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How to communicate COVID-19 changes to patients

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In these uncertain times, communication has become critical. Many people are in isolation, under orders to stay at home and to maintain social distances when they do venture out. Even though some aspects of life have been virtually suspended, some still need to be addressed. Your primary care patients are probably concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, but they also continue to need you to help them with their ongoing healthcare needs. Here are some tips on how to communicate COVID-19 changes to your patients.

Delays and rescheduling

You may need to reschedule non-urgent appointments. Annual physicals or follow-up appointments that will not affect the health of your patients may have to wait until the orders to stay at home have been lifted. Rescheduling appointments is necessary to protect your patients and your staff. There may also be a delay in getting a new appointment if your staff has been reduced or you are overwhelmed with your patient load.

When patients do need to come in, let them know if you have established protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Will you require everyone to wear a face mask?
  • Have you taken extra precautions to clean and disinfect your practice spaces?
  • Have you established separate spaces in your waiting room for those suspected of being infected with the coronavirus?

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) advises primary care physicians to “Separate patients with respiratory symptoms so they are not waiting among other patients seeking care. Identify a separate, well-ventilated space that allows waiting patients and visitors to be separated.”

Communicating these changes is crucial for your primary care patients. Be proactive with phone calls to those patients who have appointments coming up in the next few months, to let them know of the possible need to reschedule and to anticipate waiting times. Other options include using your telephone system to deliver messages to incoming callers about when to seek medical care at your facility, when to seek emergency care, and where to go for information about caring for a person with COVID at home.

Telemedicine options

When patients need to be seen but cannot come to your office, you can take advantage of technology. As the American Health Information Management Association describes it, telemedicine is the “use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients’ health status.” Quite simply, telemedicine involves an interaction between you and your patient via telephone or a secure online platform, including “videoconferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, and remote monitoring of vital signs.”

Communications about your primary care practice’s telemedicine options should include notices on your website and social media posts. If you have an email database for your patients or a secure portal for messaging, consider sending regular updates to your patients regarding the options they have available to them regarding their healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use EHR for communications

The electronic health record (EHR) solution will enable you to communicate securely with your patients through the portal. In such an environment, you can communicate with confidence. Elation Health’s online Patient Passport enables you to securely communicate with your patients about their health and about changes related to COVID-19 that you may implementing in your practice. Patients also have access to critical health information through their portal so they can share it with other providers when necessary.