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How COVID-19 changed patient experience and healthcare delivery

Carol Everhart,
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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted more than 15 million people world-wide and continues to alter almost every part of life. We work, play, shop, and meet in ways that are very different pre-pandemic. The way we access and receive healthcare has also changed as a result of social distancing requirements, provider availability, mobile capabilities, and newly implemented procedures at hospitals and healthcare facilities.

In the U.S., for example, small physician practices are slowly teetering on the edge of extinction, and we have seen large numbers layoffs and furloughs due to the cancellation of non-urgent and elective cases. While level of care is always important, in some areas, the inability to access a healthcare provider is equally concerning. And these challenges may become commonplace post-COVID-19.

The healthcare industry is evolving to meet the moment.

Healthcare providers, however, are adapting to the current challenges. Everyone is doing everything they can and whatever it takes to meet the needs of patients with available resources, and telehealth emerging as an essential tool.

Physicians are treating non-COVID-19 patients using telehealth capabilities for clinical and non-clinical services. And in the U.S., providers can now practice telehealth across state lines, opening access to virtual care. Using a telehealth approach, practitioners can efficiently connect with patients without the distractions of traditional care sites that often pull clinicians in multiple directions. This gives them the time to truly narrow in on what patients need and provides greater ability to respond to every phone call, email, and text message. Physicians also report that care delivered via telehealth is more efficient and convenient for the patient.

The care delivery model will continue to adjust based on patient segmentation. Meaning, non-COVID patients might visit a separate emergency department, intensive care unit, or other parts of the healthcare delivery system than COVID-diagnosed patients. This segmentation approach benefits both healthcare providers and patients. For sick but non-COVID diagnosed patients, caregivers will be able to stay by their loved one’s bedside to provide comfort and care without fear of infection from COVID-19 patients. Segmentation also allows clinicians to more specifically zero in on the needs of different types of patients, focusing on what is right for preventative care, chronic disease management, and specific types of acute care that are not related to COVID-19.

Payment systems are also evolving to support comprehensive care.

Prior to the pandemic, a McKinsey & Company survey found that 11% of patients were likely to use telehealth services. Post-COVID, that number has jumped to 76%. Payment systems have adjusted to allow for billing associated with telehealth visits for services, such as physical therapy or other types of therapies. For example, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) updated their policies to waive previous restrictions and now allows the use of telehealth for “office, hospital, and other visits across the country.”

Going forward, how does healthcare provide a good patient experience?

A good patient experience is one that address the complete individual needs of a patient – physical, environmental, and emotional. Understanding each patient’s past history, current situation, and future needs will continue to set a foundation for good experiences.

A very simple example of this is cleanliness. Providers understand that, because of COVID-19, consumers are more focused now than ever on cleanliness, especially in the hospital setting. Demonstrating safety in the physical surroundings is one important step in providing good care.

But beyond the physical environment, we need to realize that the overall process of care – not just the amenities – are equally important to healthcare consumers. Consumers are also more focused on trusting their caregiving system. They want to trust they are safe and trust healthcare providers are going to pay attention, even if they don't have COVID-19. And they are grateful for receiving quality care that is empathetic to their personal needs.

Prior to the pandemic, an office visit may have included lab tests or an examination that may not make a difference in patient care. Now, by using historical data, real-time data, and AI technology as part of an integrated healthcare enterprise system, healthcare providers can determine the most relevant care for an individual, then reach out via  telemedicine. This helps eliminate work, like blood tests or x-rays, that may not be essential for an individual and keeps healthy patients out of the office, reducing the risk of unnecessary exposure.

Providers will increasingly rely on digital tools to deliver personalized care.

The Healthcare industry is reframing what it means to take good care of people – personalized health plans, coordinated healthcare, proactive self-care, and best practices to lower risk and costs, enabled by connected data, intelligent analysis, and digital engagement channels. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for all of these capabilities, compelling healthcare providers and payers to adapt to new patient concerns, virtual healthcare delivery, and personalized interventions. To that end, the ability to connect data and people in real-time will be operationally significant and essential.

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Challenge: Customer Engagement Industry: Healthcare Product Area: Platform Topic: Customer Engagement Topic: Case Management and BPM

About the Author

As an Industry Principal for Healthcare at Pega, Carol Everhart, RN, MS applies her decades of experience in healthcare administration and practical knowledge as a Registered Nurse to help healthcare and life sciences organizations streamline operations and deliver more personalized member engagement.

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