Patient survey reveals COVID-19 concerns and guides communication efforts

By Cynthia Floyd Manley, Strategic Marketing

Fear of contracting COVID-19 from other patients is the most common concern Vanderbilt University Medical Center patients have about coming to hospitals and clinics now that stay-at-home orders have been lifted, a survey of more than 1,300 VUMC patients shows.

Patients view VUMC -- and specifically their own doctor – as the most important source of information and reassurance about safety, according to the survey of Advise Vanderbilt members. Advise Vanderbilt is an online community of VUMC patients who provide feedback related to their experience with the health system.

Respondents reported that the most important factors that would make them feel safe about coming to hospitals and clinics are that:

  • proper infection control measures are followed (75%)
  • precautions are taken in waiting areas (74%)
  • doctors and staff are screened for symptoms (68%)
  • masks are provided for patients (64%)
  • patients and visitors are screened for symptoms (61%)
  • “I am screened” for symptoms (47%)

“I think Vanderbilt does an amazing job in keeping their facility clean and taking all necessary precautions to keep their patients safe,” said one respondent. “I trust when they say it’s safe to come in.”

More than half – 55% – said they delayed care because of COVID-19. Reasons for delays included following stay-at-home orders and fear of exposure to the virus (47% each). Forty-three percent said they were following a doctor’s advice to delay, while 38% said they wanted to preserve health care resources to care for those with COVID-19.

Now that stay-at-home orders are relaxed, 66% said they will seek care “normally” within 4 weeks’ time. When asked about care for serious conditions, 93% said they would seek care within 4 weeks. However, when asked about “elective” screenings such as colonoscopy, that figure drops to 37%.

How survey results are being used

The research was conducted to inform communications to patients and the public about the resumption of surgeries, procedures and clinic visits that had been paused or delayed. The survey results also inform direct-to-patient communication guides and scripts for staff involved in taking calls, making and confirming appointments and other functions.

A marketing campaign featuring a video message from Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, CEO and president of Vanderbilt Health, launched last week on television, streaming services like Hulu, radio, websites and social media and will run through the end of May.

Importantly, the campaign reminds the community that “elective” does not mean unnecessary and that delaying needed care can have serious consequences. It also showcases all the ways that VUMC is working with patients to improve safety for everyone.

“VUMC is committed to safety in addressing the health care needs of our community,” said Paul Sternberg, MD, Chief Patient Experience Officer. “To accomplish that, it takes each of us to do what we say we will do in order to keep patients and ourselves safe, every time. Our patients and our colleagues are counting on us to match our messages with our actions.”

Other components include:

  • FAQs on marketing websites (VanderbiltHealth.com and ChildrensHospitalVanderbilt.org)
  • A series of emails to patients
  • A banner on the home page of My Health at Vanderbilt
  • Banners on other websites and digital signs across the Medical Center
  • Signs for display at entrances and in public spaces
  • Messaging in ongoing email marketing
  • Information in Google advertising and Google business listings
  • Social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube
  • Content on a blog and e-newsletter from VUMC to area employers

 VUMC’s social media team continually monitors public chatter about VUMC, and its members are armed with responses to questions about safety. Feedback gathered in social media channels is helping reinforce efforts at improving safety. For example, a Twitter user’s observation about a package deliverer entering a clinic without a mask prompted a reminder throughout the system that the mask requirement extends to everyone, including vendors.

Communication to the public also includes emphasis on continuing to follow the recommendations of trusted public health experts:

  • Stay home when you can.
  • When you must go out, keep 6 feet of distance from others and wear face masks.
  • Wash hands well and often, or use hand sanitizer.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently.

Keep up with the latest COVID-19 information from VUMC at the website, VUMC.org/coronavirus. The latest public health information for public, patients, employers and health professionals can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: coronavirus.gov.