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Mitigating risk as the pandemic persists


Tactics to consider as you contemplate emerging risks and refine your COVID-19 response.

covid 19 illustration

As COVID-19 cases rise around the United States, the welcomed uptick in appointment volume that many physician practices experienced in August and September is in danger of evaporating. At this point, all we know for sure is that the coming months present a number of unknowns. Given the insecurity, it’s critical that organizations put a strategy in place to think through probable risks and how best to address them.

The pandemic took many practices by surprise, disrupting day-to-day operations as well as long-term strategic goals. Now, practices have the opportunity to learn from this experience and limit the chaos going forward by dedicating time to risk assessment and mitigation. Not only can a proactive mindset reduce the impact of the unexpected, but it can also enable the continuation of safe, consistent patient care and practice operations.

Here are a few tactics to consider as you contemplate emerging risks and refine your COVID-19 response. 

Create a crisis response team

This is a designated group that takes ownership of your practice’s crisis management effort. If you haven’t already established this type of team, now is the time.

Comprised of clinical, administrative, and operational leaders, the group should meet to discuss emerging risks and potential ramifications, assigning ownership for any mitigation strategies. This ensures a well-considered response to the dynamics of COVID-19 and helps the rest of the practice know who to contact if and when unexpected issues arise.

It’s highly recommended that the group engage in a holistic review of potential risks and response procedures to ensure the practice has the right infrastructure in place to avoid threats and pivot easily when a crisis evolves. For example, given the increase in cybersecurity attacks during the pandemic, a practice should consider shifting to cloud-based technology that affords greater protection against intrusion.

These solutions allow practices to manage clinical and business processes from anywhere, easily enabling remote work that may be necessary during the crisis.

Revisit telehealth options

After the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) relaxed its telehealth rules at the start of the pandemic, many physician practices implemented a virtual care program using common communication platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet. Unfortunately, privacy and security issues emerged quickly, causing frustration for both patients and providers.

Now, there are more sophisticated telehealth options available that can be directly accessed from electronic health records (EHRs). These are designed specifically for telehealth, prioritizing patient privacy and accessibility. Since these solutions are tied into the EHR, which already has sophisticated security protocols in place, they are safer than traditional communication platforms. These solutions are fully HIPAA compliant, so an organization doesn’t have to worry about violating privacy and security rules, even after CMS reinstates its stricter telemedicine regulations.

By moving to a specially designed telehealth solution, a practice can be more confident in its ability to offer secure and patient-friendly virtual care, which is especially important should the country return to stricter orders.

Focus on protecting revenue

Since it’s difficult to predict whether patient volumes will return to normal or continue to fluctuate, practices must ensure they receive full reimbursement for the visits that do occur—whether those are offered via telehealth or in person. As such, it’s wise to prioritize revenue integrity efforts, such as ensuring full and appropriate documentation and coding for services rendered.

While conducting audits can be helpful, a more proactive approach is even better. By leveraging technology that streamlines documentation and coding while fostering specificity, you can be confident your claims are accurate and clean, leading to optimal reimbursement.

Diversify payment options

The pandemic has given patient payments a one-two punch. First, the virus has increased the need for contactless payment to reduce the risk for staff and patients. Second, as more people lose their jobs—and their employer-sponsored health plans—they are having to pay more for care, pushing the need for financing vehicles that extend payment terms.

Practices should review their current payment strategies and determine whether they address these two dynamics. For example, when your patients can make payments or sign up for payment plans directly through their patient portal, it allows for greater payment flexibility and easy sign up while minimizing physical contact between patient and provider.

Keep patients informed

As things continue to evolve, it’s important to communicate regularly with patients, letting them know how your practice is responding to new developments and working to keep them safe while providing the care they need.

Well-timed texts, appointment reminders and secure texts or emails are critical to reassuring patients and building confidence in your organization. It’s recommended the emergency response team develop a communications plan to ensure patients receive timely insights or announcements, should new dynamics emerge. When sharing information, it’s ideal to use patients’ preferred communication methods and check that content is timely, relevant and easy to understand. Using a patient portal is especially effective because it supports secure, bidirectional communication.

A little effort can go a long way

No one knows for certain what the future will bring. However, those organizations that have embraced risk management and put a plan in place to weather the unexpected will be in a better position to navigate whatever comes next.

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