Patient engagement is at the forefront of what I do every day as the Vice President of Patient Engagement at OptimizeRx, so when I had the opportunity to participate in #Innovate4Outcomes it was important to me to really examine the challenges providers are having with their patients at a deeper level. With face-to-face interaction off the table until the middle of 2021 at least, what more can be done to virtually support providers in delivering appropriate care?
This was the question my team collaborated on to brainstorm solutions for better patient engagement and outcomes. COVID-19 brought with it a particular set of challenges at the primary care level in removing face-to-face interactions with providers; without regularly scheduled appointments, communication between providers and patients/caregivers was reduced, but stress was increased and time management was taxed as providers navigated a new digital landscape.
As COVID-19 took hold in March of 2020, providers saw the first set of issues crop up almost immediately and compound challenges they and their staff were already facing with a constant onslaught of new health technology coming their way. The issues here can be broken into three major components:
While the United States was slower than some other countries to embrace shutting down, sure enough stay at home orders came in state-by-state and primary care providers were faced with the challenge of adjusting to a rapidly evolving digital landscape to keep up with their patients.
Already pressed for time, many healthcare providers quickly reached terminal velocity in adopting the digital platforms that would ultimately help their practices better service patients digitally, but would require too much time off the bedside to properly learn.
Add to that the fact that many offices had to operate on a skeleton crew with rotating schedules to accommodate restrictions and a time crunch became a critical time emergency.
The limiting of face-to-face interactions led to a secondary problem: a breakdown in communication with caregivers and family members with patients who were heavily reliant upon these resources for treatment adherence. When it comes to things like oncology, Alzheimer's and dementia, and other specialty therapeutic areas, caregivers are often critical to the success of a treatment plan. Without the option for these caregivers to attend appointments, communication often failed, treatment adherence lessened, and in many cases, patients stopped attending appointments or have put them off indefinitely until caregivers can attend. As intervals between appointments grow longer, the margin of error increases.
“COVID-19 brought with it a particular set of challenges at the primary care level in removing face-to-face interactions with providers; without regularly scheduled appointments, communication between providers and patients/caregivers was reduced, but stress was increased and time management was taxed as providers navigated a new digital landscape.”
As two weeks turned to six weeks turned to months, providers saw a drastic increase in patient anxiety when it came to their care. Treatment adherence is already a challenge; we are fighting human behavior and have been trying to move the needle for years. People struggle, as a collective, to stay adherent to their treatment plans for a myriad of reasons. With COVID there was an immediately increased sense of danger as patients weighed the risk of living with chronic conditions and undiagnosed symptoms against the risk of infection should they venture out in public. Where there was already fear of the unknown with symptoms and chronic conditions (will I live with the way I feel forever? Is this temporary?) there was now always fear of the unknown with the state of our world and the safety revolving around something as simple as visiting a doctor’s office. This collective sense of hopelessness and anxiety when it came to seeking treatment has made the clinician’s job in terms of treatment adherence double difficult in the face of COVID.
Add on top of all of this the very practical act of changing the now necessary personal protective equipment between the in-person appointments clinicians do physically see in their offices. Even if a workload is decreased from thirty patients in a day to ten and a physician or nurse has to change between each patient. With an average of five minutes per patient, that’s 50 minutes of lost productivity during the day, or an average of three appointments. If that physician were only seeing those ten patients, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but factor in the thirty patients they still have to see via telemedicine, and we’re right back into that critical time emergency.
“Treatment adherence is already a challenge; we are fighting human behavior and have been trying to move the needle for years. People struggle, as a collective, to stay adherent to their treatment plans for a myriad of reasons.”
So how can health technology help patient engagement in a time like COVID, especially when our ability to be in the field and be customer-centric has been impaired?
Provide our customers with easy, efficient ways to give us feedback.
Listen to our customers and serve them pertinent solutions. Do not over complicate things or offer technical solutions with difficult onboarding processes.
Consume-ability of information is as important as the solution itself.
Agility is key; we must consider the ability to adapt in real time. Entire offices cannot come away from the bedside to learn new processes.
While the problems are complex, the solutions can be simple if we maintain, ultimately, a patient-first focus. The question we must always ask is “how can we best empower clinicians to ensure successful patient outcomes”? In the face of COVID-19, that looks like pivoting quickly and offering clinicians simple and easily adoptable solutions.