic, and future frequency of pandemics, is still unknown, develop a business continuity plan to ensure care is delivered in the most appropriate environment.ECG has the experience to help. If your organization is interested in learning more about the findings of our joint survey or in developing approaches to positively reengage with consumers as they seek healthcare services, contact us to learn more.Contact Us Footnotes 1. The Martec Group, a global market research firm, has been providing unparalleled quantitative and qualitative research to top companies around the globe for over 30 years. 2. Motion’s healthcare division specializes in brand strategy and marketing communication for health systems, healthcare technology, medical device, and services.