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Reopening Stronger

The coronavirus crisis is unprecedented in modern times. Everyone has struggled to adapt to the new circumstances, and medical practices are no exception.

It’s often impossible to know the “right” thing to do when there is literally no playbook entitled “How to Run Your Medical Practice During a Global Pandemic.”

However, we’ve had dozens of conversations with practice owners who are surviving…even thriving…in these life-altering times.

To make life easier for you, here are some creative ideas we found that can help you reopen your practice.

Consider using technology to enhance social distancing

As medical practices get back to some version of normal two truths emerge:

  1. Patients are suddenly very concerned about infection control.
  2. Doctors are struggling to keep patients safe while trying to rebuild the appointment book.

Several of our clients are discovering that technology, used wisely, ticks both boxes.

For years, medical practices invested in EHRs but clung to clipboards, paper forms, and paper files.

No more.

Suddenly, patients now view ANY paper form as a disease vector.

Practices are finally embracing more digital technology. COVID-19 is becoming the catalyst.

The best practices are racing to digitize records under the contactless banner. 

Here’s a range of technologies that you should be giving serious consideration:

  • Online patient scheduling
  • Online patient portal for new patient enrollment.
  • Online payment portal
  • Contactless payment terminal in the office.
  • Touchscreen tablet for in-office check-in.
  • Automated delivery of ancillary services for patient wellness.
  • Remote patient monitoring.
  • Patient communications platforms (SMS, email, and robocall).
  • Telehealth, either for clinical visits or as a triage to reduce waiting room volume.

These technologies have a triple benefit:

  • Reducing patient anxiety about unnecessary physical contact.
  • Improving office productivity through real productivity gains.
  • Increasing patient satisfaction through greater convenience.

So, if nothing else, the silver lining of this pandemic is to finally take bold steps needed to bring your practice into the 21st century.

Reopening? Get a white paper with 25 post-Covid recovery tips for your practice.


    Still the Best Deal in Town

    google search screen

    Google My Business is an essential part of patient communications. 50% of the traffic to your practice comes from your free Google listing.

    And, with the pandemic, Google has been focused on adding important new features to help communicate with your patients.

    For example, check out these new features that have been added since the pandemic first broke out:

    • Enabling you to link specifically to COVID-19 information and policies on your website.
    • Support for temporary closures or hours.
    • Enabling links to support for virtual visit appointments.

    During the pandemic, Google has reduced editorial staff responsible for reviewing profile changes, information posts and patient reviews. So, if you do make changes, be sure to do them all at once since every change triggers a new editorial review.

    The great outreach project

    Doctor smiling with clipboard

    This public health emergency has exposed an important weakness: most practices simply do not effectively communicate with their patients.

    When closures started happening, many practices found they had emails on some, but not all patients. Or, worse, they lacked any email (since patients preferred SMS only).

    To reopen stronger, practices are making the effort to update patient records with accurate information.

    This can be done in the form of a wellness/courtesy call where all staff (even the doctor) is calling all patients of record.

    Since many patients are justifiably nervous about returning to your practice, it makes sense to do pro-active, outbound wellness calls.

    These calls are strategic, with multiple goals:

    1. Branding. A call is a human point of contact to simply offer information about when the practice is open for business and to review new office policies for infection control. You get credit for trying, even if you leave a voice mail. Be sure you script it out or look for a dialing system that allows you to leave pre-recorded messages when you get the patient’s voicemail.

    2. Stimulate ancillary appointments just by making a connection. If you have telehealth capabilities, you can capture revenue by providing care to a patient that may otherwise have avoided coming to the office. In fact, many patients and caregivers are using telehealth as a triage strategy to keep waiting rooms clear.

    When performed by a qualified NP or RN, outreach calls can also be used to enroll eligible patients into Medicare-sponsored annual wellness visit programs.

    3.  Record Hygiene.  When you connect with a patient, you can confirm details such as email, SMS, changes in insurance, changes in address, changes in family status, changes in marital status. Then you must update your records or add this information into a patient communications platform.

    Getting into the habit of more frequent communication

    After being closed for many months, to reopen stronger, practices now must do the hard work of building back the patient appointment book.

