It can be tough to get patients to stick to appointments, so much so that we’ve covered it before on our blog. But, it’s even harder to get patients to keep appointments during the coronavirus pandemic. Patients have more than just their health to worry about at this moment in time and that reality in itself is part of the problem.
The missed appointments trend wasn’t anything new, but the pandemic accelerated it and made the reasons why healthcare consumers do this much more obvious. Here are some of the biggest reasons why patients do this.
Healthcare costs continue to remain high, and while employer healthcare costs haven’t moved in 2020, the impact of COVID-19 on employer costs isn’t yet clear. However, it has affected the wallets of healthcare consumers.
Patients are facing hardships amid the pandemic, including job loss. 47% of Americans, or 157 million people, receive health coverage through their employer. Many of these patients are now among the millions who are unemployed and no longer have healthcare coverage. Without it, medical bills can be significantly higher, which keeps patients at home.
And even if patients still have health insurance, they still may skip appointments anyway because healthcare consumers are cutting big on unnecessary expenses. While we can agree healthcare is a top priority, not all consumers think that way. In fact, PatientBond’s psychographic segmentation model, which looks at a patient’s attitudes and beliefs to determine their motivations, refers to these patients as Willful Endurers. These patients live for today and think that there is more to life than focusing on healthcare, so they only go to the doctor unless absolutely necessary.
The best way to keep all patients from missing out on their appointments, including Willful Endurers, is to clearly lay out costs on your website or mobile app. Make the information readily available and easy to understand so patients can quickly digest it. They may discover that a visit isn’t as expensive as they thought it would be and go to their appointment. Patients don’t have time or the energy to research costs, so make it easier for them so that they’re willing to visit now and later.
I’m going to be blunt here: healthcare has an image problem. For example, when you think of the term “rigid,” healthcare is likely a term that comes to mind. That’s not what you want your patients to think, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
Patients are making big choices in their lives, especially now. Many are working from home, caring for their families (young, old and immune-compromised) and at this point, burnt out. In a world where they feel like they’re losing control each day, they want options. If there’s a nearby retail clinic with 24/7 service, multiple virtual options and easy payment options, they will pick that over the center that’s only open on weekdays with limited telehealth options and a week’s wait. The reality is patients may be missing appointments not just because your options are inconvenient and archaic, but because someone else’s is better.
Healthcare has made large strides in technology, but is your center doing enough to keep healthcare consumers engaged and willing to make appointments? If your center hasn’t caught up, that’s a huge problem because options like these will become a necessity if they haven’t already.
It should take little effort for your patients to do anything, like scheduling an appointment in an app instead of making a phone call or paying a bill that’s easily accessible online with a detailed, but easy to read billing statement. If you can, extend your center’s hours and days open with several telehealth options in case patients can’t come in or are too sick to do it.
If you can be flexible with patients, they will return the favor and make their appointments.
Now that we’ve been going through the pandemic for some time, changes due to COVID seem to be permanent, including extra safety protocols. Health centers like urgent care centers, primary care locations, medical centers and hospitals already had high cleanliness and health standards before the pandemic. While all of these places have been overly cautious and proactive, many patients still have the fear that going in-person could result in getting sick. That narrative kept patients away, especially early on in the pandemic, and while patients have started to return, not all are willing to. This is especially pronounced among the psychographic segment known as Balance Seekers: Poor cleanliness is their #1 reason for switching hospitals, primary care practices or urgent care centers, even ahead of insurance coverage or out-of-pocket costs.
As COVID continues to impact the healthcare system, it’s up to providers to put patients’ minds at ease so that they are willing to make appointments again. Emphasizing safety procedures in all communications, especially digital communications through a digital health platform, will go a long way to bringing patients back in the door. Even if COVID-19 numbers improve in your area, it is vital to keep procedures as consistent as possible. In normal times, patients want good, consistent experiences with their health provider and this time should be no different.
It will take some time for providers to recover lost revenue from the pandemic, but keeping these reasons top of mind will get you back in the right direction and bring patients back.