While the true impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on our communities cannot yet be predicted, living in a digital era makes communication and information sharing incredibly easy. Practicing effective communication with patients during the COVID-19 pandemic can improve patient relationships without breaking the new social distancing norm.
One of the most effective tools for protecting patients from COVID-19 is by arming them with information and making sure they understand how to prevent coronavirus spread. Whether you are speaking to patients through your website, social media, email updates, or in face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) appointments, make sure your messaging is consistent, easy to understand, and easily accessible.
Patient communication during the COVID-19 era may feel like a challenge, but more communication channels are available to you and your patients than ever before. Keeping up with patient demand for constant, consistent information about how to protect themselves and their families from the novel coronavirus is critical. A great way to stay on track is by developing a patient communication checklist for your practice.
Patient Communication Checklist
1. Stay Up To Date
The last thing you want is for your patients to be more up to date on the local COVID-19 situation than you are. Check in daily with the CDC COVID-19 website and any information put out by your state and local health departments. As more information becomes available, make sure to work that into your messaging and your practice’s policies and procedures.
This includes staying apprised of your key partnerships’ policies – local hospitals, nearby clinics, or public health facilities. If you need to transfer a patient, ask for supplies, or share resources, having a plan in place will save precious time.
Additionally, make sure your facility’s emergency procedures are current. Your frontline staff (receptionists, phlebotomists, nurses, etc.) are vulnerable to an outbreak in your community; have a plan in place to keep your practice running with a reduced staff.
Be transparent with your patients if this happens. Assure them you’re working as hard as possible to give them access to the care and services they need. People respond well to genuine communication. By being transparent and timely with your messaging, you can proactively prevent dissatisfaction and disgruntlement.
2. Start Messaging Internally
Patient communication during COVID-19 begins with your staff. You can have the world’s best messaging, but if you don’t communicate it to your staff and train them to deliver it effectively, your patients will not benefit from it. Whether you use email updates or morning meetings (we highly suggest both!), make sure you share all the information you have about CDC and health department updates, safety procedures, and the likelihood of surge with your staff.
It will feel repetitive — to you and your staff — but go over your emergency and preparedness plans in every meeting. Don’t just lecture or repeat it: ask questions, invite comments, and praise staff members who are following procedure. When the plan becomes ingrained, your staff is more likely to stick to it under duress.
To make sure your staff understands the basics of effective communication with patients during COVID-19, trying engaging in exercises like roleplay. Have staff practice answering questions likely to be posed by patients. Also practice wording for less-inquisitive patients to make sure everyone is equally informed.
Additionally, create a hard-copy patient communication checklist for your staff to use. Display the checklist in highly visible areas. Print copies for staff to carry with them. Physical reminders cut down on pressure during an already stressful time while ensuring patients receive complete, correct information.
3. Constant, Consistent Communication
We live in a world of constantly updating, easily accessible information – unfortunately not always from reliable sources. Make sure your patients are hearing from you often in a format that works for them. Otherwise, you may find they are misinformed or downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak. Some of the best ways to reach out to your patients consistently include social media and email.
Facebook is the number one social platform for Americans ages 40+. Instagram is the number one platform for your younger patients – closely followed by TikTok and Snapchat. You don’t have to be on every social platform, but you should at least be on Facebook and Instagram to successfully reach your patients. Posting daily is ideal, but you should post about your practice’s COVID-19 updates and information at least once a week.
Stumped about what to post? Take pictures of the safety precautions you and your staff are taking. Share posts (from reliable sources) about how to make your own mask at home – and encourage everyone to use them! Make a video of a staff member demonstrating how to properly wash your hands. Share patient recovery stories. Show people how your staff is practicing self-care.
Your social media presence should be a place to interact with your patients in a fun and caring way. Make it personal, transparent, and full of good information. They’ll love you for it.
Most practices have email lists for their patients, but not all practices are using those lists as a part of their patient communication checklist. While people are working from home and living under shelter-in-place orders, they are checking their email constantly. Send weekly updates, and let them know how you are protecting patients from COVID-19 and how to prevent coronavirus spread in their communities.
Don’t have any new information? Stay in touch anyway. Let your patients know you’re thinking of them, available to answer questions, and doing everything possible to deliver the level of service to which they have become accustomed — and to keep them safe.
For More Information
Do you have more questions about COVID-19 messaging for your practice? iProv can help you develop and execute internal and external messaging, patient communication checklists, and social media campaigns designed to inform your patients and improve your practice. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help you develop a strategic COVID-19 communication plan.