As fear and misinformation swirl around the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), healthcare organizations should begin preparing rapid-response plans and emergency communications.
Like most public health emergencies, Covid-19 has been accompanied by rumors, falsehoods and fearmongering. Among the more notable and outlandish untruths include claims that drinking bleach can cure Covid-19, and that the virus is a biological weapon built by China. All of these claims are categorically false.
Because so much disinformation abounds, it can be helpful to briefly review the facts on Covid-19 from a trusted source: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The current risk assessment indicates:
- All 50 states have reported cases of Covid-19 to CDC.
- U.S. Covid-19 cases include:
- Imported cases in travelers
- Cases among close contacts of a known case
- Community-acquired cases where the source of the infection is unknown.
- Multiple U.S. states are experiencing sustained community spread.
- To keep yourself and others healthy, the CDC recommends washing your hands often with soap and water, avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands and staying home when sick.
What may happen:
- More cases of Covid-19 are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more instances of community spread.
- Prolonged social distancing and shelter in place requirements may apply to a large segment of the population
- Access to testing will continue to fall short of demand and will vary by geographic areas
- CDC expects that widespread transmission of Covid-19 in the United States will occur.
- In the coming months, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus.
The surge of disinformation around Covid-19 creates a significant challenge for healthcare organizations: how to best communicate to patients in a timely manner, given the rapidly changing nature of the situation. For health plans and providers, managing rapid-response initiatives requires precise planning and careful executions. At the same time, these communications offer tangible benefits – many members will feel a greater sense of loyalty when they remember organizations that prioritized their safety with outreach messaging that supported their needs and well-being.
Rapid response outreach 101
To build member trust and confidence, rapid response and emergency outreach communications must be timely, personalized and relevant. Additionally, health plans should strive to engage with members via their preferred channels of communication and utilize multiple touchpoints.
To predict the channels that are most likely to generate a response, health plans and providers must understand the demographics and psychographics of the populations they serve. For example, our data has shown that Medicaid populations most frequently respond to both text messages and phone calls to each appropriate member.
Finally, organizations must ensure that rapid response communications convey forward-looking information. This will help members look beyond the event of the moment and focus on next steps in the future.
How prior events could inform a coronavirus response
Though it’s too early in the U.S. response to understand Covid-19’s scale, previous events that required emergency member communications offer possible approaches health plans can pursue.
For instance, health plans often reach out to members with medication refill reminders in advance of anticipated weather emergencies that may create significant disruptions, such as hurricanes. Several regions across the globe have instituted quarantines related to COVID-19. Like severe weather and other emergencies, quarantines may motivate health plans to deliver rapid response outreach communications.
Here’s an example: In advance of Hurricane Irma, a large health insurer wanted to execute emergency outreach to members in several Southeastern states that were in the storm’s predicted path. The goal of the outreach was to assist members in filling prescriptions before authorities declared an evacuation. The plan targeted members with acute and chronic conditions such as HIV and diabetes who were likely to run out of medications within two weeks. In just two days, the plan contacted 800,000 individuals.
Members received timely information about medication refills, storm evacuation routes, and other preparation information through text messages and phone calls. The plan reached 24% of the population directly and left messages for 64% within two days. These messages helped members care for themselves and their families.
This rapid response initiative showcased the health plan’s ability to provide members with important health and safety information in an emergency. Like many other outreach programs, this initiative delivered a positive member experience and generated high levels of member satisfaction. Our research shows that up to 84% of members who are contacted with engagement outreach services consider the information valuable.
4 essential steps to rapid response communications
Our research and experience have taught us four essential lessons related to rapid response communications:
- Target specific populations with timely, relevant and factual messaging. Avoid unnecessary disruption.
- Prepare responses for common post-disaster questions, such as inquiries regarding emergency updates and access to healthcare, roadways, food and water.
- Use multiple channels to engage (time permitting).
- Think of crisis communications as one portion of a larger, more comprehensive engagement program. Experience shows that members who have received messages in the past are more likely to engage in the future.
Although the U.S. and the world are only in the beginning stages of managing the response to Covid-19, healthcare organizations should already be creating and evaluating plans for patient outreach. While we all hope for the best, responsible management compels us to plan for the worst. As you develop patient outreach and rapid-response strategies, keep best practices in mind. This will help ensure the delivery of targeted and effective messages related to coronavirus disease.