By Dr. Chantal Reyna, breast surgical oncologist and Jaci Haack, vice president of client strategy, Welltok.
A recent poll shows that 48% of Americans said they or a family member have delayed or skipped certain medical care because of the pandemic. While health systems often encourage patients to prioritize their breast health with an annual mammogram or routine consultation, this year, many patients are avoiding elective health visits altogether due to fears of contracting COVID-19.
Data show that the pandemic has delayed breast cancer screening in many parts of the country. Some of this resulted from statements from various academic societies, such as the American College of Radiology, during the beginning of the pandemic. However, this is staggering when you consider the importance of early detection and preventative screenings when it comes to diagnosing breast cancer and other life-threatening conditions. As time progresses, availability and recommendations regarding screening modalities evolves.
Since both screening and diagnostic mammograms are typically conducted at a hospital or large outpatient healthcare facilities, some patients have been hesitant to schedule these exams – even when a patient has a lump or nodule that should be addressed – out of fears of visiting a facility where they may be at risk for COVID-19 infection. Many health systems are experiencing a decline in these appointments and physicians are fearful that patients may be putting their health at risk.
How can health systems ensure that their patients are participating in crucial, and sometimes lifesaving, examinations? Here are three steps providers can take to encourage patients to have mammograms and other breast health exams during COVID-19:
Promote new safety precautions
A safe environment is key to protecting patients from potential exposure to COVID-19 and other health risks when coming in for a mammogram. Hospitals should make sure they are adhering to social distancing measures, wearing masks, establishing additional sanitizing stations and spreading out appointments to minimize the number of patients coming in at a certain time.
By John Coleman, senior director of marketplace solutions, Welltok.
The COVID-19 pandemic likely has Medicare members thinking ahead when it comes to their insurance plan and questioning whether they would be covered if they contract the virus, or if they would like to use telehealth services for routine doctor’s appointments.
In fact, a recent survey shows that 26% of Americans over the age of 64 intend to switch from their original Medicare plan to a Medicare Advantage plan in the next enrollment period. Open enrollment will be here before we know it, so it is important for health plans to focus on retaining these members by making sure they understand the value of their current plan and know that they are being taken care of.
Communication will be critical for health plans over the next few months, so they should revamp their strategy and follow this three-prong approach to improve Medicare member loyalty and retention.
Analyze consumer data
Clinical health data paints only a small picture of an individual’s health status. Some of the most important member information comes from social determinants of health, lifestyle or environmental factors. By analyzing both clinical and consumer data, health plans can better understand the wants and needs of their Medicare members and how best to engage with them. For example, one member may not have a car and need information about local COVID-19 testing sites and ride options, while another might be due for a mammogram and want details about the enhanced safety protocols their provider is taking during the pandemic.
When combined with predictive analytics, these data can also give health plans an early view into member behavior to see if they are at risk for disenrollment. One member’s favorite provider may no longer be contracted with the plan, or perhaps their doctor moved to a new office which is too far away for them to get to easily. These types of insights allow health plans to take a personalized approach and identify individual member priorities or potential problems they could have and quickly address or correct them. Health plans can then create personalized materials to communicate important information to members and identify the most efficient method for sharing materials with them.
Good Shepherd Health Care System (GSHCS) is honoring its commitment to improving community health and responsiveness by enhancing how it connects with patients. GSHCS is now conducting multi-channel outreach programs about flu vaccinations, physician visits and healthy living with Welltok, the consumer activation solutions company.
“More than ever, our patients are looking to us for consistent and clear communication,” said Caitlin Cozad, GSHCS’ marketing and communications director. “This is a responsibility that we take very seriously and recognize that leveraging technology allows us to scale outreach and engage with our community in new ways.”
GSHCS has a successful track record working with Welltok’s Patientology solution, which uses proprietary data and predictive analytics to engage the right patients with the right message for targeted activities. Given changes to patient interactions and behaviors due to COVID-19, GSHCS is adding more channels including direct mail, social ads, text messaging and dedicated landing pages to increase connectivity.
“GSHCS is leading the way to make sure social distancing doesn’t turn into medical distancing. They are proactively engaging patients around care needs as well as introducing new safety protocols like a drive-thru flu clinic,” said Jaci Haack, vice president of client strategy for Welltok. “We are honored to partner with them on the strategy, creative development and distribution of these highly valuable campaigns.”
Current and future patients of GSHCS will be receiving more information about the drive-thru flu clinic, which will be opened October 24, and the annual community meeting set for October 28. Targeted communications will also be delivered to people who will benefit the most from orthopedic and OBGYN services with the addition of accomplished physicians new to the area.
Additionally, Prescription Trails will be promoted more broadly thanks to an educational grant GSHCS was awarded. The Prescription Trails program is designed to help community members improve their health by using exercise as medicine, while accessing Oregon’s beautiful parks and trails.
“We look forward to engaging with our community in new ways and continuing to meet their evolving needs,” added Cozad. “It’s a new world, and we are all adapting to it together!”
By April Gill, senior vice president, solution management, Welltok.
The future of COVID-19 remains a giant question mark right now. But what is clear in this uncertain time is the significant impact everyday factors, commonly called social determinants of health (SDOH), have on a person’s health. Literature shows that up to 70% of a person’s overall health is driven by SDOH, including factors like race, income, education level and more. Knowing about these factors can improve how providers keep patients healthy year-round, but also how they engage, counsel and treat patients as individuals during a crisis like the one we are currently experiencing.
If providers understand what kinds of SDOH their patients are facing, they can better understand what health risks they have today, as well as to anticipate their future needs and risks. They can use this insight to tailor what information they share with whom, using the most effective communications channels.
Consider an elderly patient who does not own a car and relies on public transportation for everyday needs. Before COVID, a provider may have leveraged this insight to connect them to Lyft to get to a clinical appointment.
Now, a provider with this insight would likely do much more – have a telehealth appointment instead, connect them with local volunteers who will deliver groceries so they can maintain a healthy diet without leaving home, and email them facts about how to minimize risk while using public transportation to pick up a prescription, if absolutely necessary. This is just one example of how providers can improve patient care and support by understanding what they experience every day.
But are patients aware of the impact SDOH have on their own health? To find out, Welltok conducted a survey of over 2,000 consumers earlier this year, to get their views on what factors they think affect health, and which ones they would share with their provider. Surprisingly, consumers underestimated how much SDOH influenced their overall health and wellbeing – responding that they only make up about 50% of a person’s overall health. (It’s really 70%). They did have a good understanding of some factors that drive health status – like type of work or who they live with – but not more than half did not understand how daily factors like length of commute also play a role.
Not surprisingly, three out of four people also told us they experienced a change in life in the last year that impacts health. The top ones were a change in 1) stress level, 2) annual income and 3) the amount of debt they have. With most provider interactions being episodic in nature, the opportunity to get to know patients at a personal level and/or stay apprised these changes is extremely difficult. Building off this, consumers were asked to list who they would share these life changes with.