Amid significant disruptions from COVID-19, digital messaging and education brings patients back
Pediatricians have long been concerned about families skipping routine well-child visits. These visits are essential for vaccine delivery, identifying health and development concerns, and providing resources and information to patients. Pediatric Medical Associates (PMA) in Sacramento, experienced a sizable and troubling increase in missed and cancelled visits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. PMA confronted this challenge head-on, using SmarteXp® to educate and engage families, reverse the trend and reduce the no-shows and appointment cancellations that threatened both their patients' health and their practice.
Fear of contracting COVID-19 and anxieties around stay-at-home orders have swayed many families with young children to skip the important pediatric appointments known as well-child visits. In fact, new findings from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report show doctors in the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program ordered about 2.5 million fewer doses of all routine, noninfluenza vaccines and 250,000 fewer doses of measles vaccines during mid-March to mid-April, as compared to the same period in 2019.
We recently spoke with Pediatrician Richard Gould, M.D., and Naomi Smith, Director of Clinical Operations and Technology, from PMA about this issue.
PMA is a private practice with 2 locations and 30,000 annual visits. Their mission is to empower patients to be health advocates for their children and be a support system for them. They routinely deliver targeted, age- and stage-appropriate information via SmarteXp®, using email and text to break down the complexities of the new-parent journey. Their patient engagement program covers all the essentials of pediatrics, while also acknowledging the emotional aspects of the experience, providing empathetic, self-care knowledge, local resources and support.
As news, fear and anxiety over COVID-19 spread, well-child visits plummeted 75%. In addition to the increased health risk missed well-child visits represent, these visits account for 60% of the practice's business. Acute and sick visits also dropped precipitously.
PMA quickly began using its digital engagement program to proactively address patient questions, anxieties about the pandemic and worries about safety within the pediatric office environment.
Smith described PMA's efforts: "We created weekly messages to specifically address:
- Safety within the PMA office,
- The importance of well-baby visits, and
- The necessity of immunizations, particularly now, to protect their babies.
Because PMA has made this digital connection our standard of care, we were able to immediately guide and support >3,200 families during this unexpected time. We also reinforced these messages through our Facebook page."
"During March, 76% of our patients opened a COVID-19-inspired message with information about not skipping well-child appointments, and 45% opened a developmental-based weekly message," Gould explained.
Together, PMA’s ongoing connection and reinforcement of messaging resulted in a strong resurgence of both kept and newly scheduled appointments.
It took less than six weeks for the impact of PMA's digital education and engagement on well-child appointments to become clear. Now, more than 70% of appointments are being kept, more appointments are being scheduled, and families are receiving more of the care that they and their children need.
"This digital connection is critical for our families and their care,” Gould says. “The immediate patient communication access has really helped to bring us back closer to our pre-COVID appointment levels and ensure our families receive the care they need to stay safe and healthy. This time of year, we really depend on well-visit volume, and it is important to have a way to communicate our policies to our patients. We are still struggling to adapt and change our procedures, but being able to push our message and maintain the medical home despite quarantine has been essential.”
With research indicating that 60% of medical outcomes are determined by patient behaviors and environments, digital outreach is essential to help change those behaviors, improve results and reduce costs. This story illustrates how quickly providing knowledge and partnering with patients can make a difference in care and outcomes.
In their own words...
Listen to Naomi Smith tell about Pediatric Medical Associate's experience in this 1 minute video clip from a recent UbiCare webinar.
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