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When and how to build post-COVID revenue

With months of nothing but COVID-19 in the news, the promise of better days seems to be that much closer. Many states have started dialogues with residents about what reopening will look like and when it may begin. In Wisconsin, criteria for reopening includes “95 percent of hospitals being in a position to treat all patients without crisis care and test all direct-care staff with symptoms for COVID-19.”
When will hospitals reach 95 percent? No one knows exactly – which means hospitals across the country need to start planning. Nearly every hospital’s pre-COVID business strategy needs to be reevaluated and in some cases completely revised.
The knee-jerk reaction will be to build service lines and volume as quickly as possible. Revenue is needed – now. But the majority of consumers need reassurance that they can safely and confidently dip their toe back into the health care waters. Here are some critical facts to guide your next move. 
Regain confidence and trust
A comparison survey by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) gauged American consumer sentiment before and during the pandemic, revealing consumers are concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their health and their wallets.
  • Thirty-two percent of respondents said they had already made or were planning adjustments to their spending on health care visits as a result of COVID-19.
  • Seventy-eight percent of these consumers said they would skip at least one visit such as a well visit, maintenance visit for a chronic illness, elective procedure, or recommended lab test or screening.
According to HRI, “getting consumers to come back for care may depend on how much trust the health system can build with them over the next few months.”
Prioritize service lines
While taking steps to rebuild confidence in the safety of your hospital, plans need to be put into place for rebuilding service lines. The fact remains that many patients cannot afford to continue deferring critical treatments and procedures.
Rural hospitals, along with their big-city counterparts, will need to make meaningful and sometimes radical changes to their capabilities in order to regain lost ground and transition to the post-crisis world of health care.
  • The new norm will most likely call for separate services for COVID and non-COVID patients.
  • Given the need for even further belt-tightening, it will be essential to show ROI related to your business plan.
  • Hospitals and clinics will also need to further differentiate themselves for competitive advantage.

Service line prioritization will be critical in meeting these challenges and identifying new opportunities for building consumer confidence, patient engagement, volume, and revenue.
Consistent communication is more important than ever
HRI’s research notes that the pandemic has created opportunities for health facilities to increase communications to consumers to build loyalty.
  • Consumers were getting health information from three or four sources on average during the pandemic, most frequently local news organizations.
  • Only 14 percent of consumers said they had received health information from their health system.
According to HRI, “the pandemic has created opportunities for health systems to increase patient communication and loyalty. Health system communication with patients tends to be transactional. These facilities should focus on increasing patient loyalty by staying connected with them – even when they are not directly interacting with the system.”
When will patients start coming back?
McKinsey & Company also conducted COVID-19-focused health care consumer surveys. In April, participants were asked when they would feel comfortable returning to various sites of care. Of the respondents, 14 to 25 percent didn't know, and 39 to 42 percent indicated it would take more than a month after the pandemic ends. But it’s important to consider that 50 percent said they might reschedule earlier if they received prompting from a provider, with 38 percent noting that safety and risk of exposure were concerns.
Cast your line to connect with consumers
So how do rural health leaders know what their next steps should be? Follow the research to realign your business plan with the new reality of COVID-19 and put consumers’ COVID concerns at ease. Build confidence, let patients know it’s safe to return to a new normal, and revenue will follow.
That means addressing questions such as:
  • Is it “safe” to return? If so, what new safety protocols are in place to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus?
  • Why is it important for patients to get the care they need now?
  • What process do patients need to follow for rescheduling elective surgeries? For example, are you contacting patients who had to cancel surgical appointments, or are you waiting for them to connect with you? What is the procedure for rescheduling? What are you doing to plan for the needs of new patients?
  • Are there new options for receiving care? If so, clearly communicate how and when to use these services, including the types of appointments that can be held using telehealth and how the virtual process works.
  • Steps your hospital is taking to handle a potential resurgence of the coronavirus in your area.
How to ‘calm the waters’ in your rural community
Here are a few of the ways Legato is helping clients prepare consumers for re-entry into health care:
  • Re-examine your marketing plan and update service line prioritization.
  • Conduct focus groups of patients to determine post-COVID perceptions.
  • Build confidence internally first. Keep staff updated and engaged via internal communications.
  • Communicate messages of confidence and trust to consumers through traditional and digital marketing, including letters to patients, social media and blog posts, newsletters or reports to the community, website communications, and video messages from providers on what steps are being taken to keep your hospital safe.
  • Develop letters to employers to keep them engaged and informed.
  • Conduct community forums online or virtual town halls.

NRHA adapted the above piece from Legato Healthcare Marketing, a trusted NRHA partner, for publication within the Association’s Rural Health Voices blog

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