Strategies to reduce the long-term financial impact of COVID-19 on your practice

If you are in a similar place to many of the clients I have spoken with over the past few days, your patient visits are down dramatically this month. At Vital Interaction, we’ve seen an even greater impact stemming from COVID-19 on specialists in fields like Ophthalmology and Optometry, resulting in an overwhelming number of canceled appointments as patients hunker down and practice social distancing, putting off doctor’s visits until they can reschedule them in the future.

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, many healthcare providers are going to experience a major reduction in billings this month and even longer-term financial impacts this year. The entire Vital Interaction team is ‘all in’ on ensuring our healthcare providers come back even stronger than ever. As the massive national response to COVID-19 only highlights, the health of our entire country depends on it.

To gather ideas on how to weather the financial storm in the short term, until providers can reschedule canceled appointments and get patients back in the office on a consistent basis, I spoke with Mark Micheletti, the CEO of Berkeley Eye Center of Houston. He shared with me some of the strategies his team has implemented to reverse this month’s drop in patient visits. They created an 8-week plan that includes these key elements: 

Cut back current operations by identifying the combination of tax credits, unemployment benefits, and other services you can provide employees in the short term, to give them time off until you are back at full speed. For help, consult with your human resources, accounting, and legal teams; review FMLA entitlements; and keep abreast of the latest economic relief package Congress is working on to support businesses and employees.  

Review your commercial real estate lease, especially whether it contains a Force Majeure Clause and reach out to your landlord to request at least 2 months of rent abatement.

Identify and contact all of your major vendors to ask for extended payment terms. 

Implement telehealth tools immediately to increase options for available patient care. CMS has updated its telehealth policies to encourage use at this time and you can receive around $80 for each consultation.

Access existing lines of capital if you have them, utilize current banking relationships to apply for new ones, and prepare to ingest equity if needed. 

Start the U.S. Small Business Administration low-interest federal disaster loan application to access working capital. Most states have already declared a disaster, freeing up emergency relief loans for businesses, but the application process takes up to five weeks. Additional information for small businesses on tax deferrals, as well as private loans and grants can be found here.

Start planning today for an influx in patient visits. Set expectations for your staff now to fill the schedule with essential care and high-value appointments, identify the patients who are looking to get back in touch quickly, and plan your outreach and automated appointment rescheduling strategy now.   

Add more flexibility into your schedule to get as many patients back into the office as quickly as possible. Consider extending night and weekend hours and plan for an increase in staff hours as needed to support this important re-engagement with your patients as soon as possible.

In addition to these short-term strategies, now is the time to start thinking about how COVID-19 is going to affect the healthcare industry as a whole, long after the storm has passed. For example, consider if the current state lasts longer than two months, with a majority of employees working from home and families practicing social distancing well into the future. Patients who need ongoing medical services, for critical health needs, surgeries and other procedures they put off during the outbreak, new non-emergency care, and other reasons — will need to engage with your team. What is the best way to get back to pre-coronavirus care conditions in that environment? What if the main outbreak ends but COVID-19 clusters continue to pop up, forcing additional shut downs over the next few years? 

At Vital Interaction, we see technology as a solution when envisioning the future of healthcare, with providers working from home or in smaller, dispersed teams. A tool allowing you to reach directly into a patient’s home to connect one-on-one through video conferencing and patient monitoring tools. We believe that medical practices need to begin envisioning a future where the main office is staffed by critical medical and health support staff only, with most administrative staff and functions happening off-site. 

Here are some of the ways we see health delivery changing very soon in response to COVID-19: 

  • Administrative teams working from home using HIPAA-compliant telehealth tools that integrate seamlessly with digital health records, using chat, video conferencing, document sharing, and patient-friendly data monitoring and tracking tools. Google and Microsoft already offer collaboration tools designed specifically for the industry and we provide decentralized, automated scheduling tools.
  • Giving patients new ways to connect with healthcare providers outside of the office, from texting to digital chat or video-based appointments, and advertising alternate contact numbers staffed and available at more flexible hours. Increasing patient engagement outside of the office will be key.
  • Implementing digital waiting rooms where patients text their arrival and wait in a safe place (like a car, park, or cafe nearby) or check-in digitally from home or work and get a 30-minute warning when you are ready for them, so they can arrive right on time. 

We’re living in a dynamic time for the healthcare industry and an important one. We look forward to sharing the journey with you and our team members will be there to support you every step of the way. From implementing a short-term post-coronavirus strategy that streamlines enhanced patient communications and quick-turn rescheduling, to implementing new tools like telehealth services, our expert team is available to share best practices, support implementation, and help you measure success. As we re-envision what it means to provide patient-centered care in our new reality together, we are dedicated to designing new tools that reduce administrative burdens and free you up for what you do best — provide high-quality patient-centric care.

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