    It may be easy as patients return with neglected/delayed elective procedures.  However, most professionals understand this is going to be a long struggle back to normalcy.  You’ll want to utilize multiple communication channels, to essentially remarket your practice.

    Website

    It’s crucial to keep your website updated with correct office hours and contact information. If patients can’t find this on your website, they are likely to look for another practice that actually provides all the information they need.

    Also, consider updating your website with expectations for your patients.

    For example, this can be alerting patients that masks are mandatory before entering the office or a sign out front that educates patients on COVID-19 symptoms to identify if they pose a risk to the practice.

    Ultimately, patients will feel comfortable coming to your practice knowing other patients are required to take these health concerns seriously. 

    Use your website to let patients know how you’re responding to the pandemic and consider creating an FAQ page about COVID-19 that provides answers to questions about symptoms, treatment, and recovery from the disease.

    Social media

    Your patients will be checking social media more frequently during the pandemic, looking for news, and staying in touch with friends and family.

    That’s why you need to stay active on social media and post daily, sharing valuable tips or words of encouragement for those that are sick or self-isolating.

    Email

    Consider sending patients a weekly newsletter containing the latest news and advice on COVID-19, as well as information about your updated office hours and how you’re dealing with the pandemic.

    SMS

    If you have access to your patients’ mobile phone numbers, and they’ve given you permission to reach them that way, you might also want to consider using text messages to send appointment reminders or quick tips on how to stay safe during the pandemic.

    Online reviews?

    finger placing a review

    One of the more controversial issues is the process of asking for online reviews. A few practice managers felt shy about asking for online reviews in the middle of a public health crisis.

    Fair enough.

    However, phrasing and context can be helpful.

    Here’s how one practice approached the post-COVID online review process.

    “Thank you for visiting us today. We appreciate your business and we know it is not easy to be among the first people to come back to the practice after quarantine.”

    They then ask the patient for feedback, specifically about the practice’s efforts to reopen the practice in a safe and responsible manner.

    If the patient agrees (and acknowledges they feel safe), then it becomes appropriate to ask:

    “Great, we’re glad you feel that way. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing your experience online with other patients like you who are nervous about coming back for treatment?”

    The resulting online review is now topical and helps market the practice’s infection control policies in a positive way.

    And the review giver is helping other patients get the care they need…and perhaps catching the eye of other patients who are looking for a reason to switch doctors.

    Embrace telehealth

    women having a video call

    Practicing telehealth is now more important than ever. It discourages unnecessary patient visits and helps to prevent spreading the coronavirus while allowing you to focus on patients who need your assistance the most.

    Adopting this technology protects your staff and patients by reducing their chance of infection. Additionally, operations will run efficiently, reducing the negative consequences associated with delayed patient care.

    With telehealth, you’ll still be able to take care of patients that don’t need to be evaluated in person by discussing the patient’s symptoms and condition before determining if an in-person visit is necessary.

    With stay-at-home orders set in place or general fear around travel, telehealth offers patients the ability to receive quality health care from the comfort of their homes.

    While meeting the needs of your patients, your practice also stands to benefit from implementing telehealth. 

    Medicine, not marketing

    As a medical professional, you might be uncertain about how to approach communicating with your patients during the pandemic.

    Is now the time to be marketing?

    However, as many practice managers and owners have told us, communicating is the most important thing you need to do right now. Work to provide clear and accurate information on the coronavirus so your patients understand how to stay healthy. And communicate office policies and procedures to reduce the potential for infecting others, especially you and your staff.

    Free samples are the very best form of marketing. You are literally demonstrating the very best qualities people want from a doctor: caring combined with authoritative, fact-based information in uncertain times.

    The best way to “market” yourself is to embrace technology that people want (and keeps them safe). And engage patients using multiple communication channels.

    Google My Business is perhaps the single best way to start, reaching what potential and existing patients are seeking.

    Similarly, adding patient reviews provide evidence to support your practice’s efforts to ensure safety.  Implementing technology, whether using telehealth or an online portal, is a great tactic to provide care remotely and encourage patients to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. 

    With these strategies for your medical practice, your potential patients will understand the actions you are taking to mitigate risk and appreciate that safety is at the forefront during an unsettling time. 

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