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Blog | Coronavirus

ACHP survey: Many consumers are not comfortable going to the hospital during COVID-19

Blog | Coronavirus

ACHP survey: Many consumers are not comfortable going to the hospital during COVID-19

  • The Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) recently released the results of its survey of changes in consumer behavior during COVID-19.
  • One of the main findings is that many consumers are uncomfortable visiting providers during the pandemic.
  • Survey respondents viewed their own doctor as the most reliable source of information about COVID-19, which means, it might be worthwhile for some PCP offices to have a care team member directly contact patients who need to be rescheduled or have a chronic condition to manage.

Last week, the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) released the results of its survey of changes in consumer behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is some variance by care setting, one of the main findings is that many consumers are uncomfortable visiting providers during the pandemic. According to ACHP Survey, the sites of service that more consumers report discomfort visiting are:

  •  Urgent care clinics – 45% of survey respondents
  • Hospitals – 42% of respondents
  •  Doctor’s office – 31% of survey respondents

Despite the relatively low levels of comfort with care settings, respondents to ACHP’s survey viewed their own doctor as the most reliable source of information (58%) on COVID-19. By comparison, the national media clocked in at 25%, the federal government at 18% and survey respondents’ employers at 13%.  

Takeaway

Intuitively, providers knew the COVID-19 pandemic would impact consumers’ willingness to engage with the healthcare system. But beyond anecdotes and changes in claims data related to emergent services, this is one of the first instances the industry has good insight from the consumer into the challenges organizations will face as they attempt to expand non-emergent services. While capacity issues (available staff, available PPE, amount of capacity dedicated to COVID-19 case based on predicted infection rates, institutional PAC capacity) are the ceiling for the volume of non-emergent procedures that can be brought back online, consumer sentiment will set the floor.

The capacity issues will be market specific, based on predicted COVID-19 case load and available care delivery assets. However, it's clear from the ACHP survey results, providers in all markets will need to take visible steps to provide consumers assurance it is safe to receive care.

Reopening checklist use

Many organizations we’ve spoken to are using reopening checklists that clinic or service line leaders must sign off on prior to opening. These lists cover items including:

  •  Infrastructure
  • Enhanced cleaning processes (initial and ongoing)
  • Furniture removal to support social distancing in clinics and waiting areas (especially ripped furniture that could harbor a virus)
  • Additional hand sanitizer stations
  • Revised processes that support social distancing (e.g. virtual check-in, patients wait in cars)
  • Clear signage related to masking policies

While some organizations are still maintaining no-visitors policies, others are modifying it based on the realization that few individuals are willing to undergo a non-emergent procedure that requires hospitalization if they can’t have family/friend support while they’re admitted. With this insight, some organizations are allowing patients to identify a designated visitor. This individual will be allowed to visit the patient only after going through the same daily screening applied to hospital staff and will always be required to wear a mask. While one hospital initially considered testing designated visitors, they quickly realized they wouldn’t have sufficient swabs and are now working on the assumption that if the patient is COVID-19 negative, it’s very likely the visitor is a spouse and would have the same exposure.

The health systems using these checklists are publicizing their use with staff to build confidence. There’s probably also an opportunity for broader community outreach to key stakeholders and opinion influencers to reassure consumers of the following:

  • If patients need emergent care, they should come to the hospital
  • The provider has taken every possible step to ensure that it can deliver high-quality care in a safe environment

Patient outreach 

Additionally, given the high level of confidence patients have expressed in the information they receive from their providers, in select instances, it may be worth having someone from the physician’s care team directly contact patients who need to be rescheduled or have a chronic condition and need to come in for care management services that can’t be provided in the home.

About the Author

Chad Mulvaney

is director, healthcare finance policy, strategy and development, HFMA’s Washington, D.C., office.

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