It’s been a tough few months, but there are glimmers of hope that things are graduating to a new, but different normal. With these changes, elective surgery has gone from total shutdown to starting up again at various levels across the country.
Exactly how and when each state is reopening depends on current risk factors and the local governor’s orders. Assuming you have already opened or will soon be able to restart your practice, here are some tips to help your practice operate safely for patients and staff.
Less congestion in the surgical practice
In the pre-coronavirus days, practices tried to see as many patients as possible each workday. Although it may mean continuing to take a financial hit, (we know it’s hard to see unused appointments or surgical slots), to keep patients and team members safe, you must limit the number of people who pass through your doors.
Stagger appointments & surgeon in-office days
Staggering the days and hours that surgeons see patients in the office will certainly help reduce the traffic in the practice. Depending on the size of your practice, this may happen organically due to OR time being split. But on days when surgeons are in the clinic, some surgeons can see patients in the morning while others in the afternoons. And during the hours surgeons aren’t seeing patients in person, they can run their telehealth visits.
Additionally, spacing appointments further apart rather than going back-to-back, (remember those glorious days!) will ensure large crowds aren’t congregating in a communal waiting room and also gives sufficient time to disinfect in-between each patient.
Finally, limit the number of people allowed to accompany each person to their appointment (but make sure you explain to them why).
Continue Telehealth visits
Where patient numbers are concerned, the easiest option is to continue with telehealth visits, where possible. After months of lockdown, people are more open to taking their health care online. And even with conditions loosening, many people remain cautious about where they’re going and who they’re interacting with, so telehealth is definitely here to stay.
Keep staff working remotely – where possible
Consider which team members can continue working remotely. Can your schedulers continue working from home, or mostly work from home with only occasional office visits? Anyone who does not need to be client/patient-facing can technically continue to work remotely. We know you want everyone back in the clinic again, but if they don’t need to be, keep staff off-site for as long as possible.
By taking these steps, you can keep numbers safe and acceptable (which will differ for each practice), and still work through the backlog.
Working through the backlog of surgeries
While it’s natural to want to schedule as many patients and procedures as possible to make up for the huge backlog of canceled surgeries, that’s just not possible right now. And that goes for the OR as well. Depending on your local hospital/ASC’s regulations, there will need to be increased buffer time in between each procedure to clean adequately. So, slow and steady will win the race. But using a tool like Surgimate’s Prioritization Feature can certainly expedite the rescheduling process.
Institute safety measures for patients
Limiting the number of patients coming through the doors is a great start, but if even one sick person crosses the threshold, it’s game over for a while. There’s something of a Russian-roulette game that we’re all playing right now, but you must do your best to ensure anyone who enters your practice is healthy.
- Screen patients before their in-office visit: take their temperature, question them to make sure they have no symptoms, and make sure they haven’t been in close contact with anyone who might be sick.
- Insist everyone wears a mask (and make sure they are wearing it properly!); Keep a supply of disposable masks in the office so patients can take one if they don’t have their own.
- Keep sanitizer on the counters within easy reach to encourage people to use it
- Wipe down iPads used for patient check-in after every use.
- Require testing for patients who will undergo surgery. If that’s not something your practice can do, make sure prospective surgical patients get a test elsewhere to ensure they have a clean bill of health before their surgery.
Ensure workplace safety for clinicians and staff
Patients are very important, but it’s also critical to keep tabs on your clinicians and staff. The best way to keep people safe in the workplace is to follow the same protocols issued for allowing patients through the doors.
In addition, try to minimize contact between team members as much as possible. If you have space, rearrange the office setup to keep desks at least six feet apart. If you can’t, think about creating extra office space elsewhere or, as mentioned above, keep certain employees working from home to ensure a safe working space for everyone. You should also make sure employees aren’t sharing computers to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
Finally, even if you’ve missed your co-workers’ incredible baking and dreamt of their chocolate brownies throughout lockdown, insist no one shares any food.
Communicate all updates with patients
Keeping patients physically safe is one thing, making sure they’re okay mentally is another. Many people are scared to enter a medical setting – especially a hospital – for fear they’ll contract Covid-19. It’s worth investing time in alleviating and addressing patients’ anxieties about having surgery or even just visiting the practice (this is especially important if you’re keeping the number of people who can accompany the patient on their visit to a minimum).
Without telling your patients about the steps you are taking to keep them safe, they won’t know. Use every means of communication at your disposal – social media, website, email, written newsletter, SMS (without annoying them), and phone calls (for the elderly) – to let them know what changes you have made.
Similarly, update patients about changes in hours or the way surgeons are seeing patients so they are informed and confident before they visit the practice. And don’t forget, everyone needs a little extra support and love right now!
Conclusion: We all have to do our part
While things seem to be getting better and the numbers continue to be trending downward, there are still a lot of unknowns, in elective surgery and beyond.
We’re hoping this semi-normalcy lasts, and the dreaded second wave evaporates into nothingness.
But to make sure this happens, every one of us needs to do our part. It is far from an ideal situation, but there needs to be precautions in place to keep everyone safe and healthy, and to keep the doors of the surgical practices open nationwide.