The Road Back To Business As Usual After COVID-19

May 4

5 Steps Healthcare Businesses Can Take Right Now to Prepare for a Comeback

By Carol A. Wilcox

PREFERRED Therapy Providers, Inc.

No business, organization or country has been immune to the challenges presented by this Pandemic and the road back to business as usual may seem a long distance away right now. The economy has virtually come to a halt and chances are your healthcare practice has had to make significant modifications by partially or completely shutting down, or by hastily adapting to new ways to treat patients.

Whenever there is an economic downturn, business owners have a choice: either succumb to it or look for silver linings. Many successful businesses were born during the worst of economic times because they saw opportunity.

Here are 5 steps you can take right now to start on the road back to business as usual (or even better!):

1.) Opportunity: New lines of business – Have you been thinking about adding a service or even a product to your current offerings? Now may be the time to look for and develop new opportunities you can offer to patients and colleagues. Here are some ideas:

Telehealth – offer telehealth services to your patients. Regulations regarding telehealth and physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists have been modified or waived for the duration of this health emergency.¹ Additionally, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and other professional organizations are continuing to urge Congress to include physical, occupational and speech therapists in providing a long-term solution for increasing access to rehabilitation services via telehealth.

Medicaid – consider becoming a Medicaid physical therapy provider. While it’s still unknown the number of jobs that may be permanently eliminated from the workforce, especially if there is a recession, it is possible that people who were enrolled in health insurance through their employer may lose that benefit due to long-term unemployment. This could potentially force more people to apply for Medicaid.

Add new contracts – PREFERRED is continuously adding and improving payer contracts for our network providers. Review your existing contracts and look for additional contracts to attract new patients to your practice. Contact PREFERRED for assistance with adding payer contracts.

Share your Knowledge – if you have become an expert in telehealth, practice management, a specific technique, or a business or marketing strategy as a result of previous experience (or simply out of necessity), consider teaching other healthcare providers what you know. You can do this by offering one-on-one coaching sessions, creating webinars, or selling your courses via an online learning platform.

Offer products for sale in your clinic that compliment your practice. Your patients trust you to recommend the right supplies to help them recover at home. Why not offer those supplies for sale in your clinic? You’ll not only be providing the safe and correct product for their needs – you’ll also be offering convenience to your patients as they won’t have to travel elsewhere to find those items.

Many companies will shift to remote workforces after COVID-19. Employers are realizing that having a workforce of remote employees can be beneficial in reducing office space costs and overhead – not to mention mitigating risk when it comes to disasters and national health emergencies, as an advantage to having remote workers. Now may be the time to approach employers in your area to see what types of wellness services they may need for a remote workforce. Can you develop programs to provide those services?

2.) Communicate

Especially during a crisis, your patients want to hear from you! This isn’t the time to ignore your customers even if your clinic is currently closed. Send an email to your patients letting them know how to reach your clinic in case of an emergency. Post this information on your website, on your social media profiles and on your voicemail system.

Continue to keep your patients updated by sending out a scheduled, periodic newsletter. Include any updates about your clinic and tips on how to stay healthy. Create short videos with simple ways for patients to maintain their mobility while at home. Send out a press release to bring awareness to your practice.

If you have implemented telehealth in your practice, remind patients that this service is available. Provide instructions for how to access telehealth services for your clinic.

Be sure to communicate when you plan to reopen business as usual and start contacting patients who had to cancel appointments to reschedule.

Once business is back to normal, continue to communicate with your patients. This is a fundamental marketing tool to keep your clinic at top of mind with your patients and prospects by sending out regular emails and actively posting on social media platforms.

Referral sources including payers: Do not forget to continue to communicate with your referral sources including payers. It’s important to keep these valuable referral sources abreast of any changes in clinic hours as you begin to resume business as usual. If you’re a network provider with PREFERRED, be sure to keep us informed so we can convey this information to payers in our network on your behalf.

3.) Clean and disinfect

Patients will want reassurance that it is safe to return to your clinic – especially elderly patients and patients with compromised immune systems. Make sure your clinic is thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and ready for post-COVID-19 patients.

