Healthcare providers hit pause on elective care procedures to divert resources to urgent care for COVID-19 patients. As a result, they sustained severe financial strain. In areas with decreasing virus cases, hospital systems are ready to receive patients and are scheduling postponed treatments and procedures. However, new concerns challenge old processes. For instance, a patient backlog could overwhelm providers if not managed carefully. Plus, patients need reassurance that it’s safe to return for care.

Digital innovations can help providers reconnect with patients to offer their full complement of health services again. Here’s how providers can accelerate elective procedures.


1. Prioritize patients that need immediate attention

Elective care can make a huge difference in a patient’s quality of life. Think of those in line for hip or knee replacements, breast cancer patients awaiting reconstruction, and patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. While constant prioritizing was always routine, there is nothing routine about scaling this process for thousands of backlogged cases.

With technology doing most of the work, providers can reach out to patients and reschedule elective procedures and services delayed by the COVID-19 crisis. For example, Salesforce’s solution combines features from Health Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Tableau. It enables providers to prioritize patients by most immediate needs, streamlines the intake process, and gets patients into their procedures as soon as possible.

Bon Secours Mercy Health is a great example. The provider, with its 50+-hospital system across seven states, uses Health Cloud to connect electronic health records, offer is developing patient portals for direct access to important information, and empower patients to self-serve (for example, requesting appointments). They have long used the Marketing Cloud, and added it to their recovery mix, along with direct-to-patient phone calls, to tackle their backlog of patients needing to be rescheduled and those that should instead receive continuity of care messages, offering expanded virtual care options. This enabled them to prioritize patients who needed rescheduling immediately, factoring in patient safety and providers, as well as facilities with capacity. They grouped patients based on the prioritization and sent appropriate communications around scheduling, virtual care capabilities, and next steps.


2. Guide patients with clear communications

To begin scheduling postponed procedures, providers can segment patient populations at scale and let them know how to move forward with their healthcare plans. As part of our Accelerate Elective Procedures solution, providers use Marketing Cloud to connect with patients through their preferred communication channel. Providers guide patients through every step, from preoperative instructions to postoperative follow-up. Clear and transparent communications include details on what patients can expect as they prepare for their procedures as well as details on changes in the day-of-surgery intake process that have been made to ensure patient safety.

Again, Bon Secours Mercy Health serves as a great example. The provider sent different messages to segmented patient groups: They encouraged some to reschedule at their earliest convenience and informed others about preparatory steps. In all communications, they reassured everyone about safety. In two weeks, Bon Secours Mercy Health saw close to 25% growth in people registering with and activating their patient portal, a 10,000% growth in virtual visits, and successfully rescheduled approximately 60% of patients with previously canceled procedures.


3. Accelerate patient preparations

Both providers and patients carefully plan for procedures. To cover all or part of the cost, payers must first authorize the patient to undergo the procedure. However, many authorizations expired when care was postponed due to COVID-19.

For each procedure, providers can set expectations upfront. Patients will likely need new lab results or another pre-op consultation – don’t forget the COVID-19 test. By explaining next steps in communications, providers streamline the experience for themselves as well as the patients. As a result, they avoid additional delays and patient frustration, while confirming insurance coverage.

Piedmont Healthcare prioritized patient care by leveraging technology. The not-for-profit, community health system began reaching out to patients whose routine or elective care was canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. Piedmont engaged with patients in a systematic and coordinated way. For example, they easily identified patients who needed procedures that had been postponed. Having centralized and patient tracked data at the onset of the pandemic, they could prioritize the ones requiring more immediate attention.

They’ve also gathered insights to better understand why patients may or may not come in for an appointment — whether that’s because individuals are concerned about contracting COVID-19, have financial limitations, or transportation issues. Piedmont can more effectively communicate and support patients with these insights while predicting demand as normal service resumes. 


4. Use analytics to plan capacity

As COVID-19 infections surge (and then decline) from one region to the next, healthcare systems need to stay agile. A new rise in local cases can divert staff and space from elective procedures, while a decline may allow providers to resume routine care and elective procedures.

Providers benefit from a single platform with robust data and analytics capabilities that helps manage block utilization, supplies, staff, beds, and facilities. They can then determine demand for care — whether virus-related or others filling beds — against excess capacity. With analytics, providers can easily prioritize patients and reveal the best times to reschedule canceled procedures and reopen service lines.

Again, Piedmont serves as a leading example. Along with its technology partner Slalom, Piedmont developed a dashboard to help keep track of patient data, including the volume of calls, patient source (new or existing), call source, COVID-19 symptoms, and outcomes. They can assess real-time demand for services, making it easier to ensure they have the right staffing levels and other resources to care for patients.

As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and fall in different areas of the country, healthcare organizations need to remain flexible. They may need to open and close the funnel of elective procedures several times before this crisis is behind us. The need for a comprehensive platform enabling organizations to provide better care for patients’ emergency and elective needs is more important now than ever.

Learn more about how the Accelerate Elective Procedures solution can help reengage patients awaiting treatment.