COVID-19 changed healthcare overnight and few payer and provider leaders were prepared. Health systems had to dramatically restructure operations—canceling elective procedures, creating new sanitizing protocols, building virtual care models and more. Patient volume plummeted and, consequently, revenue took a blow as operations underwent this transformation.
The patient experience was put on the back burner as organizations focused on freeing up capacity and establishing new protocols. Accenture´s COVID-19 Consumer Health Experience Survey 2020 indicates that those health systems that evolve to meet new consumer experience needs can expedite financial recovery and capture patients from competitors, potentially increasing their revenues by 5% to 10% pre-COVID levels within 12 months—which, for a $5 billion health system, would mean between $250 million and $500 million in additional annual revenues.
As people adapt to the ways in which the world has changed, patients who put off receiving care because of the pandemic are considering a return. While health systems have revamped operations to improve safety and make the return of patients possible, the patient experience must also be addressed to convince many to re-enter the system. If it is not made a top priority, patients are likely to switch to competitors, as our research indicates. This will further damage growth potential for the long term.
Many patients are looking for a safer, more secure and convenient experience, which has led them to delay care amid the pandemic—and they will switch providers if they aren’t getting it according to our survey. One in four patients who believe their health system handled the COVID-19 crisis poorly plans to never receive the care they had previously been seeking or will wait at least a year. This number is three times higher than patients who said their system is handling COVID-19 well.2 In contrast, patients who view their health system as exceeding expectations in handling the virus are more likely to return for services in the near term (27%, for instance, within a month).
1 in 4
Patients believe their system handled COVID-19 poorly and never plan to return or will wait at least a year.
Of patients are likely to switch providers if they do not meet expectations handling COVID-19.
Stemming the switch
Perhaps most critical is that 64% of patients are likely—or highly likely—to switch to a new health system if their expectations are not met regarding sanitary and safety protocols, access to up-to-date information and the availability of virtual care options.3
Health systems cannot afford to lose patients to competitors, especially since COVID-19 is showingno signs of slowing down and could present renewed financial challenges. While switching providers due to a poor patient experience is always a possible risk, it is especially so now as patients are evaluating whether to return and which system is best prepared to meet their needs. The pandemic has amplified the need to deliver safe, convenient and accessible care—but patients aren’t always aware of the measures providers have put in place. Personalized communications and targeted outreach should make clear to consumers what providers are doing to deliver care safely.
Of patients are now likely to use online chat or texting to provide check-in information before their appointment.
Of healthcare consumers are likely to use telehealth or virtual visits for future healthcare needs.
Financial recovery and growth are on the line
Health systems that prioritize consumer experience and deliver on new expectations can both maintain their own patient base and grow market share by capturing switchers ready to leave competitors. As noted earlier, these organizations could potentially increase their revenues by 5% to 10% pre-COVID levels within 12 months.4
Time is of the essence. Given that a significant group of people is not planning to return for care over the next year, there is an opportunity to capture those patients before they go back to their previous providers. Furthermore, with the higher willingness to switch right now, patients who historically would not have been looking to go to a new health system are also up for grabs.
Poor customer experiences are costly
Health systems are already under financial duress but delivering poor consumer experiences will only make it harder to regain their footing. The lowest performers may still be 25% below previous revenues within a year.5 Based on our analysis, for a $5B health system, this difference between poor and strong performance could lead to a $900M differential in net patient revenues over the next year.6
While rising consumer expectations were already forcing the hand of many health systems to improve communications, access and virtual care before the pandemic, COVID-19 has increased the stakes and heightened urgency surrounding these efforts. The pandemic has led to new standards for consumer needs that may remain long after the crisis has passed.
Four actions to elevate the patient experience
We have identified four ways to improve the patient experience, and therefore your path to recovery, during and after the pandemic:
Alleviate patient concerns with personalized messages All outreach should proactively—and in a personalized fashion—address the key causes of friction in a patient’s experience and their concerns about health and safety such as protections and protocols in place to protect against in-person transmission. Communicate the specific actions the health system has taken to protect patients.
Meet them at the front door Health systems can address unique patient needs and ease COVID-19-related concerns before a patient steps foot into the office or enters a virtual waiting room. Systems should embed new protocols and practices for safety and wellness throughout every interaction.
Enhance virtual care options COVID-19 accelerated the need for virtual care, but many patients were looking for it before and will look for it after the pandemic. Health systems can develop new care models that meet patient demands for easier, more accessible virtual care - optimizing the capacity to care for virtual patients and enhancing the experience of virtual care delivery.
Listen through social channels Continuous listening across social channels in a health system’s local market, and nationally, will enable gathering real-time insight into patient perceptions and community sentiment. In response, healthcare organizations can quickly pivot their operations to address shifting consumer mindsets and realities—and measure progress along the way.
Exceed patient expectations
COVID-19 created an inflection point. Patient experience has always mattered, but now the stakes have escalated and health systems that don’t respond to new consumer demands are at a greater risk of losing patients to competitors. Now is the time to transform to grow market share by exceeding patient experience expectations.
1 Accenture analysis
2 Accenture COVID-19 Consumer Health Experience Survey 2020