The doctor is in: Helping patients seeking in-person care feel safe

Danny Fell

As states reopen and shelter-in-place orders are eased, more people are beginning to visit family members, shop and dine out. Another important activity taking place again: People are reengaging with the health system for routine care, elective surgery and emergencies.

“Almost 80% of patients surveyed told us that if they were experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or appendicitis, they would go to an emergency room,” says Danny Fell, a senior strategist with OptumInsight. “The focus now is helping the remaining 20% of patients become more comfortable with the idea of seeking out needed care as well. Their health really depends on it.”

Fell says while large numbers of people are reengaging the health system, some remain concerned about visiting a hospital or doctor’s office. Optum is surveying consumers to help care providers understand what’s keeping some patients away and how best to engage them.

The first of six planned Optum surveys to track consumer attitudes posed hypothetical scenarios. For example, if you cut your finger and suspect you need stitches, would you go to the hospital emergency room? 60% of the survey respondents say they would.

How about this one: Your sister is in the hospital; would you go visit? 43% of respondents are likely to go see friends or family.

Here are a few more findings from the survey:

  • 52% are likely to go to an outpatient facility for a scheduled elective procedure if they could reschedule without penalty.
  • 48% say they would go to an urgent care center if they had a minor illness or injury that needed treating today.
  • 66% say they would reschedule or postpone hospital exams or procedures if they were scheduled today.

Optum strategist Danny Fell says the results indicate that some consumers may need extra reassurance that it’s safe to seek care. Fell explains more in this video.

Read the transcript.

“We want to help providers understand how to reengage those consumers to give them that confidence to come back,” says Fell. “It’s important for anyone managing their health concerns and especially for those with chronic conditions.”

A higher burden for health care

Fell believes there’s a higher burden for hospitals and health care facilities, compared to other industries, to show they’re taking extraordinary steps to clean facilities, maintain proper environments and protect consumers and patients who are coming in and out of their facilities.

“It’s not enough to say that we’re putting out more hand sanitizer, or we’re making things a little bit different in terms of your interaction,” says Fell.

In this video, Fell explains, even in normal circumstances, people sometimes need to be persuaded to visit the doctor. And he describes a strategy that can make a difference.

Read the transcript.

Tailored communications to patients most effective

Any communication aimed at re-engaging consumers may need to be tailored to different groups. The survey shows it may take more time to woo some back than others.

For example, one of the most interesting findings involved senior men and women. While women are slightly more likely than men to postpone a procedure overall, women in the 65+ category are far more likely (37% vs. 13%) than men in the same age group to say they would “definitely” postpone a procedure.

“Understanding differences by age, gender and other categories can help us better understand how to speak to individuals about changes in health care and explain processes as facilities reopen,” says Fell.

Using research to help health care rebound

Fell says Optum is using the survey results along with information gathered from focus groups and condition-specific data to help providers predict when patients will likely return to in-person appointments.

“We can look at services and service lines to better understand which ones a health care organization might want to relaunch first to reconnect with consumers who are ready for it,” says Fell.

This kind of strategic information can provide valuable guidance to health system leaders.

“The data helps us identify down to an individual marketplace and consumer groups within that marketplace, which patients we can be speaking to right now about scheduling appointments and which ones need a little more time,” says Fell.

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