Leadership: Leveraging digital solutions to manage the COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing healthcare organizations to rethink communications with their patients and members, but forward-thinking leaders are already leveraging technology to address the increased workload to their workforce-management challenges.
09:00 AM
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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare organizations were forced to shift treatment protocols to accommodate the sudden influx of patients with a highly contagious viral infection. Saddled with legacy employee communication and patient engagement tools that were unable to be scaled, those at the forefront rapidly began adopting digital solutions to stay on pace with the increased demands thrust upon staff and clinical teams.

This new reality meant that technology solutions previously regarded as luxuries or optional, such as chatbots and virtual health, were suddenly must-have necessities for overwhelmed and overburdened healthcare systems.

Whether confronted with a global pandemic or a local emergency, today’s health consumers seek fast, reliable access to the credible information they require. What do I need to do to stay safe? What happens if my procedure or appointment gets canceled? What if I’ve been exposed to the virus? These are the top-of-mind questions health consumers want answered by their providers and insurers – and every minute they waste searching for trustworthy information erodes their patience and their confidence.

What follows are three examples of health plans/organizations that rose to the challenge, proactively addressing demands introduced by the pandemic through the implementation of a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. CRMs offer an engagement platform to unify multiple systems, streamline administrative processes and better manage relationships, resulting in more efficient—and more effective—organizations.

Clover Health steps up response with 24/7 support

Primarily serving patients in New Jersey, a state among those most impacted by the COVID-19 virus early this year, Clover Health is a PPO/HMO that provides a Medicare Advantage plan.

Knowing its community members needed trusted information about the virus, and quick guidance about their healthcare, Clover Health set up outreach workflows to communicate with members across multiple channels to keep members and clinicians connected. The insurer was able to rapidly put in place multiple digital solutions to best meet member needs, including a resource website with FAQs and 24/7 support that can be updated in real-time as information changes.

By integrating its data and technology onto a centralized CRM platform, Clover has been able to put members at the center of each interaction and coordinate communications across different teams. With a 360-degree member view, Clover Health proactively monitors and communicates with its high-risk members to get them the support they need, such as ensuring adherence to medication plans and helping with prescription refills.

To some extent, the organization’s strategy mirrors efforts undertaken by payers and providers using a CRM platform to communicate the right information to their community members at the right moment. Many are turning to social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to proactively engage with communities in conversations about COVID-19. Social media teams identify the relevant conversations happening at a high level with actionable insights and then use pre-approved messaging and resources to respond to the right audiences by region and demographic. As a result, healthcare organizations can cut through the flood of posts to identify what’s top of mind, quickly responding to hot topics and correcting misleading or false information.

Piedmont Healthcare streamlines calls

The influx of COVID-19-related inquiries has not only increased call volume up to 20 times the normal average, but the nature of the inquiries has also changed. Today, people call wanting to know, “How do I know if I have the virus?” “How can I safely buy food?” The questions reach beyond the usual health and appointment inquiry parameters; they are concerned about their safety and survival.

In response, organizations both inside and outside the healthcare industry are turning to solutions that help their workforce manage the high call, text and chat volume, quickly and consistently. This means providing patients and members with the right answers, care and services at exactly the right time.

A good example is Piedmont Healthcare, which manages COVID-19 inquiries with a scalable contact center. As community anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic grew, the Atlanta-based nonprofit, community health system saw the number of inquiries to its call center skyrocket. Although Piedmont is set up to support large numbers of patients – its network of 11 hospitals and 800 locations treats more than 2 million patients every year – the volume of pandemic-related calls was unprecedented.

To manage the influx, the health system established a COVID-19 call center triage process to ensure patients received the right care for their needs. Fortunately, the timing worked in their favor. Piedmont happened to be midway through a pilot of Salesforce’s Health Cloud in its call center. This technology helps agents handle routine calls, such as requests for appointments.

But, with the help of Salesforce’s partner Slalom, Piedmont was able to develop new COVID-related call scripting and flows in Health Cloud over a span of three days. They also trained more than 80 triage nurses and call center agents to use the new system in the same brief time span.

With this new functionality, Piedmont team members were able to quickly understand and assess patients’ risk, exposure and active symptoms, and then guide them to the right level of care. Within five hours of the system being deployed, team members logged and triaged 150 calls. Within three weeks, 150 nurses and agents were onboarded to help support patients in the call center.

Slalom also created a dashboard to help keep track of customer data, including the volume of calls, patient source (new or existing), call source, COVID-19 travel destinations, symptoms and outcomes. Having this capability enabled staff to assess real-time demand for services, making it easier to ensure they had the right staffing levels and other resources to care for patients.

Using Health Cloud as part of Piedmont’s COVID-19 response has meant that, as guidance relating to the disease has been updated, sometimes multiple times a day, staff members have been able to make real-time changes to scripts and process flows. This means the team always has the most up-to-date information to pass on to patients. They’re also benefiting from an improved understanding of why patients may or may not come in for an appointment; issuing consistent guidelines for employees and patients regarding social distancing and visitors; and communicating with one voice across all 11 hospitals.

As virus-related restrictions are lifted across Georgia, the health system is leveraging this technology to overcome the next challenge: proactively reaching out to patients whose routine care was interrupted due to the outbreak or who had surgeries canceled or postponed.

VillageMD sets up early detection system

Without question, the healthcare landscape is changing. Telehealth appointments, drive-through testing and even pop-up ERs are all part of “the new normal” as health systems continue working to protect employees and scale response. The time for new technologies that offer virtual options for treating patients while protecting caregivers has arrived – and there’s no turning back.

One provider effectively managing this transition is VillageMD, a primary care, value-based healthcare organization with independent practices and physician groups across the country.

Faced with a need to rapidly identify, educate and screen its high-risk patient population for COVID-19, VillageMD combined Salesforce’s CRM with its proprietary technology and analytics platform to establish a COVID-19 response instance within hours. The provider also implemented a Salesforce-based care management app for patient engagement.

By using Risk Stratification within Health Cloud, VillageMD quickly pinpointed individuals at risk, based on age, underlying conditions and geographic location. Within 48 hours of implementation, the provider was capturing data for patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, promoting early detection and essential education. Within five days, VillageMD had virtualized its services and was conducting all patient visits via telehealth.

Healthcare industry delivers ‘heroic response’ while remaining vigilant

One encouraging takeaway from this pandemic is the healthcare industry’s heroic response to a truly daunting challenge. By coming together – on the front lines and behind the scenes – leading organizations increasingly are leveraging agile, digital solutions to navigate uncharted waters and adapt to a changing environment.

As the pressures surrounding COVID-19 begin to ease, it’s necessary to remain vigilant through an ongoing commitment to innovation. New challenges will surely follow, including the need to address all of the routine care and procedures that were postponed during the peak of the crisis – with patients who, understandably, will be wary of returning to clinical settings.

The technologies deemed best in class will be ones that enable providers to effectively coordinate and deliver better care via a single view of the patient, while also driving personalized, one-to-one patient engagement that fosters trust. The adoption of such solutions is a vital component to ensuring the best health outcomes for our communities and the financial recovery of the healthcare system.

For more information on workforce management solutions, visit salesforce.com.

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