Ambulatory surgery centers use texting to help manage COVID challenges

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Confronted with rising COVID-19 cases in their communities, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) are working to ensure their patient and staff communications provide the timely messages needed to maintain safety while continuing to perform the nonemergency surgeries that improve health and wellness.

One of the most effective ways to deliver these communications is via text messaging. Texting is helping many surgery centers during this challenging period get important information — and often time-sensitive updates — to their patients, patients' family members, staff, and vendors. With text messaging the preferred communication method for a growing number of Americans, there's no faster, more effective way to communicate with most individuals and large groups.

Below is a summary of eight of the ways ASCs are using texting as they continue navigating COVID-19 challenges. For surgery centers already using text messaging platforms, this list may provide you with new ideas on how to leverage your technology. If your ASC isn't already using texting, consider how adding the technology could help with your communication efforts concerning these often time-sensitive matters.

1. Reminding patients about procedures — While this is always a smart use of text messaging, ASCs are not only reminding patients about scheduled procedures but also including a note in the text about the center's commitment to safety. This provides reassurances to patients and helps reduce hesitancy that can lead to cancellations and no-shows.

2. Scheduling new procedures — The rising numbers of COVID-19 cases is contributing to an increase in cancellations. ASCs are filling open blocks by texting patients scheduled for future procedures and asking them if they are interested in moving their surgery up. For ASCs that have expanded their operating hours to accommodate patient backlog and demand, text messaging is helping further optimize the surgical schedule. Finally, texting is helping surgery centers drive recall programs to help recover surgical volume that has declined during the pandemic.

3. Providing safety instructions — ASCs are texting the safety directions patients are expected to follow on the day of surgery, including COVID-19 testing requirements, check-in and discharge procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, and waiting room policies. ASC staff are receiving texted updates on any changes to safety policies and procedures.

4. Communicating with patient escorts — Since many waiting rooms remain closed to visitors, ASCs are using texting to communicate with patient escorts. Texts are providing updates on a patient's surgical journey through the ASC and helping ensure escorts are where they need to be to pick up patients following discharge.

5. Follow-up communications — Texting is a great way to check in with patients following their surgery to see if they have any questions or concerns and want to speak with a member of the clinical team. ASCs are also using these follow-up texts to ask if patients have since developed COVID-19 symptoms.

6. Screening for COVID-19 symptoms — Text messaging is alleviating much of the work associated with making phone calls to patients to inquire about possible COVID-19 symptoms. Two-way text messaging can ask patients — and visiting vendors — if they are feeling well on the day of their appointments and reminding them to reschedule if they are feeling unwell or are taking care of someone who may be sick. Some ASCs are texting hyperlinks that direct patients and vendors to online screening surveys.

7. Supporting staff — A survey of healthcare workers conducted a little more than a year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic revealed the significant mental health impact of the coronavirus on healthcare workers. Recognizing this substantial and continued toll on staff, ASCs using text messaging to send periodic notes of support to their staff to help boost morale. In addition, surgery centers are reminding staff about the availability of mental health services and importance of taking care of oneself physically and mentally.

8. Temporary closure and reopening — Unfortunately, the COVID surge has forced some ASCs to close due to positive cases among staff or patients. When this has happened, texting has made it fast and easy to inform upcoming patients, staff, and vendors about the temporary closure, the steps being taken to help ensure safety, and reopening plans and procedures.

The Value of a Text
The examples described above scratch the surface of how texting is helping ASCs and many other types of healthcare organizations strengthen all aspects of their operations by improving patient, staff, and vendor engagement. This is not only important for operating while the threat of COVID-19 looms large but also for the long-term viability of their businesses.

Adding text messaging as a communication mechanism is typically easy and fast. And you may find that it's the tool your ASC has been missing.

Brandon Daniell is president and co-founder of Dialog Health, a cloud-based, two-way texting platform that enables vital information to be pushed to and pulled from patients and caregivers.

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