We’re all getting used to the idea that corona is here to stay. So as schools reopen around the country and winter creeps in, it’s clear we could be looking at a second surge that could bring our new normal life screeching to a halt again. If that happens, elective surgery could be reduced or even suspended again. While a lockdown isn’t on the cards – for now – numbers in the U.S. and worldwide are climbing, which means this is the time to ensure that your practice is prepared to deal with a second wave.
Here’s four things to consider to ensure your practice is in the best position to maintain business continuity for round 2.
Tracking Canceled Surgeries
Many practices are still dealing with the fallout from the first shutdown. Some canceled surgeries have yet to be rescheduled or performed in addition to an influx of new cases diagnosed while elective surgery was still at a standstill. If that’s true for your practice, it’s time to look at your current system and ask some important questions. Namely, do you have effective processes in place for tracking and rescheduling cancellations?
A crucial lesson that many practices learned during the first shutdown was that since surgery is the main source of revenue for the practice, a manual tracking system is not adequate to manage the process. Coordination around surgeries needs to be managed on a platform that can automate the tracking process. In addition, every canceled surgery is potential revenue for the practice, making it critical to follow-up and track canceled or postponed procedures.
Dedicated surgical scheduling & coordination platforms like Surgimate were designed to manage and reschedule surgical cancellations with ease. Surgimate automates the tracking process and also released a COVID-19 rescheduling feature that automates the prioritization and ranking process for canceled surgeries and enables staff to reschedule cases more efficiently.
During the early days of the pandemic, the number of patients turning to telemedicine visits increased 300-fold, according to the Epic Health Research Network. According to EHR data, the telemedicine volume peaked in mid-April with 69 percent of all visits conducted virtually. While that number has tapered off as states opened up and people contend with the next normal, if the second wave hits and stay-at-home orders are re-issued, virtual visits will no doubt increase again.
Whether your practice used telemedicine successfully during the peak of the pandemic or not, this is the time to take stock of your telemedicine strategy. Are you happy with the platform you have been utilizing? Were patients aware of the system and were they comfortable using it? Have your surgeons been trained adequately and are they satisfied with the platform? If not, what fixes or enhancements can be made right now so your practice can confidently ramp up telemedicine again?
Make sure your staff can (continue to) work from home
After overcoming most of the difficulties of working from home during the first wave, there’s no doubt that having to do so again won’t bring the same shock to the system. Maybe your billing or other admin staff have been working from home since March, in which case you’re all set.
If your team has mostly been back in-office following the easing of restrictions, think about what you learned from working at home the first time around. Did everything go smoothly or can you improve the process to make remote working more efficient? If you hit some road bumps, what can be done to ensure things work better during “Shutdown: the Sequel?”
For example, do your staff have the equipment they need to do their jobs (laptops, phones, etc). Is your phone system set up so it works remotely and extensions get re-routed? Do the applications you use have web-based connections and are they all HIPAA compliant outside the office firewall? Is there a solid method of communication between teams? Are there regular meetings set-up between departments so items don’t slip between the cracks?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, this is the time to review your systems and workflows and make any changes. This is also the time to consider designating a team member as “head of remote work” to make sure all of these details are ironed out in advance.
Effective patient communication
The first shutdown showed just how important it is to keep patients up-to-date with changes in services and scheduling. Having surgery postponed can be scary and stressful, not to mention frustrating and even life-altering for patients, so make sure you do everything you can to give patients as much information as possible.
If you have a marketing team, make sure they are ready with the appropriate messaging to send out to patients through various channels about operational changes and what it means for patients’ surgeries and in-office appointments. It’s critical that patients are guided through all the differences with as much notice as possible and expectations are managed.
Surviving the second wave (and whatever else comes your practice’s way)
At the end of the day, the big question is whether your practice will have a revenue stream to sustain itself through another wave of COVID-19. Many practices struggled to stay afloat in the first wave of COVID-19, so hopefully, there have been plenty of lessons learned.
During the initial shutdown, after realizing some patients would rather go to a clinic than a hospital, some practices began offering walk-in clinics as a dependable revenue source. This isn’t an option for all practices, but it’s a good example of how to think creatively and embrace our constantly changeable reality.
While everyone is fed up with the word “pivot,” it’s true that those who are open and flexible to new ideas will be better able to cope with the next surge (and possibly more after that). COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time to come. To make sure your practice is ready for what’s coming, keep pivoting, keep evolving and, above all, keep positive. This too will end and those practices that embraced new tech and new methods of working will be in a stronger position than ever before.