Many pathology labs have reported drop up to 70% of routine tests during the COVID 19 pandemic. With a fear of the second wave of COVID 19 being around the corner, patients are still delaying their diagnostics tests. The reason behind the delays boils down to fear: According to a survey, 70% of consumers say they are very or somewhat concerned about contracting the coronavirus if they go to healthcare facilities to receive care for issues not related to COVID-19. This fear is translating to lower rates of infectious, chronic disease diagnostic testing and preventive health check-ups.
To reverse this troubling trend, pathology laboratories must take immediate action to inform patients that deferring essential diagnostic tests can pose greater health risks than the risk associated with contracting the virus itself. To help, we have summarized both the potential precautions that your laboratory should consider to help assure your patients, as well as the communication message for communicating your laboratories safety protocols to patients. Here is how to help your patients overcome these fears.
TOP 5 things you can do to help patients overcome their fear of getting pathology tests done during COVID:
1. Separate your COVID-related testing services from your NON-COVID testing.
Patients do not want to walk into the lab to give COVID sample or neither encourage this because it has a huge negative impact on NON-COVID patients. NON-COVID patients seeing lab personnel in PPE kits collecting COVID samples adds fuel to their fears. In fact, NON-COVID patients will often ask, I hope that your lab is not collecting COVID samples. So, assure them that your lab is not collecting COVID samples and you only do it from home collection or inform them of some other strategies that you may follow to mitigate the infection risk as follows:
• Location: If possible, separate the rooms for COVID and NON-COVID sample collection. This may not be possible if there is a space constraint. If there is a space constraint, there look at an option to establish special hours for high-risk patients. This strategy could be used for scheduled preventive or follow-up visits for senior citizens, expectant mothers, and the immunocompromised.
• Staff: Finally, patients may be reassured to know that you are separating COVID testing and NON-COVID testing staff so that those who test COVID positive patients are not also testing NON-COVID patients.
2. Focus on home collection service
Home delivery services have increased across all industries due to COVID. In Pathology also both COVID and NON-COVID patients are more comfortable with home collections of samples, laboratories must focus on building capacity for home collections. The laboratory may have to hire and train more phlebotomist. The phlebotomist is the face of your laboratory, so it is important the phlebotomist visiting the patient’s home is well trained in blood collection and customer service. The phlebotomist must be presentable and be given a smart home collections kit. The patient will not be visiting the lab in case of home collection hence the phlebotomist is the face of your laboratory. It is especially important that Phlebotomists are caring and understanding while drawing samples to make the patient feel as comfortable and at ease as possible. Also, the speed of home collections will play a key role in customer satisfaction i.e. how fast can your phlebotomist reach the home of the customer after the test is requested.
3. Strong IT systems
Since home visits will be higher during the pandemic strong IT systems need to be built to offer strong customer service outside the laboratory. There needs to be an app for the customer to books their tests, view their appointments, make their payments, and review the services. The phlebotomist must have an app to capture the sample details so the pre-analytical errors are reduced. Finally, there should be a system to email the reports to the patient since the patient will not prefer visiting the laboratory to pick up the reports.
4. Continuously sanitize public spaces (in plain sight to patients).
Pathology laboratories know the value of a clean work environment. To ease patients’ minds, take this one step further and ensure you are cleaning public spaces—and that you are doing so in plain sight of patients. For instance, you can:
• Establish hand sanitizer stations;
• Remove magazines, brochures, and other frequently touched objects from common areas;
• Disinfect waiting area chairs, door handles, etc. continuously throughout the day; and
• Emphasize that you are sanitizing rooms and equipment between patients.
5. Feature images or posters of the safety precautions your laboratory has put into place in the waiting area and sample collection area.
This strategy has been also utilized by non-healthcare organizations such as restaurants and shopping malls to build confidence in the customer’s mind that all safety precautions are being followed. In its campaign #AapKiSevaMein Big Bazaar show the precautions put in place to keep customers safe and minimize the risk of contracting Covid-19.
Patients are putting their lives as a risk due to the fear of getting infected by COVID at medical facilities and the above steps may help calm them and save their lives by taking important diagnostic tests. By following the five steps enlisted above you can make your patients feel safe to get lifesaving tests done.
About the Author
Abhinav is the Managing Director of Accurex Biomedical Pvt. Ltd and the Secretary of the Association of Diagnostic Manufacturers of India. He is a speaker at various healthcare & business events.