There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way healthcare is being provided today. Many organizations have had to implement new solutions like telehealth and text messaging in record time to support safety and enable patient care. But what has the impact of those changes been on patient satisfaction and preferences? New research sheds some light on that.
SR Health by Solutionreach collected some of the last known data about pre-COVID-19 patient communication preferences when it commissioned a study to better understand patients’ communication likes and dislikes at four key parts of the patient journey: scheduling, patient care, financial, and patient outreach. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, SR Health conducted another survey to capture its impact on the same four parts of the patient journey, as well as on telehealth communication.
Together, this information offers a unique comparison of patient communication preferences before and during COVID-19 and insight into where healthcare organizations should focus their efforts to streamline communication for increased efficiency and patient satisfaction.
Overall, the level of patient satisfaction with healthcare communication during COVID-19 decreased by seven percent compared with pre-COVID-19 numbers. Why the slip? Most patients pointed to less timely communication with their providers, a tougher time getting questions answered, and not being “heard” during the pandemic.
This data is likely a result of the unusual burdens on staff during the pandemic. It begs the question: How can healthcare organizations ensure timely, relevant communication with their patients without adding more burdens to their staff? One answer appears to be more digital communication.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, patients have adjusted how they want to communicate with their healthcare providers. Before the pandemic, telephone conversations with a live person were the most desirable form of communication across all generations. During COVID-19, however, the desirability of live phone calls dropped 14 percent. Past studies have also found that the desire for phone calls has been on the decrease while interest in tools such as text have seen an upswing.
Why the switch from phone to digital communication preferences? Patient comments suggest digital methods such as text are easy to check and they can be accessed anywhere, at any time. In other words, they are more convenient. According to one respondent, “[It’s] just a lot simpler. I prefer texting to all the other options. You can deal with it when you want or have the time, instead of being interrupted.”
Patients also revealed a steadfast desire for communication automation through text and email. The percentage of those finding it desirable rose from 81 percent before COVID-19 to 84 percent during the pandemic. Particularly steady was the overall desirability of communication automation at the financial and patient outreach stages of the patient journey.
Overall, patients’ satisfaction with communication methods has slipped in recent months. COVID-19 has revealed some cracks in the communication foundation, with patients perceiving less timely communication and a decreased ability to be heard.
Examining the impact of COVID-19 on patient communication uncovers opportunities to strengthen satisfaction at different stages throughout the patient journey with automation and real-time solutions like text messaging. Patients clearly desire the ease and convenience of digital communication. As healthcare organizations consider ways to streamline operations, digital communication platforms may offer efficiencies that also satisfy patients.
For more information about SR Health and this research, visit www.srhealth.com.