As of this writing, the ability of healthcare providers in various U.S. states to stay reopened for non-urgent and elective services is uncertain. In some areas, COVID-19 infections are increasing at a worrying rate, causing some state governments to pause their reopening plans, which may impact healthcare providers. When the pandemic has receded long enough for providers to resume normal operations, it will not be surprising if some patients are hesitant to return to their doctors’ offices and hospitals. At that point, healthcare leaders will have to find ways to reassure patients that it is safe to get the care they need.
To help healthcare leaders understand the top concerns patients have, HBI’s social intelligence team has collected and analyzed 350 social media comments made by users in response to news about healthcare organizations reopening. These comments were left on healthcare organizations’ social media channels when those organizations posted about their plans to reopen.
Our analysts have found there are distinct “patient personas” with their own concerns and level of readiness to return to hospitals or their doctors’ offices. By understanding what patient personas exist, healthcare leaders can tailor their messaging accordingly.
HBI plans to publish a full report of our findings and recommendations on how to address the concerns of individual patient personas. As a preview, the following are five common patient personas identified by HBI’s social intelligence team.
As leaders may expect, some patients are worried about their health and safety. They are apprehensive about coming to healthcare facilities because they may be exposed to the coronavirus. They may have read media reports about infections circulating at specific hospitals or clinics.
These patients need to be informed about the steps organizations are taking to provide a safe care experience. They will be assured by learning about updated disinfection protocols, as well as the availability of face masks and hand sanitizing stations. The more information that these patients have about safety measures, the more comfortable they will feel about returning to hospitals and clinics.
Example verbatim: “I have pending appointments here but feel so apprehensive after all the news surrounding a person from [this hospital] breaking quarantine early on in this [pandemic].”
Frustrated by rescheduling
Many patients have had previously scheduled services moved or canceled due to the pandemic. They may have had procedures rescheduled more than once. Even if they understand the difficulty posed by the coronavirus, they have health issues of their own that they want resolved. They are worried that their services will be rescheduled again or canceled altogether. In some cases, they express that they feel like they are less of a priority than patients with COVID-19.
From a customer service standpoint, it is important for these patients to be assured that their concerns are heard. Communicating with them requires empathy and transparency about the factors that result in services being rescheduled. If organizations can connect these patients with providers via telehealth, it may help put them at ease.
Example verbatim: “California is getting hit by the second wave now. And I JUST got scheduled for my hernia surgery for [early July]. I am seriously scared that it is going to get canceled again.”
Skeptical of new COVID-19 processes
The coronavirus has forced everyone to change their normal routines. Patients expecting to see their doctor the same way they always have may be in for a surprise if they must undergo screenings they were not expecting, or if they have to wait in their car when they arrive. This skeptical patient persona is having a hard time adjusting to new processes.
Healthcare providers can mitigate these patients’ concerns by connecting with them before their appointments and giving them an explanation of what to expect. If patients have agreed to be contacted by text or email, sending a step-by-step guide of what will happen—and just as importantly, why it will happen—will prevent them from being surprised. If patients are normally contacted by phone for appointment reminders, use it as an opportunity to explain new processes in place due to the pandemic.
Example verbatim: “When are people going to be able to go IN to a doctor’s office for an appointment? This wait in [the] car and we‘ll come see you is not much of a health service. And tele-appointments don‘t work where we are.”
Seeking information/visitor clarification
Patients have questions and many comments on social media are seeking answers. Some patients have individual concerns that may be best addressed by hospital social media teams replying with phone numbers or emails for them to connect with a representative who can respond to their specific needs.
One common question is about visitation policies. Some patients are naturally wary about having to see their doctor or go to the hospital without support. Parents of pediatric patients in particular might be unsure if both parents can accompany their child. Healthcare providers must be as transparent as possible about how many visitors are allowed and if those visitors will have to undergo any screenings when they arrive.
Example verbatim: “I’m bringing my baby to the ER. If she is admitted, will one or two parents be allowed to stay with her during her admission? Do you feed the parents?”
Relieved to reopen
Although the aforementioned patient personas are characterized by their concerns, this group of patients is pleased that they and their loved ones can get care. Some of these patients are similar to the “frustrated by rescheduling” persona, but in general they express positive sentiments about reopening.
To be sure, these patients are not necessarily upbeat. In some cases, they do not seem to understand how serious the coronavirus is. These patients may not necessarily need reassurance about safety. Instead, they might benefit from educational materials on COVID-19, the value of wearing face masks, and what credible research says about the need for prudence when it comes to reopening healthcare facilities.
Example verbatim: “Now people with real health issues will finally be able to get the help they have been held back from. I am sure the virus can make you sick. But so can cancer and heart problems.”
Understanding these patient personas can help organizations evaluate their communication strategies to make sure all bases are covered. Stay tuned to HBI for more insights on how to address the concerns of individual patient personas.
To find out more about HBI’s upcoming COVID-19 social intelligence report and to get your own copy, fill out the form below!