COVID-19 dramatically changed the healthcare landscape forever. Regardless of specialty, providers throughout the United States are feeling the impact on the state of their practices and their patients’ lives.
So the question becomes: what will daily operations look like for practices once patients return to their physicians’ offices? Additionally, how can your practice best prepare for this? It’s critical to prepare staff in an effort to withstand recurring outbreaks and maintain revenue during this time.
Step 1: Understand the spread of coronavirus in your community
State and local officials are the first line of guidance to reopen your practice’s office, but the continued closure of brick-and-mortar in areas still facing a significant number of COVID-19 cases doesn’t mean you need to keep operations shut down. Klara ensures that you’re able to run your brick-and-mortar practice virtually, whether your team is in-office or still working from home. You’re able to take advantage of digital tools to schedule appointments and video visits, collaborate with team members, and deliver excellent care remotely.
If your practice is located in an area that was hit particularly hard but can resume in-office operations, you will need to take elevated precautions. Because of the nature of this outbreak, practices are encouraged by the American Medical Association (AMA) to send out pre-visit questionnaires (which we’ll discuss later). Practices located in an area with more cases of COVID-19 must remain mindful of these pre-visit questionnaires and should anticipate more staff hours dedicated to triaging individuals with potential infections.
You can understand how seriously your area has been hit by checking with local officials. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlined the relative risk of exposure for healthcare specialties, which can help determine the risks to your practice, staff, and patient populations.
Step 2: Prepare your office, both physically and digitally
Before reopening your office, it is essential that you thoroughly disinfect and sterilize all office spaces. If an entire location has been closed and no one has entered the premises for seven days or longer, routine cleaning will be fine, as per the CDC’s guidance.
Proper disinfection and sterilization supplies should be stocked to allow for cleaning once your practice opens as well. Here’s a brief summary of trusted government agencies and organizations recommendations:
- At least 70% ethyl alcohol to disinfect the exterior of reusable equipment (CDC)
- 0.5% sodium hypochlorite to disinfect surfaces (EPA)
- Any disinfectant products that meet the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2 (EPA)
Cleanings should be conducted between every patient interaction that occurs, so training your staff on this is essential. Hanging fliers to remind staff members of proper disinfection and sterilization protocols can help ensure that the proper steps are being taken.
Further, your practice should install hand sanitizer or sterilization stations throughout the practice, particularly at the front entrance. Patients should be instructed to use the sanitizer before touching the door to enter and before touching the door to exit.
If your practice currently uses an iPad or kiosk to sign-in, it is strongly encouraged that you discontinue its use for the foreseeable future – smartphones, tablets, and most screen-based systems collect and spread germs of all types. COVID-19 and other germs can live on glass, metal, or plastic surfaces for up to nine days, according to the Journal of Hospital Infection. Finding a way to gather sign-in information digitally through a virtual, secure platform is your best bet and will be discussed later.
Step 3: Schedule all possible appointments through telemedicine
Even though your practice might reopen, you still want to control the amount of traffic that comes through the doors to keep patients and staff healthy. You should assess which appointments can be switched over to telemedicine, and offer patients that option. This includes follow-up appointments and any number of specific appointment types that your practice handles. You may be surprised at how many appointments lend themselves well to virtual encounters. Most specialty board websites have detailed recommendations on the types of appointments, as well as how to conduct them virtually.
Beyond typical appointments, you should also consider using secure messaging and video visits to safely assess patients with COVID-19 symptoms. With a platform like Klara, you can talk to patients about their needs and facilitate a calmer provider interaction amid a global pandemic.
Step 4: Prepare your staff
As you’re organizing your staff to reopen, you’ll want to consider if it’s possible to allow some individuals to delay coming back to work, or to continue working remotely. Not only will this limit the risk of infection, but it will also allow you to be sympathetic to the needs of your employees. Using a cloud-based platform to collaborate internally makes it possible to offer more flexibility here.
For the staff who are returning to the office, you’ll want to make sure they’re fully trained on the new safety protocols you’ve established. This will likely include screening for the presence of COVID-19 symptoms, PPE requirements, and more. Also, it’s important to ask staff daily if they’re showing any symptoms of COVID-19 or another illness.
You’ll also need to train them on the practices you’ve established with patients: transitioning appointments to telemedicine, making sure the waiting room is considered a pass-through zone, and collecting information digitally before the visit.
Step 5: Develop your plan to screen patients before in-office visits
For any visits that cannot be conducted over telemedicine, your practice needs to develop a plan to screen patients for symptoms of COVID-19 before they show up to your office. The AMA has provided a templated set of questions to consider asking patients. Klara allows you to digitize this screening process by adding these questions to an electronic form that can be completed by the patient digitally from their own personal device. You can even automate a text message to send to all patients coming in for in-person visits that includes a link to complete the form. Patients are also able to text the practice upon arrival to get confirmation to enter.
Of course, if a patient’s responses indicate that they’re symptomatic or have another risk factor (travel or contract), then your staff can respond to the patient right through Klara to discuss options to transition to a telemedicine visit or take other action. Having an effective digital internal collaboration tool will be essential for this type of triage to be successful.
Step 6: Determine your testing practices
Some practices have decided to test all patients who are scheduled for high-intensity procedures (such as surgeries and services requiring close contact). If you perform these types of procedures, you’ll want to consider this. Some state governments (such as Arizona) have even signed executive orders demanding that health facilities must be able to demonstrate their ability to test pre-operative patients and at-risk patients before they can resume elective surgeries.
You may also want to consider having patients sign a COVID-19 informed consent form (sample from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons) before their procedure to confirm they understand there is additional risk of exposure to COVID-19, and more.
Step 7: Implement virtual technology to facilitate in-office appointment logistics, whenever possible
It’s important that you communicate with your patients to set expectations for an in-office visit, and any protocols you want them to follow. That might include instructions to bring their own mask or cloth face covering to the appointment, to text your practice from their cars once they’ve arrived, and to limit who they bring with them. You can automatically remind patients about these instructions via text (and even include an attachment or a link to a video) with a solution like Klara.
Additionally, virtual intake solutions should be used to help limit non-essential patient and staff interactions in the office. With Klara, you can get patients to provide insurance information and complete intake forms in advance conveniently from their phones. You can also go paperless by automating post-visit care instructions to send to patients via text. Not only will your patients thank you for keeping them safe, but they’ll appreciate the convenience that these workflows offer. Your staff will also be appreciative, as they’ll recover hours per day that they previously spent getting this information over the phone or in person at the front desk.
Step 8: Build trust by communicating with patients early and often
Patients who are waiting to receive care are likely anxious to hear when your office is reopening, what options are available to them, and the measures you’re taking to ensure their safety.
Once your practice has decided on a message as to when you’ll reopen your office, you should make sure that you get that message out to every channel where patients go looking for you, including social media and your website. You’ll also want to send the message directly to patients in a way that you know they’ll receive it and can respond to you directly. With Klara, you can broadcast these updates to all of your patients at once via text message. You can also create templates for your staff to use when responding to patient questions so that your communication is always consistent and professional.
Getting your practice reopened isn’t difficult, but you’ll need the right tools in place to protect staff and patients while continuing to deliver excellent care. Klara’s platform unlocks virtual visits, workflow management, and automatic outreach. Staff can get in touch with patients for pre-visit screenings, finding out if a patient appears at risk of spreading an illness. Patients can also communicate directly with the practice to understand the type of experience prepared for them and digitally submit important information. In the end, Klara makes it possible for practices to treat all patients whether in the office or remotely through an efficient, secure platform.