Focus on priorities, take a flexible approach, and automate what you can
Many practices are facing staff shortages in the wake of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, a MGMA poll asked medical practice leaders if they had experienced staff shortages amid the spread of coronavirus. Of the 40 percent who said “yes,” numerous respondents noted that many of the staff shortages were not directly related to COVID-19 exposure, but rather due to school closures and the need for employees to care for children.
Some practices have been forced to lay off or furlough staff as patient volumes dropped, and others must limit the number of employees working in the practice at one time due to state guidelines. Whatever the reason your practice may be short staffed, how can you meet the needs of your patients and keep your practice going strong during this time? Here are three places to start.
1. Hold a Start/Stop/Continue meeting.
Gather your practice’s stakeholders virtually and create three lists: things you should start doing (to save time, drive growth, and/or innovate), things you should stop doing (because they are time-consuming or offer little ROI), and things you should continue doing (because they’re effective or necessary).
For example, many practices have started offering curbside pickup. If you were hosting monthly in-person patient education seminars, however, obviously that would be something that needs to move online for now. Consider hosting a webinar on Zoom or a Facebook live event. Show Rendia videos to make it visual and compelling. If you were already emailing patients educational videos, or sharing information about COVID-19 on social media, continue doing so. That’s an easy and effective way to keep patients engaged even when they are not coming into your office, and keeps your services top of mind for when patients are ready to return.
2. Think outside “normal” practice hours.
COVID-19 has upended everything about normal business operations. Your patients may be working from home while overseeing their children’s distance learning or caring for elderly family members. Your staff may be working remotely due to childcare issues, state social distancing guidelines, or to minimize exposure risk. In any case, being flexible about when and how you meet patients’ needs is key to maintaining a steady patient load during this time.
For instance, consider having your remote staffers offer telehealth consultations with refractive patients to educate them on their options and answer any questions they may have. Rendia’s Outcome Simulator is a great tool that works the same way for a virtual visit as it does in person to visually articulate the benefits and potential side effects of refractive surgery. Another timesaving idea is emailing a narrated video to family members or caregivers to explain a treatment or procedure rather than go through the explanations again.
Scheduling these consults during evening hours helps both patients who are busy with work or childcare during the day, and also accommodates staff who are available to work but can’t come into the practice during regular business hours, for whatever reason.
Using telehealth for pre-appointment patient education is one way the hybrid appointment model can be leveraged by practices to save time and make use of off-hours. Another way, as we discussed in a recent post, is to have laser vision correction patients come in for testing that is recorded and shared with the surgeon. The surgeon then reviews the exam and has a telehealth visit with the patient to discuss their options.
3. Text reminders save your practice time and money.
If you’re not yet using text reminders to confirm patients’ appointments, now’s the time to set this up in your practice. Not only will it save employees valuable time on the phone, but patients like and appreciate text reminders, too. It also cuts down on costly no-shows.
Research shows that the number of text messages and the timing can significantly impact confirmations. Sending three messages—one more than a week before the appointment, one within the week of the appointment, and one the same day—increased confirmations by a total of 156 percent, reported EyeWorld.
“In vision practices, the average no-show rate is 20 to 25 percent. That translates to more than $200,000 a year in lost revenue per location,” Josh Weiner, CEO of Solutionreach, a patient relationship management software company, told EyeWorld. “Nearly 40 percent of those patients say it’s because they simply forgot, which is totally preventable. Automated reminders can make a big impact.”
There are numerous free or low-cost appointment reminder apps that integrate with EHRs, are HIPAA compliant, and can be personalized. Task one of your most tech-savvy staffers with researching and testing out a few apps to find one that works well for your practice. Also, designating one person to handle text responses and rescheduling is a good way to let patients know your patient communications are coming from a real person.
There is no going “back to normal” for those of us in health care. You can’t do business the old way anymore. But if you take stock of your priorities and focus on what’s working, take a flexible approach to accommodating patients and staff, and embrace technology where possible, you just might find that your practice emerges from this crisis even stronger.