The New Normal for Physicians: Adapting your practice for success

June 2, 2020

5 ways to manage the far-reaching and long-term effects of the pandemic on practices.

When the pandemic started, few could have predicted the breadth of its impact on the healthcare system. We still don’t have all the answers, but it’s become clear in recent weeks that the effects are far-reaching and long-term. Physician practices have been hit especially hard as they work to continue delivering high-quality care to their patients. While healthcare may never return to what it was before, we can make the most of this new reality and find ways to be successful as the system adapts to the post-pandemic world.

Navigating unchartered territory is difficult, and practices are dealing with different challenges. However, there are a few tips that practices can apply in varying degrees to adapt to the new normal while staying safe:

1. Leverage remote monitoring technology – Telehealth gained momentum during the pandemic as a way to care for patients from afar. As states begin to reopen, telehealth and remote monitoring technology continue to be viable options for decreasing potential exposure for patients, physicians, and practice staff. Rather than having all patients swarm back into the office, you can decide on an individual basis which patients you can schedule visits with remotely. Not only will this keep the risk of exposure low as the pandemic continues, but it may also help reduce patient anxiety by limiting the crowd in the waiting room.

2. Adapt physical locations – For multi-office practices, consider splitting them into well and sick offices to maintain routine appointments, and ensure every patient is pre-screened in advance of the visit. For single office practices, you can keep well and sick visits separated by time of day, scheduling well visits in the morning with a cleaning break, then sick visits in the afternoon followed by deep cleaning. Also consider curbside visits for patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, meeting them at their car window wearing full PPE. 

3. Adopt new collaboration strategies – With some staff working remotely, it can be challenging to stay connected with your colleagues. Technology has become more important in a socially distant world and using HIPAA-compliant messaging technology can help ensure staff members are informed and engaged, all while staying safe. For example, front desk staff who are working remotely can text on-site providers to unlock doors for arriving patients, and providers can text daily reminders to staff around safety policies and other clinical concerns.

4. Connect with your network through user groups – Beyond your immediate colleagues, it’s important to leverage your network connections during this time as a source of moral support, as well as a learning opportunity. As guidelines constantly change, hearing the latest updates from others and how they are adapting to the new rules can help provide valuable insight that physicians can apply to their own practice. 

5. Engage patients proactively – Patients need your support more than ever before. Aside from scheduled appointments, check in on patients with chronic conditions or those with a history of mental health issues. Check in on patients whose medications have not yet been refilled or who have seasonal allergies to see how they’re doing. Also consider reaching out to patients who have conditions that place them at higher risk of more severe disease. Proactively engaging patients is a good practice, pandemic or not, but during this time is even more appreciated. Patients may also appreciate being provided with printable information or links to CDC, state, or local health department patient education material.

Our biggest challenge right now is identifying and successfully implementing rapid changes to longstanding practices. This isn’t easy, and it isn’t intuitive. However, the ability to adapt based on emerging recommendations is the only way to navigate this public health crisis. Taking a new and innovative approach to how you conduct your operations will benefit not only your staff and patients, but the longevity of your business as well. 

Trisha Flanagan RN, MSN, CPPS, is the Director of Patient Safety at athenahealth