You’ve been doing your best to serve patients through telehealth and modified face-to-face care. However, many patients have been unable to have their elective procedures and preventive care screenings. Now, you need to get ready to see them. Planning and communication will be critical to do this effectively. Here are some steps to help.
- Prepare your facilities: You’ve likely been using only limited space in your facility(s) as you move most patients to telehealth. Now, you will need to have a plan to keep your offices and public spaces sanitized and support social distancing. Make sure you have the supplies on hand, that you have a schedule for sanitization, and can support that schedule with space between visits.
- Set up your schedule for reopening: As mentioned above, you may need additional time between appointments for more rigorous sanitizing. In addition, to accommodate a large number of additional patients you didn’t see during the shelter-in-place orders, you may need to extend hours or add weekend hours to get caught up. In addition, you may need to look at whether or not you have to have a specific day or times only for high-risk patients. Consider all these factors before you start scheduling and adjust the schedule as needed. If you aren’t using online scheduling, this would be the time to consider adding it before you start reaching out to patients.
- Determine patient priority: You should have been keeping a list of the patients who couldn’t be seen. These would be those patients needing things like annual exams, preventive care, elective procedures, and other in-person screenings, etc. You’ll need to determine the priority of these patients and start your rescheduling with those with the highest risk and need.
- Decide if you will continue some appointments using telehealth: It may make sense to continue to see some patients through telehealth. Decide exactly which appointments will be done via telehealth and ensure you have dialed in your end-to-end workflow to support that alongside your face-to-face visits. Be sure you continue to monitor changes to reimbursement and compliance so you can continue to get paid for those services.
- Let patients know you are reopening fully: A mass communication to patients explaining how you are reopening will be critical. A text or email newsletter with details is a good first start. You don’t want to overwhelm your staff with phone calls. So be sure to explain how you will reach out to patients to schedule appointments. Ideally, offer online scheduling to reduce the need for calls, and two-way text to answer questions. This will significantly reduce phone calls. Consider throttling messages to manage the number of appointments scheduled at any given time. This communication is also important for patients who have upcoming appointments that you won’t need to cancel. Let those patients know they will get a reminder for their scheduled appointment and that it will contain information about whether the appointment will remain face-to-face or move to telehealth. Finally, let patients know about any other changes to support social distancing. For example, using a virtual waiting room where patients text on arrival and receive a text to come in for their visit.
- Turn reminders back on with the right cadence and timing: As soon as you know you are reopening, you want to turn your reminders back on. That way, patients who are scheduled will get those reminders along with new appointments being scheduled. Research has shown the best cadence for reminders is to send them three weeks, three days, and about three hours ahead. The three-week reminder may not be possible for the first couple of weeks of appointments. They may only get your three day and three hour reminders. That’s ok, but make sure they get the communication that you are reopening and what to expect.
- Add COVID pre-screening: For some time, you will need to continue to pre-screen for COVID-19. There are a few different ways to do this. You can add a COVID-19 pre-screening form to digital intake forms. You can send a survey to all patients scheduled for the next day and ask pre-screening questions. And, finally you can add it to their three-hour reminder.
These general tips should help you get back up and running. If you want more suggestions on reopening and thriving in the months to come, download the complete guide on Reopneing Survival Strategies for Hosptials and Health Systems.