The global outbreak of COVID-19 has everyone’s attention. While the health and safety of vast populations is the primary concern of governments and the private sector, the ramifications and economic setback of the pandemic is yet to be fully understood. But what we do know is that businesses have had to take swift and drastic steps to contain the spread of the virus. Widely covered in the news, retail shops, restaurants and many other businesses – big and small – have had to change the way they do business or face even more dire consequences if infection rates aren’t curbed and controlled.
Healthcare is under enormous pressure to deliver care even more quickly and efficiently than before. But medical practices are businesses too and can’t escape the realities that every other business is facing. We’ve put together a list of factors to consider specifically for medical practice owners to prepare for and mitigate some of the risks associated with COVID-19.
1. Loss of workforce – practice managers & billing administrators
Self-isolation and social distancing will no doubt have an affect on your practice. You can expect a high rate of staff absenteeism – whether they’re ill or trying to minimise their risk of exposure. There are also other factors that will impact your staff’s ability to be at work – school closures, childcare, changes in transportation options and more are all reasons why staff will have no choice but to work from home.
Cloud-based technology will become even more important as you try to run your business as efficiently as possible with a shortage of staff at the practice itself. Cloud-based technology means your billing staff can access the information they need to continue to work from home. Practice managers can manage the practice remotely, again because they have access to the necessary information from any location.
2. Sudden influx of patients
Medical professionals, and especially GPs, have reported a sudden increase in the number of patients to their practice. Most practices are typically busy but not many practices are prepared for unusually high patient volumes.
This will undoubtedly put a lot of strain on your practice as admin staff are overwhelmed with phone calls, checking patients in and managing the waiting room. Encourage your patients to book their appointments online to alleviate some of the pressure on your staff. Not only will this reduce the admin burden, but you will also have a view of what your day looks like ahead of time.
Taking it one step further, having a virtual waiting room gives you a real-time indication of how many patients are waiting to be seen can help you manage consultation time more effectively. And if necessary, admin staff can make patients aware of longer than usual waiting times when booking patients in and manage their expectations accordingly.
3. Possible self-infection
It’s a reality. You are human, too. And even though you adhere to very strict hygiene measures, it’s still possible to get sick when seeing patients with highly contagious diseases. While you obviously don’t want to get sick, the reality in doctor-operated practices is that illness equates to a loss of income.
Have a contingency plan in place if you do fall ill. Your practice doesn’t need to close its doors, but you do need to have a trusted colleague who can step in as a locum doctor in your absence. While it’s not easy for another doctor to step into your role, having a good electronic medical record (EMR) in place makes it much easier. It means you can ensure that your locum has access to your patient’s medical records, previous test results and medications to continue to see patients while you recover.
4. Location-based loss
The news has started to report on areas that have been identified as contagious hotspots. The result is that people are avoiding those areas entirely. If your practice is located in one of those areas, it could have a considerable impact on your business financially.
As a practice owner, you need to have a health protocol and plan in place to ensure your patients, staff and facilities are as safe and as sterile as possible. This will probably mean enforcing policies and monitoring procedures around handwashing, cleaning, sterilisation, physical contact and more. In addition, you will also need to have a policy in place for monitoring and quarantining employees that are sick in accordance with the labour law.
Lastly, the best was to avoid or minimise any reputational damage as a result of being in a ‘contagious’ area is to communicate with your staff and particularly your patients. Put their minds at ease by communicating the measures you’ve put in place to ensure their safety, offer them useful information about how to protect themselves and how and when they can contact you. You can do this proactively by way of Bulk SMSes directly to your patients’ mobile devices.
5. Stagnant cash flow
Keep a close eye on your cash flow. Considering the changes in businesses, you can expect patients to be under financial pressure. The reality of having to take ‘unpaid leave’ and/or businesses taking a knock due to government-imposed closures means that getting paid by these cash strapped consumers won’t be easy.
But as a business owner yourself, with fixed overheads and running expenses, you simply can’t extend credit to everyone that has been affected by the outbreak.
It’s as important as ever that your staff perform patient benefit checks ahead of a patient’s appointment to know what will be covered by their medical aid. If the patient has no funds, your staff can have open communication with the patient to inform them and if necessary, discuss payment plans in line with your payment policy. It’s equally as important to invoice your patients before they leave your practice by sending claims in real-time to the insurer. There will, of course, be some patients who will still need more time to settle their invoice, but your staff will have done as much as possible to collect payment from patients in a difficult financial climate.
We here at Healthbridge appreciate that medical professionals are the ones on the front lines in this situation. Thank you for the role you will be playing in keeping our population healthy in these challenging times. We will continue to communicate to you as we understand more about the impact and are committed to bringing solutions that will support you through this challenging time. For more about how to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on your practice, click here.
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