Closing Gaps in Care: Improving Patient Outcomes and Revenue Recovery

Hospitals can't go back to their old ways. They need high-tech, high-touch strategies to engage patients.

Quarantining led to nearly one-third of US adults postponing care. A recent AHA study showed that as a result — under an optimistic scenario — hospitals could face a $53 billion total revenue loss in 2021 because of the pandemic. While the world has begun to reopen, health systems must take action to close gaps in preventive care, annual screenings and elective surgeries.

Encouraging patients to return to care sooner will not only ensure better outcomes but also ease the healthcare system back to normal. Given the magnitude of postponed care, this will hopefully quell a sudden wave of hospitalizations for newly diagnosed conditions that could overwhelm hospitals that may be facing another COVID-19 surge.

Here are three ways that health systems can optimize their outreach to improve patient outcomes and begin the journey of revenue recovery:

1. Count on the tried and true: Multichannel communications

Multi-channel communications reinforce critical messaging by maximizing reach and frequency. Analyst firm Gartner reported that “integrating four or more digital channels will outperform single- or dual-channel campaigns by 300%.” Simply put, the more an individual is contacted the more likely they are to engage. Using multiple channels increases the likelihood of motivating people to take action.

Engagement channels include text, automated voice, email and direct mail. Each of these has a different appeal for different patients, ranging from the tangibility of a direct mailer to the shelf life of a searchable email. Multi-channel outreach can be applied for a range of uses like an automated voice call to improve COVID-19 vaccine education, a postcard reminder to schedule an annual physical or text messages for preappointment guidelines. Hospitals can see significant results by employing each of these channels. The key, though, is using data to know which channel resonates best for each patient.

2. Address crucial gaps for relevant populations

With millions of Americans postponing care, every specialty has experienced revenue loss. For health systems to kickstart their revenue recovery, it’s wise to focus on seasonal and age-based services, such as annual health screenings, vaccinations and well-baby visits because these kinds of services are most likely to bring patients into the office. Focusing on familiar care services such as these first will help organizations maximize their engagement efforts and reach their target audiences without exhausting outreach funds. To further optimize their results, hospitals must identify the customer personas and tailor outreach efforts around their particular needs and motivations.

Additional data points derived from a combination of consumer data, predictive analytics, and social determinants of health insights can identify which patients may be more likely to seek out preventive care, are at-risk for a certain condition or are least likely to opt into elective services. While COVID-19 has reinvigorated the way the world views health and well-being, health systems should still ensure their outreach is personalized to the audiences they want to engage.

Data and insights can also predict what type of message and channel people will be most receptive to. By consistently engaging with patients over their preferred channel, the higher the likelihood that the patient will engage with the outreach and act.

3. Ask your patients directly

Health risk assessments (HRAs) can be beneficial to gauge patients’ health needs and priorities. These questionnaires engage patients and aggregate data that are designed to be useful for personalized recommendations. Since the data collected come directly from a patient, health systems can see a significant increase in the success of targeting efforts for initiatives like annual appointment scheduling. HRAs can be promoted to a patient base with predicted data modeling that identifies those who are most likely to fill it out, thus bolstering the database’s ROI and information quality. Given that not everyone is comfortable returning to in-person visits in the clinical setting right now, these are a valuable intermediary to connect with patients and learn about their health concerns directly and in safe manner.

The way that hospitals marketed themselves before the pandemic is not going to work now. Patient needs and expectations have changed. The hospitals and health systems that embrace more of a high-tech and high-touch world will be successful today and into the future, especially when it comes to closing critical care gaps. Patients want to hear from them, and traditional strategies aren’t going to cut it.

By using data to identify patients most likely to close a care gap and then using multiple channels for more touchpoints, new leaders will emerge that drive patient engagement and improve health outcomes all while growing the bottom line — a win-win for everyone involved.

Jaci Haack, MBA, is vice president of client strategy for Welltok.