COVID-19 has impacted all medical practices in a major way. Stat News reports that, due to the pandemic, primary and specialty care practices are seeing fewer than 20% of patients in person. And that’s just the beginning. As practices get the OK to reopen, they’ll need to adjust how they do business and cater to patients. For some, there will be a post-COVID rush of patients, eager to get back to a sense of normalcy. For others, especially high-risk individuals like the elderly, there may be an influx of telehealth requests, allowing patients to stay home while still receiving quality care. Below are six strategies to assist practices in the reopening phase, and to ensure safety for all patients and staff by adapting to a new way of doing business.
Moving forward, zero-contact will become a common theme in daily life. Thankfully, there are technologies, like Clearwave’s COVID-19 Zero-Contact Patient Check-In Solution, to help eliminate or reduce unnecessary touch points. Mobile pre-check™ is one such tool that allows patients to input personal information and provide documents like insurance cards without ever touching a pen or clipboard. In addition to mobile pre-check, virtual waiting rooms allow patients the comfort of waiting in their cars until an office staff member texts an alert to their mobile devices when the doctor is ready to see them. And, of course, Clearwave’s easy-to-use and easy-to-sanitize self check-in kiosks and tablets are always effective in limiting contact between patients and staff.
When it comes to keeping patients happy, comfortable and safe, communication is key. Be sure to keep patients up-to-date on everything from reopening plans to updated hours of operation. Let them know when you will be back open for business and when they can once again start seeing their regular physicians. Most importantly, don’t wait for those patients to come to you – be proactive. Set up a system where office staff can reach out to patients and reschedule those cancelled appointments. Even better – send patients automatic emails or text messages to their mobile devices so they receive the information via the method most convenient to them and can hold on to the communication for future reference.
Patients also want to know what’s being done to put their mind at ease. For example, if your practice has implemented virtual waiting room technology, take advantage of Clearwave’s Certified Zero-Contact Patient Check-In badge. This badge can be added to your website to communicate to patients that you are taking necessary precautions and putting their safety first. Learn more about how the badge can help reassure your patients here.
Even as restrictions are lifted and practices reopen, not everyone will feel comfortable leaving their home right away. Telehealth is a great strategy to offer concerned patients. These virtual doctor’s visits have become increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be equally important in the months and years that follow, as everyone eases back into daily life at a different rate. Practices also need to rethink flexibility when it comes to payment methods. The virus has had a deep economic impact with many people being furloughed or laid off – and businesses will need to work with those patients to come up with alternative payment plans to meet individual financial needs.
And then there’s the issue of staffing. Practices should consider technology tools that help eliminate time-consuming administrative tasks – tools like electronic patient check-in that replaces manual data entry with automated patient self-service. Additionally, practices should look at check-in solutions that offer eligibility verification to help ease the burden on front-office staff and increase financial transparency.
One strategy we have seen practices adopt in recent weeks is offering walk-in treatment, putting aside “appointment only” for a “treatment now” model. If your practice notices patient traffic is slow as people adjust to a new way of life, walk-in appointments may help fill that void. In addition, practices might want to think about adjusting certain offerings. Most patient/physician relationships are built on trust and have been in place for years. This increases the likelihood that patients will listen to their physician when a new procedure is offered or recommended. Electronic self check-in can be used to ask patients targeted questions during processing, and then based on their answers, offer procedures tailored to their needs. For example, Dermatologists might consider adding treatments commonly administered by plastic surgeons, like Botox, or even dry-eye treatment to generate opportunities to engage and boost revenue.
Anxiety remains high across the general population, as the number of new infections and fatalities continue to rise. Practices can put their patients at ease by proactively communicating all the precautions being taken to keep them safe. Setting up a special phone number or online chat is another great way to help patients interact with office staff and voice any concerns. And although many practices already make items like hand sanitizer readily available, they should think about strategic placement so it’s always visible and at the ready. Other items that provide reassurance include masks and gloves at the front door, finger cots for use with self check-in kiosks, and signage to remind everyone to wash their hands frequently, especially after any human interactions. And don’t forget that technology is your friend when it comes to reducing the number of touch points in your office – take advantage of zero-contact solutions offered by virtual waiting rooms to keep everyone at a safe distance. For additional ideas, be sure to check out Clearwave’s tips for zero-contact patient check-in.
One thing we’ve learned from this pandemic is that you have to be ready for anything as things can change overnight. Practices can stay a step ahead by safeguarding against uncertainty – for example, having a plan in place in case an employee falls ill or experiences COVID symptoms and needs to quarantine. Scientists and researchers are also discussing the possibility of a second “wave” of COVID-19 in the fall, so practices will need to be ready to react if new restrictions go into effect with little notice.
The reopening process won’t be easy. And getting back to business will certainly take some adjustments and creativity. However, adopting strategies such as these combined with self check-in technologies like those from Clearwave will help practices get one step closer to creating a safe environment for patients to resume receiving the treatment they need.
For additional information on operating your practice in the “new normal”, check out Clearwave’s COVID-19 Preparedness Guide.