People can’t wait to get back to their lives pre-COVID-19. Sadly though, life will not be what it used to be for a long time to come, if ever again.
The pandemic has touched every corner of our lives and continues to impact everything we do as professionals and private citizens.
Today, people in the US continue to get sick and die from the virus. But regardless, the country is eager to re-open; talks and plans are in full swing. And while you may or may not agree, it is time to prepare for the challenges ahead.
Regardless if you made the switch to telehealth or temporarily closed your doors, here are five critical policies and strategies to put in place before you re-open your practice.
Decide how to conduct screening for the virus in yourself, your staff, and your patients.
Think about how you will screen staff and patients before they come into the office. Will you request they fill out a questionnaire on your website, or place a checkmark next to a list of signs and symptoms?
And once they are at the office, how will you screen, what process will you use? Will you ask questions, take temperature, evaluate symptoms?
What will you do if you suspect exposure, what will your follow-up process be? How will further screening and reporting be handled? Will you test in-house or send people to get tested elsewhere?
Have a process in place to educate your patients. Provide necessary information about the virus and its signs and symptoms.
Update your website with information for patients to let them know what they can expect when they contact your office and come in for a visit.
- Do they need to wear protective equipment, such as masks and gloves?
- May they bring family members to the appointment?
- What can they expect if they have respiratory symptoms?
- How will paperwork be handled?
- Must forms be filled out in the office, or can they fill out forms online?
- How will payments be handled: at the time of service at the office, or will they need to pay online before the visit?
Have posters and signs in your office to request the use of hand sanitizers and the wearing of masks; post instructions on the proper ways to cough, sneeze, and how to wash hands.
Educate your staff about the virus in general and on the specific signs and symptoms. Discuss the need for and proper use of protective equipment. Require frequent and appropriate cleaning/disinfecting of all high-touch surfaces to minimize exposure. Require staff to use hand sanitizer and wash hands frequently.
Discuss how to maintain social distancing in the office. Instruct staff what steps to take when proper precautions are ignored by other staff or patients.
#3 Patient Flow
Decide how to handle patient flow in your office. How many patients will be allowed in the waiting room at any one time? How many people will be allowed in the treatment room?
If your waiting area is too small to enforce social distancing, consider adjusting your schedule so that only one patient will be in the office at any one time.
And if your office safely accommodates more than one patient at a time, ask yourself how patient flow can be adjusted to minimized exposure. If at all possible, you want to avoid repeated contact between patients at various points in your clinic, such as the waiting area, front desk check-in, or check-out.
#4 Infection Control
Always follow universal precautions; assume that everyone is infectious and act accordingly.
If you suspect an infection in a patient or staff member, take steps to isolate the person, and promptly clean all contact surfaces.
Beyond that, require that staff and patients use personal protective equipment whenever possible. At a minimum, request the use of masks and hand sanitizer.
Make hand sanitizer available at multiple points throughout the clinic; at minimum, install containers at entry and exit doors and outside of treatment rooms.
If possible, install heavy plastic shields at the front desk and other close contact stations, to provide extra protection for staff.
Have adequate supplies of hand sanitizers and masks on hand. Have a written schedule to make sure all high touch surfaces are properly cleaned and disinfected throughout the day, including treatment rooms after each use.
Instruct the people who clean your office at night to use extra caution cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces, so that the office remains safe.
#5 Contingency Plans
While it’s good to plan, it’s good to have a plan B.
Some examples of things to consider in your contingency planning may include…
- One of your patients refuses to wear protective gear even when asked to do so. Will he be allowed to stay or asked to leave?
- A patient displays coronavirus symptoms, yet maintains he feels fine and does not pose a danger. What will you do?
- Staff or patients disregard social distancing, even though they have been asked repeatedly to adhere to it. What are your next steps?
- A key member of your team is infected and can no longer work. Are your team members cross-trained to help out? Or is there someone else who can fill in for the staff member? What steps will you take to ensure other team members have not been infected/
- You’ve been exposed or have symptoms of the virus and must self-isolate. What will happen to your practice? Will you need to close the doors, or is there someone to step in for you?
- New patients come in without filling out forms online. They feel unsafe to fill them out in the waiting area yet demand to be seen. What will you do? What will be your policy?
The above list is but a small sample of issues that might come up after you re-open your practice.
But there is no one-size-fits-all. And depending on your unique practice, the issues you might run into could look very different for you.
But it’s not about predicting the future… it’s about thinking ahead!
What you don’t want is to be caught off guard. You want to be prepared as best as you can so you can respond accordingly.
And the best time to formulate your plan B is before you re-open your office. Take the time to think through plausible scenarios that may play out in your practice, and do the best you can to prepare.
Above all, stay safe!
Here are a few articles/resources to help you with the challenges ahead:
- OSHA – preventing exposure and infection
- Medscape – prepare to see patients again
- Medical Economics – CDC guidelines to minimize exposures
- Medical Economics – ways to protect yourself
- HuffPost – CDC guidance on re-opening
- TeleHealth – checklist for getting back to the office
- Physician Practice – on re-opening
Join the conversation by leaving a comment or a question below
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.”