From reducing office hours to canceling patient appointments and even furloughing staff, healthcare professionals have seen some huge business challenges over the past few weeks related to the spread of COVID-19. Today, businesses and healthcare providers are beginning to plan how to safely and effectively come back online after shutting down or cutting back operations, canceling or rescheduling non-emergency patient visits, and hunkering down at home this spring.
These post-COVID-19 business plans have two main things in common according to many of the clients we have spoken two over the past two weeks:
1) making up lost revenues quickly and efficiently, and
2) communicating effectively with patients what’s different — and what’s staying the same — moving forward.
What’s different for your team might be longer office hours, the addition of a virtual waiting room, or an increase in telehealth services. What’s the same is your commitment to delivering positive health outcomes and protecting the health and safety of both your team members and your patients. As providers re-energize relationships with current patients and engage with new ones, a renewed focus on patient communication will be an essential part of the post-COVID-19 business plan and its long-term success.
Restarting Patient Visits Quickly and Efficiently
Scheduling essential visits first – Identifying the most timely and important patient procedures to schedule first, communicating your business continuation plan to all patients, and then safely and effectively coming back up to pre-COVID-19 patient levels, is the goal. How quickly you accomplish it could have short and long-term effects on the health of your business.
Rescheduling Cancelled Appointments – You can identify appointments that were canceled and not yet rescheduled and reactivate them automatically using our system. With Vital Interactions’ automation toolkit, it’s simple to reactivate appointments by ICD/CPT code – making sure you get to the most important patients first and don’t miss anyone. In addition, you can target high-revenue generators in your first wave of rescheduled appointments to begin making up for lost revenues quickly.
We can help you catch anyone who hasn’t rescheduled a canceled appointment and to improve efficiency, we can also help you target patients with specific conditions or procedures that really need to be seen quickly.
Communicating with patients – Once you have a plan for restarting operations, it’s important to communicate that you’re ‘back in business’ to your patients. To get patient volumes back up to pre-COVID-19 levels, offices must communicate efficiently and effectively and give patients an easy way to reschedule appointments. In addition to an important ‘re-launch’ communication telling patients when you will open and providing a link to reschedule appointments online, practices should share important COVID-19 response planning details, including new hours and available services, as well as health and safety updates related to your practice.
As we move forward in this new normal, automated tools to help simplify and improve patient communications can help you reduce administrative costs and respond quickly to changing conditions. Offices that successfully transition to more virtual patient visits will also see an increase in the use of virtual appointment scheduling as patients adopt new technologies and tools to communicate with your team quickly and efficiently.
Identifying New Revenue Areas
One way businesses will look to recoup COVID-19 related losses this year is by focusing on new and innovative revenue generators. We’ve heard concerns from clients that elective procedures like LASIK may take time to regain similar levels of popularity in our current economic climate. For businesses that rely on services areas that see a continued downtown this year, focusing on new areas and especially appointments, procedures, and equipment that are fully covered by insurance providers, will be key.
One tool to help is our Automated Eligibility Benefits Check, which simplifies benefits checks for patients who qualify for services like annual wellness checks, free eyewear, and other procedures and products from their insurance provider. Automating this process will help your office generate new revenues and expand service for your patients without generating additional administrative burdens.
An Increased Focus on Health and Safety through Innovation
One thing is clear — it will not be right back to ‘business as usual’ for many of us. Businesses will need to rethink policies, procedures, staff training, and patient communications before fully restarting operations.
One simple but innovative approach to protecting patients and staff against the spread of COVID-19 is the creation of a Virtual Waiting Room. Whether your practice is made up of vulnerable patient populations or not, this is a simple way to practice social distancing while restarting operations.
By creating a Virtual Waiting Room, you give patients the ability to ‘check-in’ for appointments from your parking lot (or even from home if they live close by). Use your patient chat function to let patients ‘check-in’ remotely and then let them know when their appointment room is ready – so they wait safely in their cars or at home and don’t enter the office until you are ready for their appointment. Communicating how and why you are implementing a VWR will be key to its success.
In addition, patients and administrative staff can utilize our pre-appointment, patient forms, and payment tools to share important information remotely before they visit. Virtual post-appointment scheduling can also help protect the safety of your administrative staff by minimizing one-on-one contact during office visits. Virtual scheduling and payment tools that reduce one-on-one time between patients and staff and minimize patient overflows in your lobby will play an important role in post-COVID-19 operations.
Improving Efficiencies with Automation
Another way to increase revenues quickly is to reduce administrative overhead and minimize expenses by improving operational efficiencies. Many businesses will need to reduce expenses immediately to counteract the losses of the past few weeks.
Automating tasks like patient communications, appointment scheduling, and billing can free up time and resources for more revenue-generating tasks. In addition, automating tasks that can then be accomplished through outsourcing can reduce administrative overhead. Our team can help you identify processes and procedures that are simple and effective to streamline and automate, and that have the biggest impact on your bottom line.
Implementing Lessons Learned
Many of you have shared with us that you are already learning important lessons in how the industry must change in response to COVID-19. The ways your employees interact with patients and one another, how we provide care to patients, and the tools we use are evolving rapidly and many of these changes will be here to stay. We’ve heard these key themes over and over:
- Telemedicine is here to stay
- Non-medical staff can do much of their job remotely, reducing overhead costs and providing flexibility in workforce development, hiring, management, and more
- Remote pods or teams that work on specific tasks, from billing to scheduling, will help improve efficiency
- Technology will become even more important as patients get on board with new tools and health practices
- House calls and deliveries will continue to become more and more of a normal service that medical practices offer to patients. Think about if you will provide these types of services for specific appointment types or patient populations.
As you begin to plan for restarting your operations, we are here to help. Our team is highly trained and familiar with industry-leading telehealth solutions, automation and process improvements, patient communications, and best practices. We look forward to continuing to support your practice goals during this complex time. Although we don’t know what the end state will look like yet, we do know that our industry will be seeing dynamic change over the next few months and years.
Change can be scary. But, we are here to support your team members and patients during this essential transition. On the flip side, we can’t help but get excited by all of the innovative possibilities the short and long term has in store for our industry.
Ultimately, I believe we can look at tech leaders like Apple, Amazon, and others who have reimagined what the customer-company relationship looks like in our digital world, to capture a glimpse of what the future holds for medicine. Whatever that future holds we are excited to partner with you to help you get there, by automating workflows so that you can focus on what matters most, your patients.