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Due to many factors, millions of patients stand to miss life-altering diagnoses this year. 

The CDC estimates that as many as 41 percent of adults deferred their care because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Others deferred care because of “chronic conditions that were managed with less service intensity than would have otherwise been delivered.” What we do know for certain is that the effects of deferred care can be vast. 

In fact, 97 percent of practices reported a drop in patient volumes by early April 2020. What does this mean for patients and health systems moving forward? From our vantage point, shifting to a new post-pandemic normal alone will not extinguish the importance of developing a plan that successfully reaches patients where they are. 

In this post, we’ll discuss three strategies of successful deferred care plans. But before we do, let’s level-set.

What is deferred care? 

Deferred care is when a patient delays their medical care for a later date. 

The pandemic left many with stark care gaps and lapses in preventive screening. 2022 data from the Prevent Cancer Foundation shows primary care and preventive screening rates remain low today – even as we shift to a new post-pandemic normal. More acute issues can be expected from the lack of preventive care.

The good news? 83 percent of healthcare consumers said they are ready to make health and wellness improvements. 20 percent even want to “catch up” on preventive screenings they missed during the pandemic – a key action item for both payers and providers. 

What factors contribute to deferred care? 

While many chose to defer care in the wake of COVID-19 concerns, there are a number of other reasons why patients delay care. Researchers from a new Actium survey found some noted forgetfulness and preference for accessing care only when they are sick as reasons for not getting screened. 

And with inflation on the rise, patients may continue to neglect care. 26 percent, or roughly 16 million people, said they (or a member of their household) had a health problem in the past three months but didn’t seek treatment due to cost concerns. 

Another significant reason for foregoing care is “fear,” suggests Dr. Thomas Kelley, Family Medicine Specialist at Orlando Health Physician Associates. While fear of going to the doctor has intensified exponentially due to the pandemic, this is a pre-pandemic issue that has been around for quite some time. 

Are there any potential long-term effects of deferred care? 

Deferred care affects nearly all systems. Considering the prospect of millions of patients missing life-altering diagnoses, getting patients back into care must be the priority.

According to HFMA’s Outlook Survey, deferred care is hurting the deployment of essential provider resources, with clinical and operational staffing at the top of the list. Due to these issues, several hospitals are even scaling back services, leading to a significant reduction in revenue. 

Screenings, tests, and vaccinations are a large part of the solution. But so is executing an effective patient outreach plan that tackles your unique deferred care issues.

3 strategies for deferred care planning

Both patients and staff have lost — and continue to lose — valuable time due to outdated ways of communicating. A recent WELL study found that 82 percent of staff believe the patient communication process is a direct cause of their burnout. Bad workflows are a strong contributing factor. 

Healthcare organizations seeking workforce solutions and technology to mitigate the impact are on the right track. To support your efforts in crafting a successful deferred care plan, we’ve outlined three key strategies of successful deferred care plans.

P.S. Having a patient engagement platform strengthens and streamlines your efforts.

Patient Interaction

While EHR optimization may have been the first step in addressing interaction issues during pre-pandemic times, it’s certainly not the endpoint for present-day issues.

Appointment Reminders 

  • Must Haves – Patients are at the forefront of care. To address today’s rising patient expectations and enhance access to care, many have implemented modern appointment reminders. These are not only convenient, but they can immediately reduce the likelihood of a no-show, improve attendance, and drive revenue. 
  • Upgrades – The next level up is implementing a self-rescheduling component. According to the Patient Perspectives on Patient Engagement Technology 2022 KLAS report, 67 percent of patients want the capability to schedule and reschedule healthcare appointments online or via an app. However, only 37 percent of patients can actually do this. 

*Pro Tip: 88 percent of health system executives are eyeing patient self-scheduling tools as a high priority. This tool provides a crucial level of autonomy to the patient experience, making healthcare more convenient for patients and staff alike. 

Pre-visit Intake 

  • Must HavesAnother key feature to consider is patient pre-visit intake. Patients can complete pre-visit tasks before an appointment, allowing for a convenient, contactless check-in process. Many health systems have implemented a portal that houses their forms solution for secure intake.
  • Upgrades – Patients typically receive notifications directly from the provider’s portal. Enabling text notifications with a customized message that informs and directs the patient is the next level. 

This type of communication tends to include a portal link, as well as a message preview of the type of notification that awaits them. These features ultimately increase responsiveness to your message.

Staff Interaction

Even before the pandemic, clinical support staff had to manage antiquated patient communication systems that frustrated patients and failed to deliver the positive experience provider organizations desired. 

Visit Type Tracking 

  • Must Haves – The good news is that even small adjustments to your administrative workflow can have positive effects on your staff. For example, most EMRs have basic tracking of patient visit types. Having this baseline allows you to tailor your outreach efforts to patient groups that are deferring care more than others.
  • Upgrades – By enabling an automation component to your tracking, you establish fewer manual to-dos for staff, which can help with burn-out. Staff can create unique automations and conversation templates based on visit type, thus drastically reducing time spent on scheduling telehealth and video visits. 

Patient Context 

  • Must Haves – Patient engagement platforms are a great resource for self-serve patient context. By linking your EHR to this type of platform, you’re providing more autonomy to staff fulfilling administrative tasks. They can typically review past patient interactions, communicate close to real-time, and escalate with a few simple clicks. 
  • Upgrades – Usually, the EHR and patient engagement platforms are not contained within the same system, which can lead to toggling between windows. An option for those looking to take patient context to the next level is to create a handshake between these systems so both are viewed side-by-side – allowing staff to view patient communication history alongside EHR data. 

Predictable Analytics 

Labor expenses have risen 37 percent from pre-pandemic levels, and patient volume and revenue are decreasing. Building meaningful interactions between patients and staff is the path forward. A great method for anticipating patient needs is utilizing predictable analytics. 

Data Analysis 

  • Must Haves – As providers aim to get patients back into their care journeys, they should consider the metrics and insights available to them. Leveraging dashboards and basic analysis techniques is a great way to support improvements to patient communications, workflow efficiency, and scheduling and staffing. 
  • Upgrades – If you’re looking for optimizing predictability, advanced analytics is the way to go. Tapping into a robust solution that encompasses a broad data set drawing from multiple sources can provide incredibly valuable insights to help providers enhance their patient communication strategy. 

How WELL can help you tackle your deferred care plan  

Despite many organizations’ eagerness to infuse these strategies, significant challenges to rollout remain. One such challenge? A lack of internal buy-in from physicians and staff

What everyone must realize, however, is that the need for modern features and self-serve options will only continue to grow. Patient engagement platforms like WELL can help close gaps between patient expectations and reality by providing self-serve tools that both patient and staff can rely on.

WELL offers a suite of Epic-specific enhancements that stem from the strategies outlined above. With the help of WELL, you can create a successful deferred care plan that addresses the unique internal and external pain points for your organization. ♥