Develop a COVID-19 clinic infection protection protocol for the safety and wellbeing of your staff and patients.

Remove anything from the waiting rooms and reception desks that can be repeatedly touched including reading material, pens, or toys.

Provide hand sanitizer stations, soap at sinks and trash cans in convenient areas.

Place chairs in the waiting room 3-6 feet apart. Consider the use of barriers between patients and staff and exam areas.

Place signage in your clinic with infection protection guidelines.

Always follow the CDC recommendations for preparing your clinic for patients.

4.) Patient appointments

You will most likely see a surge in patient requests for appointments once individual states begin to loosen their restrictions on businesses, public activities and elective surgeries. You should start to prepare your clinic now for returning and new patients.

Work with your team to determine the number of patients you’ll be able to treat each day – this is especially important if you have had to lay-off or furlough employees. Keep in mind that it may take longer in between patients to thoroughly disinfect and sanitize. You may also want to reduce the number of patients in your clinic at any given time to avoid the possibility of infection.

Once you are ready to open for business as usual, be sure to communicate this to your patients and referral sources. Follow the suggestions in Tip # 2 for how to communicate your news.

 Pre-visit Instructions – Patients will want to know what to expect when they visit your clinic. Communicate your pre-visit instructions along with your appointment reminders. Some examples are:

“Please arrive at least 15 minutes before your appointment time.”

“If you are experiencing symptoms including fever, cough, or shortness of breath, please call us before you come to your appointment.”

“Please wait in your vehicle until we call you in for your appointment.”

“Your safety is our priority. Therefore, we are limiting the number of patients at a time we treat in the clinic to [insert number].”

“Because we value the safety of our patients and staff, we are not allowing visitors to accompany patients during treatment at this time.”

“For your safety, we have implemented curb-side check-ins.”

5.) Be adaptable

COVID-19 will arguably change healthcare. At the very least, there will be more technological tools, more use of artificial intelligence (AI), and even more ways to efficiently sanitize surfaces and equipment. How it will affect patients and providers alike remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: there will always be a need for healthcare professionals, and patients will seek out the services of providers who are adaptable, innovative, and who make it easy and convenient to do business with.

To be adaptable means to stay informed of new developments and trends in healthcare, business, and practice management and to embrace the evolving needs of your patients. (A great way to keep informed is to subscribe to our network provider updates and newsletters). This may mean that you may have to adjust your hours to accommodate your patients – perhaps extended evening or weekend appointments or provide some flexibility with cancellation policies.

Consider the use of existing technology tools to schedule appointments online and use text messages to remind patients of their appointments and implement virtual check-ins. Consider offering a contactless payment option so that patients don’t have to touch money, debit/credit cards or payment devices at your front desk.

You and your staff will need to be more mindful of cleaning and disinfecting to assure patients that their safety and wellbeing are important to you.

Wrapping it up

  • Consider new products or services to attract more business.
  • Keep the lines of communication open to your patients and referral sources.
  • Prepare your clinic to re-open by cleaning and disinfecting. Develop infection protection measures for the safety and wellbeing of your staff and patients.
  • Once you are ready to open for business as usual, be sure to communicate this to your patients and referral sources.
  • Communicate your pre-visit instructions with your appointment reminders.
  • It’s important to keep your referral sources including payers abreast of any changes in clinic hours as you resume business as usual.
  • Stay informed and be adaptable.

Even though the economic and human toll has been enormous, nothing lasts forever and this too, shall pass. Once this crisis is over, your healthcare business could be positioned to make a strong comeback if you’re prepared.

¹ Do not assume that payers will continue to reimburse providers for telehealth services once individual state stay-at-home restrictions are eased or lifted. It’s important to check with your payers first to determine if or when they have established a deadline to discontinue reimbursements to providers for these services.

About the Author:

Carol A. Wilcox is the staff writer and head of marketing communications at PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. You can reach Carol here.

This article is brought to you by PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. PREFERRED believes there is power in numbers. Their vision is to simplify clinic growth for Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy practices through the power of networks.