Successfully Manage Patients at Your Practice During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Successfully Manage Patients at Your Practice During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Manage patients during COVID-19

With an influx of COVID-19 confirmed cases across the country, your practice needs to be ready for the unknown.

From keeping patients informed of emergency office policies to getting even stricter about infection prevention, here are 5 steps to help you better manage your patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

IMPORTANT: The expert advice below is an overview of five ways you can care for patients more safely, reduce the spread of this hyper-infectious virus and better communicate the services you provide. To receive additional step-by-step practice management tactics, and get more detailed information on coding, billing and getting paid for them, be sure to visit the COVID19 Resource Center.

Step 1: Effectively Communicate Your COVID-19 Appointment Policies

To ensure optimal patient care and reduce the spread of CV-19, it’s very important that you clearly communicate any changes to your office policy and appointment schedule to all of your patients. Here are several ways you can improve your patient communication during these uncertain times:

  • Website Updates: Predominantly update your website and social media pages with any new office hours, visitor restrictions, or changes that would impact patient visits. Remember, if the patient can’t easily find the change it really doesn’t do any good.
  • Infection Prevention Flyer: Create a flyer with helpful infection prevention hints and symptoms to look out for. Then make this flier accessible to your patients on your patient portal, in your patient newsletters, or on your website. You can also make available in hard copy to provide to any patients you might see face-to-face.
  • Patient Care: Send an email to patients communicating COVID-19 precautions you are implementing at your practice to ensure their safety. It’s also important to provide them with specific symptoms they should be on the lookout for, and specifically what they should do if they think they show symptoms of the virus (i.e. when they should call your office, testing locations, when they should go to the emergency room, etc).
  • Policy Update: Draft a letter and distribute it via a patient portal and postal mail to communicate in depth policy changes (i.e. change from seeing patient at your practice, to only caring for them virtually, if there has been a change to your payment or no-show policy, hours of operations, etc.).

Tip: Depending on the policy, you can also update your evening voice mail message to update patients of changes.

  • Train Staff: Be sure to inform your staff of any policy changes so that they can clearly communicate them to patients they interact with (either in person or by phone).
  • Travel: If your patient comes to you wanting to travel somewhere that is not recommended, let the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) be the “bad guy.” Refer patients to the CDC website for guidance in answering questions about safe travel.

Step 2: Prepare to Treat Symptomatic Patients

Experts recommend that you treat every patient as if they have contracted COVID-19, whether they have or not. Doing so is a sure way to reduce the spread of this highly infectious virus. However, if a patient wants to be seen and is symptomatic, it is recommended that you clearly inform the patient how to proceed.

Instruct patients to call before coming to your office so you can be better prepared, and you can reduce the risk that they infect other patients or staff.  To reiterate this policy, you can put a sign on your front door with any specific instructions that you might have for symptomatic patients coming to your office. For example, your sign might read:

“If you have COVID-19 symptoms (cough, fever, headache, etc.), please do not come in. Please call our office from outside and we’ll come out and bring you a mask and gloves. Then, we’ll bring you in to a special waiting area so that we might provide you and other patients with the best care possible.”

Tip: Be sure to bring a mask and gloves for any family members that may be accompanying your patient.

Step 3: Prevent COVID-19 Office Infection

It’s believed that the COVID-19 virus spreads from person-to-person based on proximity. It does this through respiratory droplets produced from one person coughing or sneezing and another person breathing them in.  The virus can also be spread by a person touching something that has been infected with active virus and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.  This introduces the virus into a person’s body.

Here are some prevention strategies you can implement at your practice that can help protect both patients and your staff:

  • Staff Training: Provide training to both clinical and administrative staff that clearly outlines when they are expected to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Your staff should also be training on when PPE should be provided to patients, and how what they should say when asking patients to wear it.
  • Patient Directions: Post easy-to-understand expectations at your front desk, or on your front door, of when you expect your patients to wear PPE.
  • Check in: Keep antibacterial wipes at your front desk and inform your staff to wipe off pens after EACH time a patient signs in. If you have self-check-in kiosks, leave disinfectant wipes and directions on how to wipe down the screen after each use. Some practices have stopped having patients sign in altogether to avoid contagion.
  • Waiting Room:
    • Remove magazines, toys, and all beverage stations including coffee and water from your waiting room.
    • Provide hand sanitizer, tissues, and hands-free covered trash cans for patient use.
    • Rearrange your waiting area so chairs are six feet apart. If necessary, reduce the number of chairs you provide.
    • Hang informative hand washing and cough catching COVID-19 signage in your lobby, waiting rooms, and patient exam rooms.

Want more on how to protect your practice from COVID-19? Watch this free online training now from experts Dr. Siddiqui and Mr. Dahl.

Step 4: Control Patient Flow

Not everyone who is positive for COVID-19 is symptomatic, so you have to be diligent and take precautions with every patient to minimize patient—and staff—exposure and contact. Modifying patient flow at your practice can significantly help reduce the spread of infection. Here are several ideas you can implement to help improve your patient flow:

  • Triage at your entrance, before patients enter the office, and screen everyone for COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Review and have appropriate waste removal in all areas.
  • Limit patient movement within your practice.
  • Perform procedures, such as blood draws in the same room as the patient exam.
  • Set a limit for one visitor with each patient and screen the visitor for COVID-19 symptoms as well.
  • Block out end of day appointments for COVID-19 symptomatic patients so you can sanitize the clinic before the next day’s visits.
  • Utilize your back entrance for COVID-19 symptomatic patients.
  • Ask COVID-19 symptomatic patients to wait in their car until called.
  • If you have multiple locations, designate specific locations as COVID-19 treatment centers and others for handling non-symptomatic patients.

Step 5: Look to These Appointment Alternatives

Even if you aren’t receiving an influx of patient calls canceling appointments, there could come a time when your local department of health recommends against in-person appointments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, consider these appointment options instead of face-to-face visits:

  • Offer patients a virtual appointment. CMS has loosened their regulations for Telehealth visits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, so now is a great time to visit with patients by video!
  • Provide an option for a telephone visit. While you can’t see the patient, you can stay abreast on any medical changes, field patient questions and concerns, and keep the patient out of the office.
  • Reschedule any routine wellness visits, elective surgeries, and procedures.
  • If space and weather permits, erect a drive through office with a couple of outdoor workstations.

Tip: Make sure you both contact and receive a response from each patient on schedule so they don’t inadvertently show up at your practice.

There’s more advice from infectious disease practitioner, Javeed Siddiqui, MD, and practice management expert consultant and trainer, Owen Dahl, MBA, LFACHE, CHBC, LSSMBB, that can help your practice manage through the COVID-19 nightmare. Watch Video Now!

Additional COVID-19 Online Trainings 

Meet Your Writer

Owen Dahl

Principal of Owen Dahl Consulting

Owen is a principal of Owen Dahl Consulting, in The Woodlands, Texas. He has 53 years of experience in consulting, running a medical billing service and managing medical practices. He was also a hospital administrator. Owen speaks across the country on medical practice issues related to strategic planning, Lean and Six Sigma, culture, human resource management and the revenue cycle. He is an adjunct professor at the University of New Orleans, the author of Think Business – Medical practice quality, efficiency and profit, contributing author of the popular book Lean Six Sigma for the Medical Practice and recently published Integration of Behavioral Health Into Medical Homes: A Rapid Implementation Guide. Owen received his Bachelor’s degree in Hospital Administration at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN and his Master’s from the University of Northern Colorado. He recently achieved his Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt through Villanova University. He served in the USAF.