Now’s the time to try these 6 ideas in your practice
This has already been a year of extraordinary upheaval and change—and we’re only halfway through 2020. Health care providers have been forced to adapt to evolving circumstances quickly and safely, to the best of their ability. Telemedicine is improving. Elective procedures and routine care are resuming.
And while we are still months away from having a COVID-19 vaccine, the global effort towards this goal has been incredible, according to Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “I have never seen science move so fast,” he told USA Today.
Another glimmer of good news? Many of the changes providers have had to make during this pandemic are improving health care and patient experience for the better. Here are 6 ways practices are surviving now and setting themselves up to thrive going forward.
1. Moving patient intake online.
For many practices, a positive change has been to move everything possible online. First, it’s easier and less time-consuming for patients to fill out intake paperwork at home online prior to their appointments rather than being handed a clipboard at the front desk the day of their visit. Second, it minimizes exposure and maximizes in-person doctor-patient interactions. There’s no downside.
2. Rethinking the waiting room.
Earlier this year, we discussed the importance of your waiting room for patients. In addition to considering comfort and privacy, now you also must consider safety. Will you redesign this area to accommodate fewer patients farther apart? Will you eliminate it entirely and ask patients to wait in their cars?
In the long term, practices may need to think about making larger infrastructure changes, said Gary L. Roth, D.O., Chief Medical Officer for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, on the CompHealth Blog. “Maybe the waiting rooms will start looking like cubes with the chairs divided by a partition.” Or, waiting areas could become larger spaces used by multiple providers to better maintain social distancing.
Patient education videos solve several COVID-19-related problems. They educate patients outside the office, fill time in “virtual waiting rooms,” and can be shared with companions who are no longer allowed to join patients at appointments.
3. Educating patients while they wait.
Rendia customer Carter Eye Center in Dallas is planning to manage patient flow with a “virtual waiting room,” said William Chavez, a Patient Counselor. When patients arrive in the parking lot, they will connect to the practice’s WiFi. They receive a text message when it’s their turn to be seen. In the meantime, patients are sent a welcome message and a link to a cataract video, for example, to watch while they wait.
4. Switching to patient education videos.
We already knew there were challenges associated with brochures and verbal patient education. Health literacy plays a role, remembering instructions is harder, and it’s not as easy to share the info with others—a bigger problem now that many COVID-19 policies limit visitors or do not allow companions to accompany patients to appointments. Sending patients educational videos that they can watch before or after their appointments addresses all these issues, and is another way to save time in the exam room.
Now’s the time to try new technologies like digital tools and texting patients. One practice now relies on text for 75 percent of patient communications and is scheduling more appointments, too.
5. Offering virtual consults.
In addition to sending patients videos they can watch on their own, now’s the time to make use of digital tools that can enhance telehealth visits and improve comprehension. Rendia’s interactive anatomy software, Exam Mode, allows doctors to help patients visualize complex anatomy. Exam Mode for iPad can be screen-shared easily during a telehealth appointment, and you can draw, navigate, and animate the anatomy, conditions, and treatments with your finger or stylus.
Carter Eye Center offers virtual LASIK and cataract consultations with the goal of addressing patients’ questions and concerns upfront so they will be comfortable moving forward and scheduling the procedure. Chavez said, “We’re presenting it as an educational opportunity to answer any questions, even down to pricing, so they’re essentially just coming in for the physical testing.”
6. Stepping up your patient communication.
Have you let your email messaging slide? Now’s the time to get back to a regular schedule. Want to try texting patients? Now’s the time. Surveys by the Advisory Board show that patients want to hear from their doctors more often during COVID-19. “Getting messages twice a week was deemed an appropriate amount by respondents.”
Chavez noted that his practice is currently doing 75 percent of their patient communication through text. “People are more comfortable asking questions via text than they would be over the phone,” he said, adding that they have scheduled more appointments via text than before they began offering that option.
In a Forbes article titled, “The Healthcare Innovation Bubble: Making The Most Of The COVID-19 Crisis,” author Sachin H. Jain writes, “The fundamental task of the person leading an organization on the heels of COVID-19 is not to invent the new idea or develop the new solution—but to use this crisis and the conditions that follow it to lead us to new, better ways of delivering care.”