Best Practices in a Time of Crisis
Steps to Take in a Time of Crisis
COVID-19 has shaken the world, changing our routine, stability, and behavior.
Today, healthcare workers—without thought for their own well-being—find themselves on the front lines, battling an invisible enemy and facing a crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen.
In the midst of a health and financial crisis caused by an ongoing global pandemic, frightened and concerned citizens are relying on medical experts and hospital staff for hope, comfort, and answers. For the medical staff working front desks or running offices in the face of this unprecedented juncture, there are steps you can take in order to alleviate patient fears, expedite processes, and improve overall safety and comfort.
6 Initiatives You Can Implement
Office receptionists and administrators have a demanding role that requires an eye for detail, organization, and communication skills. Because of their diverse role and oversight over their physician’s office, the men and women who run the office are uniquely positioned to be bedrocks and leaders during emergencies such as this.
So, what can medical offices do to not only handle the current pandemic, but to be better prepared for future crises?
#1 Create an Emergency Task Force to Manage Change
The first vital step you must take is to create a core committee that acts as an emergency task force. With the situation on the ground changing rapidly, and with new guidance coming in daily from the federal, state, and local authorities, you need to have a group of people who can respond and make decisions on the fly. According to AMA:
“It is imperative to establish a clear chain of command and rapid response process to ensure swift, decisive action. Communicate to your employees that your response team is in place and evaluating the situation on a daily basis and that the highest priority is that practice patients, clinicians, and staff remain safe.”
Your team will have to determine who will be in charge of communicating any practice changes, whether internal or external. And, depending on the size of your practice, it may be wise to delegate specific areas to various department managers or other individuals in the group.
In light of COVID-19 it’s important that you have answers and action plans in place for questions such as:
- What do you do if a team member tests positive?
- If someone tests positive, what notifications need to be made and to whom?
- What will happen if a key member of the operation is absent?
- What safety measures need to be in place to protect both patients and staff?
By planning responses ahead of time, you won’t have to operate blindly in real time.
#2 Utilize Digital Tools
The Coronavirus is shared via human-to-human transmission. Therefore, social distancing, handwashing, constant sanitization, and the wearing of masks and gloves are the best steps staff and patients can do to slow the spread and flatten the curve. Fortunately, we live in the Information Age; we have at hand a host of digital and automated tools that allow us to connect and communicate while also facilitating social distancing practice. Thus, improving safety for both office staff and patients.
The ways your team can leverage technology include:
- Perform team meetings virtually to avoid contact wherever possible.
- Allow for virtual patient visits and consultations where applicable.
- Utilize a patient portal system which allows them to access medical records, schedule appointments, or complete paperwork online.
- Discuss medical balances with patients via text, call, or email in order to avoid a physical checkout process. For practices transitioning to virtual appointments or utilizing services like telehealth, ClearGage makes it easy to minimize exposure and allows for a contactless checkout through customizable online payment solutions accessible on any smartphone or tablet.
- Some medical practices that remain open have instituted a policy where patients call the practice to alert them of their arrival. They’ll then sit in the car until the practice calls them in for their appointment. This allows both your staff and patients to prevent close contact.
#3 Assess Ongoing Financial Obligations and Create a Financial Plan
Because the economy is on lockdown, your physician’s office may be receiving less clinical revenue due to the fact that less people are making outpatient visits, especially if your office focuses on a specialized medical practice. In order to ensure liquidity, it’s important that you create a financial plan, determine minimum cash flow, and consider financial loans to prevent a default.
There are several ways you can increase liquidity and cash flow, including:
- Look at subscriptions and costs that are avoidable or can be put on hold.
- Delay discretionary payments such as bonuses.
- Ask lenders to temporarily forgo payments.
- Apply for newly approved Disaster Assistance low interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
In addition, it’s critical that you maintain an ongoing patient cash flow. ClearGage is a healthcare payment and financing solution that can help. By offering flexible payment plans, practices can improve their patients’ overall payment experience and work within their financial realities to quickly increase cash flow. Furthermore, sharing new or outstanding balances via text or email will enable patients to pay on-the-go and help reduce the cost of paper statements.
#4 Develop Standard Messaging for Staff Communications
When a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic occurs, patients will want to reach out to their trusted medical staff to seek advice and consultation. As patient call volume increases, it’s crucial to make it easier for them to receive the relevant information they need. Doing so not only helps patients, but also keeps front office workers from being inundated and overwhelmed.
Ways to develop standard messaging:
- Clearly display the most relevant and up-to-date information on your website.
- Direct patients (where applicable) to other websites such as the CDC for more in-depth information or news.
- Create a FAQ sheet for practice staff to reference with responses to commonly asked questions.
According to Medical Economics, it’s crucial your information is not only correct on the website, but on other listings such as your Google My Business Profile:
“Maintaining accurate, up-to-date listings can be a necessary but complicated task. You need to ensure patients access the right phone number, office hours, physician specialties, and more wherever they happen to be searching… Highlight important messages and special announcements on your profiles by way of eye-catching banners, callouts, or even all-caps text.”
#5 Business Operation Continuity Planning
What’s happening on the ground is changing daily. It’s critical to stay on top of federal, state, and local guidelines to determine how business operations are impacted. If possible, it may be wise to allow employees to work remotely and maintain patient communication through digital avenues.
Take advantage of work-from-home opportunities for employees that don’t need to be in the office. This includes schedulers, billers, and admin staff. If your practice is behind on its billing, a slowdown or closure is the optimal time to catch up on overdue balances and contact patients to provide flexible and easy payment options. You can also send a text or email message that allows patients to pay their bills digitally from the comfort of their homes and maintain some cashflow when your practice needs it most. Technology partners like ClearGage provide convenient options for patients to pay their medical expenses through customized payment solutions that work best with their lifestyles.
In addition, office administrators should create a quick reference guide for both clinical and administrative personnel, so they can continue to adhere to practice guidelines, standard of care, and documentation. Per the CDC, “Patients should receive any interventions they would normally receive as standard of care. Patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be asked to wear a surgical mask as soon as they are identified and be evaluated in a private room with the door closed.”
#6 Over-Communicate to Patients
Your patients are understandably anxious about the uncertainty in the world as well as their lack of control over the situation. Patients are probably flooding your office with calls, texts, emails, and messages with concerns or questions. Similar to developing standard messaging, it’s important to anticipate and reduce common questions by reaching out to patients before they reach out to you.
Be proactive. Anticipate needs and frequently asked questions by getting relevant information out as soon as possible. When updates occur, notify your patients immediately, so they stay abreast of what’s going on. This is a chance to not only provide comfort in a time of need, but relieve your staff of burden and help allay patient fears.
What You Can Do In A Time of Crisis
Whether you work the front desk of a small physician’s office or you’re an administrator for a larger operation, you can make a difference in a time of crisis. With preparation, dedication, and forethought, your team can not only survive but thrive in any situation.
Taking the prerequisite measures ensures that your staff and your patients are safe, informed, and prepared. So, even in uncertain times, you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way.
American Medical Association. Tips for keeping your practice in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/tips-keeping-your-practice-business-during-covid-19-pandemic
CMS.Gov. Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet. https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/medicare-telemedicine-health-care-provider-fact-sheet
Small Business Administration. Disaster Assistance. https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance
Medical Economics. Digital preparation for physicians in a time of crisis. https://www.medicaleconomics.com/news/digital-preparation-physicians-time-crisis
CDC. COVID-19 Healthcare Professionals: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html