COVID-19 And The Impact On Patient Experience

by | Oct 21, 2020

The level of impact we are seeing around the world from the effects of SARS-CoV-2 is incredible. In most of our lifetimes, we have never seen this level of disruption in everything we do. Economic systems have been completely upended, jobless rates have skyrocketed around the globe, and people are dying in large numbers from the pandemic.

There is no sector more widely disrupted than the healthcare industry at the moment. This disruption is affecting nearly everyone throughout the industry, and no one appears safe from being affected in some way.

Viral Disruption

When we think about disruption, a pandemic is not generally the first thing that comes to mind. It’s more likely that we think about Uber entering a new market and taking a chunk of traditional taxi revenue or Netflix driving the demise of the movie rental market.

A pandemic is a disruptor, though. And a big one.

It causes us to respond in very different ways than we normally would—social distancing in waiting areas, enhanced personal protective measures, COVID-19 testing areas in parking lots, etc. The list goes on.

In a similar fashion to the good old days of Blockbuster Video—if we don’t do these things in new and different ways, consumers will choose to go elsewhere. The difference between Blockbuster’s demise and a hospital’s downfall is not because they are getting better service elsewhere, but more because they simply want to minimise their own risk. No one wants to go to an emergency department with a broken arm and come out with a potentially life-threatening viral infection.

This disruption has led to many medical organisations taking a hard-line approach to patient experience. In a few cases, positive patient experiences have been cast aside because risk mitigation and minimisation of infections are more important. That is certainly something we can all agree with—I know I would rather have a bad experience at a hospital and also not get sick (or worse), rather than have a great experience and also get an acute respiratory disease.

The thing is… we can deliver great patient experiences and minimise risk of infection. These are not mutually exclusive.

Build On Positivity

I have previously written about waiting times as a source of difficulty in many healthcare organisations. Through a pandemic, waiting times are a perfect problem to focus on fixing for a number of reasons. Firstly, with the need for social distancing, our patients will simply not have enough room to fill waiting areas in the same ways that they have before. Secondly, the faster we are able to get patients through our systems, the less we will have to manage from a social distancing perspective. The upsides to this are enormous—patients will get what they need faster, and we will increase our ability to deliver to more patients within our existing facilities. It’s a win-win!

Decreases in patient waiting times also lead to growth. Either directly by increases in patients being seen and passed through our system or indirectly by positive word of mouth, which leads to more patient numbers wanting our services.

Building on positive experiences is great for patients and healthcare organisations alike. So, why aren’t we looking to tackle these improvements?

Blocked By Crisis

When looking to improve patient experience, leaders from many healthcare organisations have told me that they want to make improvements, but the timing isn’t right. What these leaders fail to see is the lasting effect of poor experiences, especially from a crisis.

In a crisis, we are all already on edge. Many of us simply try and make do with what we have and not deviate. We often look to minimise our risks and stay the course, believing that we will get through it if we just keep doing what we are doing right now. And this is mostly correct… with a single exception.

What if someone, anyone, does something new and different, and by the time the crisis is over, they have cannibalised your market? Do you want to be the one experiencing new-age growth coming out of a crisis, or would you rather remain blocked by it?

Put another way, would you rather be disrupted or be the disruptor?

For anyone that suggests “it’s just not that simple,” they are absolutely right. It’s not simple or easy. Making changes to your organisation at any time can be difficult, and making changes during a crisis can certainly seem extraordinarily daunting. It does not have to be difficult, though. There are support mechanisms and help available to start organisational improvements that directly benefit patients, especially during a crisis.

Just like our patients are experiencing a total disruption to their lives, we too are feeling overwhelmed and often trying just to keep our heads above water. Sometimes though, we need to be reminded that our organisations are literally designed and built to deal with emergencies, big or small. A bump or scrape, or an infection, whether small or global in scale, is our bread and butter. It’s the reason why we are here—to help those in need.

Needful Help

Not knowing where to start improving patient experience can also be a blocker for many of us. So many things might seem to be going wrong at the moment that we simply don’t know where to start our journeys first. This is where we need to rely on our most important assets to show us where the pain is, so that we know where to act.

What are those assets? Our staff, and our patients.

Our staff are our front-line resource, in the trenches daily living through every interaction with our patients. And our patients are the ones coming to us for help. They know something isn’t right, and they need assistance. They are asking us for help… and that sounds like a great place to start finding out what might be getting in the way of giving them that help.

Diving into patient experiences with our patients and front-line staff will help us to better understand where the organisation might need some pain relief of its own.

What will you be able to learn from your patients and staff that you don’t already know? It can be different for every organisation, but one thing is for certain—you need not be alone on that journey of discovery. You might even be able to become a new disruptive force in the industry while you are at it.

To better understand what might be frustrating your staff and giving your patients bad experiences, reach out to us. We can help you map out an improvement strategy that targets your problems directly and generates the best experiences for your patients, clients, partners, and staff.

If you’re able to positively impact those experiences during a disruptive crisis, you are able to do anything.