Elective healthcare procedures — everything from kidney stone removals to hip replacements — were largely put on hold at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to $22 billion in lost revenue for hospitals. Now, as physicians endeavor to bring these procedures back to their pre-COVID levels, a new study finds that healthcare providers often fail to provide patients with the best customer experience before, during and after elective surgeries.

For the study, digital/lead-generation shop LaneTerralever and consultancy Convince & Convert examined the drop in elective procedures through the lens of what health marketers can do to improve those numbers and boost overall patient satisfaction.

“We wanted to better understand who wasn’t getting in for these procedures and how that was impacting their lives — and what that meant for patients and the patient experience, as well as the implications to marketers,” said LaneTerralever director of brand strategy Lauren Hillery. “So the approach was to talk to folks who had considered an elective procedure in the last year and see what their evaluation points were, what they took into consideration, what mattered to them, how they evaluated their options and whether the pandemic had an impact on that.”

The report found that 66% of patients delayed elective procedures during the pandemic, with 39% not planning to reschedule them. But the data also showed that patients often weren’t satisfied with post-procedure care.

A mere 39% reported feeling satisfied with physical recovery outcomes post-procedure. They similarly noted a degree of dissatisfaction with follow-up care: 56% of providers failed to check in with patients a few days after surgery.

“Really, what’s more important to [patients] is how they’re treated throughout that entire experience, not just the outcome of the procedure,” Hillery explained.

She added that healthcare providers need to focus more on “nurturing” the entire experience for patients, from better communication prior to the procedure to follow-up care afterwards. To do that, providers might connect patients with other individuals who have previously undergone a similar procedure.

“Patients want to hear from real patients. They want to hear about a real experience,” Hillery stressed. “Whether it’s through reviews or providers who have connected their patients with former patients, that goes such a long way. Even if they talk about the whole spectrum of their experience, at least that patient has a real understanding and knows what they’re getting.”

It’s similarly worth examining the patient’s full experience — not just directly with the physician, but with every individual involved in the process. This might include the person at the front desk or the people involved with coordinating follow-up care. The goal: to ensure that the care is streamlined and consistent.

“I talk one-on-one to a lot of patients who say, ‘I had my procedure and for my follow-up I didn’t see that same provider,,’” Hillery said. “That creates a huge disconnect, not only in their recovery but their overall perception of that experience… Having consistency in your practice, more of those soft skills, is really important.”

Hillery added that providers who take the time to check in with patients and attempt to better understand their motivations are likely to find themselves ahead of the game. Setting realistic expectations for what patients are likely to get out of the procedure and how it will impact their quality of life, as well as outlining potential risks may be, are crucial.

“Providers just need to understand there’s a lot of lack of understanding among patients, even if they’ve done a ton of research coming into the procedure. Their emotional state may just be in a different place than it was pre-pandemic,” she explained. “Those who have any sort of responsibility to marketing within the healthcare space need to understand there is a huge ROI to the patient experience.”