Reopening patient communications under COVID-19: 8 messages for ASCs

Back in March, on the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we worked with our clients to identify seven critical messages ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) should consider sharing with patients, staff, vendors, and other visitors coming to their facilities.

These messages focused on safety, with the column highlighting why text messaging was the most effective means of delivering this time-sensitive information.

More than two months have passed, and now ASCs that greatly reduced or temporarily ceased operations during this health crisis are beginning to reopen or planning how to do so in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, ASCs are encountering challenges with resuming their operations, including how to communicate with patients. Not only must ASCs reach out to patients to schedule procedures that were delayed and backlogged, but surgery centers must also explain new safety protocols. This is proving difficult. Many ASCs are lacking the staff bandwidth to effectively perform such outreach and education due to reduced staffing levels and increased staff responsibilities, including performing patient screening and testing.

Furthermore, preoperative phone calls that would typically only take a few minutes prior to the health crisis are taking substantially longer for a few reasons. There is more safety information to discuss, patients are seeking assurance about their safety to help alleviate fears, and, for those ASCs choosing not to permit visitors to accompany patients into the center, information must be shared on the new discharge process. We are also hearing of patients eager to engage in longer phone calls because of loneliness and reduced human contact during the pandemic.

Key text messages for ASC patients
For ambulatory surgery centers with two-way text messaging capability, many of these challenges are greatly reduced or eliminated, helping ensure a more successful reopening and ramping up of operations. Here are eight examples of actual text messages ASCs are sending patients during this period, organized by the timing of the messaging. Note: Text messages have been edited to eliminate any identifying information.

Upon choosing a date to reopen
"We will be reopening Main Street ASC on June 1. You will be hearing from a member of our staff concerning the scheduling of your procedure. We will have new policies in place to help ensure your safety that we will share with you when we schedule your appointment."

When ready to schedule delayed procedures
"We are ready to reschedule your procedure. Please call 555-555-5555 to set up your appointment or you can schedule online at www.mainstreetschedule.com. Our new COVID-19 safety protocols have been posted to our website. You can read them at www.mainstreetsafety.com. All patients, staff, and visitors are expected to follow these protocols. We thank you for your help."

When ready to schedule backlogged procedures
"Main Street ASC has re-opened and our records show that it is time to schedule your annual colonoscopy. Please call 555-555-5555 to set up your appointment or you can schedule directly online at www.mainstreetschedule.com. Our new COVID-19 safety protocols have been posted to our website. You can read them at www.mainstreetsafety.com. All patients, staff, and visitors are expected to follow these protocols. We thank you for your help."

A few days prior to the procedure
"We are preparing for your visit to Main Street ASC. Please note the following: 1. Our staff are being assessed daily for any symptoms, exposure to others with symptoms, any travel, and/or any exposure to others who may have the virus. 2. All patients will be required to undergo a screening and COVID-19 test prior to admission. 3. No visitors will be allowed into the facility. Visitors will need to wait in their cars. Please reply to this message with a contact number for your driver. Nursing staff will call your driver when you are ready to be picked up. If you have questions about our new policies, please call us between 9AM and 7PM at 555-555-5555."

One day prior to the procedure
"Your procedure at Main Street ASC is tomorrow at [appointment time]. Please arrive 30 minutes prior to your procedure time. Please wear a mask upon arrival and review our new safety protocols at www.mainstreetsafety.com. Remember to bring your insurance card and a photo ID. Follow all instructions given to you about eating and drinking, as well as any preparation required. Please call your doctor's office if you have any questions regarding your prep directions. If you are currently experiencing a fever, cold, or flu symptoms, contact your physician's office to reschedule your procedure prior to taking your prep. You can also text reply RS to reschedule. Please call 555-555-5555 with questions. Thank you for your cooperation."

Morning of the procedure
"We look forward to seeing you soon. Reminder: Visitors will not be permitted into Main Street ASC. If you have not already, please provide a contact number for your driver. Our nursing staff will call your driver when you are ready to be picked up. If you need to reschedule, text reply RS or call us at 555-555-5555."

One week following the procedure
"Have you developed any COVID-19-related symptoms since your appointment at Main Street ASC? Please Reply YES or NO."

Following the procedure (if money owed)
"Just a friendly reminder that you have a bill past due. You can pay online at www.mainstreetbillpay.com or call 555-555-5555 to discuss your bill if you have any questions. Thank you."

There's no better time for ASCs to add text messaging
In a mobile-led world where patient engagement is an essential strategy, texting is a necessity. For those ambulatory surgery centers that leverage text messaging, resuming operations will prove more streamlined, safer, and ultimately successful. As texting has become the preferred communication method for a growing number of Americans, ASCs should evaluate how they can incorporate two-way text messaging as a communication platform to deliver key messages like those above or expand its use during this transitional period.

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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