At one large practice in Bergen County, New Jersey, the waiting room is empty — but its patients are still receiving care. As of mid-March, the practice is still operating, thanks to the group’s willingness to adapt its work flow, sometimes radically, to mitigate the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, patients now call the receptionist from their vehicles when they arrive, and wait there until receiving a call back telling them the clinician is ready. The practice has also started using telemedicine for the first time, to the extent it can be adopted in a hurry, and some clinicians are working from home on tasks such as medication refills.
Still, thenumbers of COVID-19 cases in the United States raises the possibility that some physician offices will decide or be forced to , as occurred in London last month.
Many practices across the country are having to adjust the way they operate, amid daily changes in the pandemic. What should you do to adapt to this new way of operating your practice?
1. Create a task force to manage change
The readiness of medical practices to address the myriad challenges posed by this crisis has so far been a mixed bag, said Owen Dahl, MBA, a Texas-based medical practice management consultant. “Leadership is going to have to assess what’s happening in the community, what’s happening with staff members who may or may not have the disease and may or may not have to self-quarantine,” Dahl said.
The physicians, the administrator, CEO, or managing partner should be involved in decision making as the global crisis unfolds, added Laurie Morgan, MBA, a California-based practice management consultant. And depending on the size of the practice, it may be useful to delegate specific components of this work to various department managers or other individuals in the group.
The team should assess:
- Recommendations and/or mandates from local, state, and federal governments
- Guidance from specialty and state medical societies
- How to triage patients over the phone, virtual visits, or referral to an alternate site of care
- Where to send patients for testing
- The practice’s inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Review of and possible revision of current infection control policies
- Possible collaborations within the community
- Reimbursement policies for suspected COVID-19 triage, testing, and follow-up treatment — in office or virtually
- Whether some employees’ work (eg, billing, coding) can be done remotely
- Options for paying personnel in the case of a temporary shutdown
- What’s covered and excluded by the group’s business interruption insurance
2. Consider postponing nonessential appointments
What’s more, it’s crucial for practices to form a strategy that does not involve bringing patients into the office, said Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, an infectious disease physician, epidemiologist, and chief medical officer of TeleMed2U. “One thing we really have to recognize in this pandemic is that we don’t want people going and sitting in our waiting room. We don’t want people coming, and not only exposing other patients, but also further exposing staff. Forward triaging is going to be essential in this type of pandemic.”