Best Practices for Virtual Genetics & High-Risk Programs: Engaging Patients

Jun 1, 2020

Cancer is now responsible for almost 1 in 6 deaths globally. More than 14 million people develop cancer every year, and this figure was projected to rise to over 21 million by 2030… before COVID-19 interrupted measures aiming to reduce cancer’s impact.

Patient outcomes, including survival rates and quality of life, improve significantly when cancer risk is detected early. Catching cancer early also reduces costs. But restrictions put in place to protect patients and providers from COVID-19 has caused some genetics and high-risk programs to come to a halt. 

Patient safety is on the line in more ways than just COVID-19. This reality is alarming and could lead to much poorer outcomes, higher costs, or even a cancer-related public health emergency down the line.

That’s why many existing high-risk cancer programs are shifting to a virtual care model, using a combination of CancerIQ’s precision health platform and telehealth. They’ve been able to continue early detection, bring their volumes back up, and retain their genetic counseling teams. In addition to immediate benefits, this is also helping them to grow their precision health efforts in the long-term and preparing them for a possible second wave of COVID-19.

This is the first in a series of blog posts where we’ll share our customers’ best practices and key learnings. Here, we compiled best practices for engaging patients in a virtual genetics and high-risk program, gleaned from customers’ experiences. We’re starting with patient engagement because for any virtual care program to succeed, patients must be engaged.

Our customers have used various marketing techniques to get patients started in the program by completing the online cancer risk assessment. We hope this helps your organization as it starts or grows its virtual program.

Build Awareness via Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool for health care organizations. They can reach current and potential patients directly on their computer or phone screens. This study shows a social media campaign designed to raise awareness of lung cancer screening led to increased visits to educational web pages about the screening technique as well as an increase in scheduled screening visits.

Similarly, our customers have raised awareness for their virtual programs through social media campaigns.

Adventist Health, based in California, ran a social media post (see below) that led to 2,000 impressions and high engagement. However, it did not lead directly to any completed risk questionnaires, likely because social media has evolved to a “scroll, react and move on” mindset.Engaging Imagery

To combat that and increase follow-through, we recommend running a coordinated campaign with consistent posting around a topic, along with articles to support the topic, and even paying for ads targeting certain demographics.

But even with low click-through rates, post views are often high enough to reason that awareness of a brand and its program has been achieved.

Engagement via Email

Emailing potential patients directly enables organizations to send a more personalized and direct communication. This can help improve patient follow through on completing the cancer risk questionnaire.

Several of our clients have used this approach, sending patients emails that contain a direct link to the CancerIQ risk questionnaire for them to complete. The email campaigns have been sent both directly to patients who have virtual appointments on the books as well as via marketing campaigns to capture new patients.

The genetic specialist at Samaritan Health in Watertown, New York, started virtual visits after the state started its stay at home order. The hospital started emailing patients to have them complete the CancerIQ questionnaire prior to the visits. The email included a video featuring the genetic specialist giving a brief and encouraging explanation of what the questionnaire is and why it’s important.

Samaritan Health’s risk screening numbers have increased each week since implementing the remote workflow, including the email with embedded video.

Adventist Health also emailed patients to encourage completion of the CancerIQ risk assessment survey. The system piloted the email message by sending it to 10 primary care patients who had a family history of cancer. Four of the patients completed the survey, and those found to be at high risk completed a virtual counseling visit and went forward with testing.

St. Louis Breast Center also ran a similar email marketing campaign but on a larger scale, sending to about 20,000 patients. Their campaign resulted in 220 completed questionnaires and 58 people flagged as high risk for hereditary cancer. About a quarter of them are scheduled for a virtual visit to receive genetic counseling.

Engaging Imagery (1)

Follow-up with Direct Phone Calls

Phone calls to patients was by the far the strongest method of engagement. In Adventist Health’s pilot of its email campaign, only four patients initially completed the survey. With follow-up calls, five more patients completed the survey. In total, the small pilot program identified seven patients as high risk.

Everything with Empathy

Whether you use one or all of these efforts to increase patient engagement with the questionnaire, all efforts need to showcase a human touch and be done with empathy.

Studies show that when clinicians demonstrate empathetic communication skills, patients are more likely to comply with wanted behavior. Additional research shows that healthcare marketing is more effective when they lead with empathy and hope.

When organizations combine the above efforts and do so with empathy, they can build awareness of their virtual cancer prevention program and engage patients, thus flagging more high-risk patients before a formal cancer diagnosis.

Topics: Genetic Counseling| Best Practices| Telehealth| COVID-19