When patients form a positive relationship with their healthcare provider—or when members have a good experience with their health insurance plan—they become more engaged in their care and loyal to an organization. For both healthcare providers and payers, the experience is of the utmost importance. So how can the healthcare industry continue to improve the patient or customer experience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—and in the post-pandemic environment?

Here are six principles that can guide us in creating the “next normal”:

1)      Anything that can be virtual should be virtual. Virtual care is here to stay. We have seen a rapid rise in telehealth in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and all indications are that it will expand exponentially in the months ahead. Primary care physicians, specialists, nurse practitioners, and other health professionals will see patients via telemedicine and monitor conditions remotely even as facilities start to reopen. Health plan care managers will continue to do their jobs virtually and use tools like Aerial to help coordinate care for members in their homes.

2)      Reduce time across the experience in every interaction. Time is money—and expensive. It takes time to do a basic diagnosis, get a test and the results, or get a pre-authorization for a procedure a physician is recommending. That time starts adding up in real dollars, as well as in loss in patient confidence that they have any control over what is going to happen financially to them and their families. In hindsight, we can look at interactions across various patients’ journeys and see places where we could have shortened the timeline if we’d thought differently about what we do. The opportunities are on the front-end rather than after the fact, honing in on potential inefficiencies and finding ways to streamline the care process.

3)      Be proactive—don’t wait until someone is sick. Health payers have access to a wealth of information about their members. Being proactive and identifying members with preexisting conditions who may benefit from education, preventive measures, a simple check-in contact, and additional assistance before they get sick can help keep the member safe or prevent the cost and disruption associated with an acute episode. When using Aerial, for example, care managers have the ability to identify people who are most at risk for COVID-19, such as those with asthma or diabetes. Care managers can pull those individuals into preemptive programs to remotely monitor how they are feeling. Helping members stay well and healthy can improve their customer experience.

4)      Collect and use all readily available and basic data and information. What is the patient’s living situation? Who lives with her, for example? Does she have a network of family supporting her? Are care services available to her that haven’t been used? Much has been written and discussed about social determinants of health in recent years. COVID-19 puts a very human reality on that data. We have to learn how to gather that information and use it more personally and effectively—and ensure that patients’ family members and caring circles have the information they need to make informed decisions about the care of their loved one.

5)      Work on a cure and elevate care. Thankfully, many brilliant minds are racing to find a vaccine. In the meantime, and forever after we have one, we need to look at all aspects of the patient’s well-being—physical, mental, emotional, financial. And we need to create methods that increase healthcare consumers’ sense of control for themselves or on the part of a loved one. This is also true for primary care providers who are often the front line to ensuring the proper ongoing care of their patients.

6)      Make it simple for people to do their jobs and care for themselves. We’re putting healthcare professionals at higher risk to serve patients with COVID-19, so we need to remain alert to what tools and information we can put in their hands, including personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe while they’re providing top-notch care. Caregivers who are sick, or worried about becoming sick, are not at their best and are less likely to be fully attentive to a patient’s needs.

For years the phrase, “let healthcare professionals perform at the top of their license” has been around as a concept but not a reality. As we enter this “next normal” post COVID-19 period, and embrace virtual, whole-person health, this becomes ever more possible. Healthcare professionals will benefit, health payers will benefit, and so will all of us as consumers and patients.