West Corporation

Posted on May 14, 2009 by West Corporation 

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Communications Planning in A Pandemic Situation

The recent swine flu threat highlights one of the fastest-growing trends in healthcare provider-patient relationships — leveraging technology in communications planning.

When the task of quickly reaching out to each and every patient is turned over to automated messaging technology, the size of that population is no longer an issue. What other medium can deliver targeted communications to thousands of patients in a single hour?

To proactively tackle pandemic notifications during the recent swine flu concern, Texas Children’s Health Plan delivered messages to the responsible parties of approximately 200,000 patients within a one-day timeframe. Sending this campaign just as swine flu was beginning to grab headlines and dominate media coverage at the local and national levels allowed the health plan hoped to calm fears, and in turn, reduce the number of patients visiting emergency rooms with concerns over swine flu symptoms. Texas Children’s swine flu message included a brief list of precautionary measures that families can take to limit risk.

The short turnaround time associated with this technology allows organizations to stay at the forefront of an issue. In Texas Children’s situation, a script for the automated calls was created on a Friday. By Saturday’s end, the entire 200,000-message pandemic notification campaign was complete.

Can’t an organization’s website be a useful way to get pandemic information to patients? Of course, but since patients have to take steps to access the website, the reactive nature of online communication is not an ideal strategy for disseminating time-sensitive information. By sending outbound phone, e-mail and SMS/text messages, the chances of contacting those patients are doubled many times over. That’s not to say that outbound messages and website posts can’t work hand-in-hand. Many organizations use the automated notifications to bring patients to their website for more detailed information.

Another advantage of mass communication technology? Consistent messages. Since organizations are involved in every step of the message scripting and voice recording, they are able to tightly control what patients hear, something that takes on added importance in potentially life-threatening situations.

Leading messaging technologies add an interactive element to the provider’s communications planning. If the provider so chooses, patients can select from embedded response options to indicate that they received the message, transfer to a live representative for further information, etc. After a calling campaign has concluded, organizations can access detailed reports of call results, indicating call transfer, disconnected phone numbers and more. The report also offers documentation of each and every patient contact attempt.

Other organizations have chosen to address swine flu in a more indirect manner. As a part of the routine appointment reminder notifications sent to patients, Johns Hopkins Medical Institute informs patients that they will be asked to answer a few questions about respiratory illness when they come in for their appointment. Johns Hopkins is also recommending that patients attend appointments without a family member present to eliminate any potential exposure to the virus.

Regardless of how a provider wants to approach patients (messages focused squarely on the emergency or just as a part of routine communication), automated messaging gives providers an attention-grabbing forum to proactively contact patients, educate and direct them to valuable resources and prevent any potential misinformation.