Thought Leadership

All Eyes Are on Hospitals and Health Systems for What’s Next

June 4, 2020
Author: Stacy Sims
All Eyes Are on Hospitals and Health Systems for What’s Next

Hospitals, health systems and providers across the country have faced major disruption in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they are poised to lead the way forward.

From the onset of the pandemic—in reality, even before the world began using the term “pandemic”—they have played a significant role in our COVID-19 reality. From caring for initial COVID-19 cases, to being forced to postpone or cancel nonemergency services to protect patients, preserve PPE and limit ventilator needs, to furloughing employees because of the financial strain, all eyes are on hospitals and health systems for what’s next.

The Full Spectrum of Disruption: From Overworked to Nonessential

We’ve seen the massive undertaking hospitals and health systems have gone through to transform entire wings of their hospitals into COVID-19-only treatment floors. We’ve seen them ramp up their telehealth offerings to provide care for patients while protecting them from exposure and risk (read Liz Wagner’s blog on the importance of a strong telehealth offering). We’ve seen the pleas from doctors and nurses for more PPE as well as their ingenuity and collaboration to create their own. Hospitals and health systems have had to fight for more ventilators, more beds and more frontline workers to ensure they were ready for when the virus peaked.

In the past few weeks, we’ve heard much more about the other side of this disruption. The side where “nonessential” healthcare employees are laid off. Many pose the question, “How could there be a nonessential healthcare worker? This doesn’t make sense.” But in times where providers have been forced to cancel appointments and hospitals and health systems have had to postpone nonemergency services and procedures, many healthcare employees find themselves deemed “nonessential” and part of the large, continually growing unemployment problem our country faces.

As the country slowly begins to step back into nonemergency services, hospitals and health systems must take a closer look at how they will recover. And most important, how the healthcare industry can provide patients and communities with a sense of normalcy that has been sorely lacking for the past couple of months.

How will hospitals, health systems and providers do that?

Consumer Data Helps Pinpoint the Need to Resuscitate Preventative Care

To understand the impact of COVID-19 on consumer health behaviors more deeply, Escalent fielded research among 3,005 consumers in the US in April 2020.

  • Nearly two-thirds of consumers in the US (64%) have had to delay healthcare because of COVID-19. Two-thirds; let that sink in.
  • Half of the delayed or canceled visits were for routine healthcare needs—the very thing the healthcare industry strives for when engaging with consumers. After all, the goal of preventative care is to prevent significant illnesses and conditions that can be avoided or minimized due to regular ongoing care.
  • Consumers in fair or poor health, those presumably in more need of routine care management, are significantly more likely to report delaying care compared to those in favorable health.
  • In addition, almost three-quarters of consumers (71%) are concerned that their medical needs will not be met due to COVID-19. Not surprising, right? After all, two-thirds of us are likely to have already had to postpone or cancel care.

What Can Hospitals, Health Systems and Providers Do to Alleviate Consumers’ Concerns?

Communicate with your patients.

For starters, consumers need to hear from their provider and their hospital or health system. Consumers have an array of information sources when it comes to COVID-19. Some are more trustworthy than others, but none are as close to the impact on the community as their local hospital, health system and provider. Yet, research fielded by Escalent found that less than one-third (31%) of consumers are getting their information from their local health system. Instead, local television, the CDC and the internet/social media are the most common sources.

Connect with the community.

Hospitals, health systems and providers need to make the most of their connection to the community as a trusted source. In order to do that, hospitals, health systems and providers must have a good understanding of what consumers want to know, what they need to be aware of to make educated decisions and how they plan to interact with healthcare in the future. Hospitals and health systems must pivot from a reactive strategy (while continuing to provide care and support during the COVID-19 crisis) and begin focusing on a recovery strategy—how and when they will help consumers ease back into the “new normal” of healthcare.

Create a plan.

What will that look like? One thing is for sure, the old approach to healthcare and service has shifted and understanding how to best serve patients and minimize disruption will be key. Conducting research with consumers is the first step in understanding their current mindset. Let’s face it, we’ve all been impacted by COVID-19, but the degree to which we’ve been impacted varies and may change how we choose to interact with our healthcare in the future. Hospitals, health systems and providers need to understand:

  • What will make patients and caregivers feel more comfortable and safe once “nonessential” and routine care resumes?
  • What will the healthcare interaction look like? How do patients and caregivers prefer to interact moving forward?
  • Who do patients and caregivers trust most when it comes to receiving care?
  • Have hospitals and health systems done “enough” during this crisis?
  • What do patients and caregivers want to know? And how do they want to receive that information?

It’s one thing for stay-at-home orders to be lifted and hospitals to say “come on back, we’re open,” but it’s another to adjust the approach in consideration of the mindset of a consumer who may have lost a loved one to COVID-19 or lost their job and health insurance and cannot afford to come back for services. Will consumers feel empowered to take control of their health, or will they continue to limit unnecessary interactions? Understanding where consumers fall on this spectrum is critical as we overcome the devastating effects of this pandemic.

Hospitals, health systems and providers have been thrown challenge after challenge, and returning to “normal” is yet another trial they are facing. Their planning needs to be patient-focused and mindful of the mountainous pileup of healthcare needs coming their way—which will inevitably create another wave of disruption.

Escalent has deep expertise in hospitals, health systems and providers and has been advising clients for more than four decades. If you’d like to discuss how to anticipate the needs of your patients and community during the time of recovery, send us a note. We can gather insights into their mindset and help you develop a plan.

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Sims Stacy
Stacy Sims

Stacy is a director in the Health division at Escalent. As the health systems lead, she brings more than a decade of quantitative and qualitative research experience to the table—with an emphasis on consumer brand, experience, segmentation and new product development. Stacy lives in Livonia, MI and loves hot yoga, a full glass of wine and laughs often at the hilarious antics of her three sassy children (who are evidence that karma is the real deal). She and her husband are expanding their family this summer… patiently awaiting the arrival of their new family dog.