Reopening elective surgeries after COVID19

July 28, 2020

As you map out your practice's reopening plan, it’s important that it continues to prioritize patient care.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many medical procedures were put on pause in order to prioritize the health and safety of both patients and medical staff. With resources focused on battling COVID-19, 72% of elective surgeries were canceled, resulting in a stark revenue loss for practices and inconvenient delays for patients. 

Understandably, many patients remain apprehensive to reschedule elective surgeries due to potential fear of infection, and data shows that it may take anywhere from three to four months for practices to “catch-up” on surgical procedures that were canceled due to COVID.

But as the country is working to reopen and bring back some sort of normalcy, healthcare providers, too, can prepare their offices and practices. To ensure physician and patient safety and quality care when welcoming patients back for elective surgeries and other procedures, consider these tips.

Reopening Post COVID-19: Establishing an Internal Governance Committee & Plan

Before bringing patients back in person, practices should assemble a cross-functional internal governance committee to guide COVID-19 policies. The committee’s objective is to keep the practice abreast of any local, state, or regional policies, and help you gradually and safely expand access to care.

From front office administrative employees to surgical staff, this committee should cover all aspects of patient care, such as pre- and post-op procedures, providing a dynamic perspective and informing real-time decisions on practice protocols. With guidance from the committee, practices can more appropriately plan for staff coverage, assess facility capacity, solidify equipment resourcing and establish workflows, ensuring that the practice honors local guidelines while also remaining cognizant and sensitive to the needs of each individual patient.

Once the internal governance committee is established, its first step is to develop a written COVID-19 outline or plan that clearly maps out new policies and guidelines, both for internal (staff) and external (patient) audiences. This outline can also serve as a guide to be used during staff training, incorporating guidance from your local jurisdiction on current COVID-19 infection rates in your community, local testing protocols and sanitization procedures and more. The plan needs to clearly communicate how your practice is testing for COVID-19 -- and re-testing asymptomatic patients or false negatives. You can also calculate PPE, medication and surgical equipment needs with the CDC PPE calculator to ensure your supply chain can support practice needs.

As you map out your practice's reopening plan, it’s important that it continues to prioritize patient care. Proactively address the following questions to alleviate patient fear and confusion.

  • Are you checking in patients outside?
  • Using multiple entrances to avoid high-foot traffic entrances?
  • Designating certain dates and times for infected vs. healthy patients?
  • Removing waiting room chairs and asking people to wait in their cars?
  • Requiring the use of cloth or N95 masks inside?
  • Requiring social distancing procedures in the waiting room?

Addressing these questions in advance will not only ease patient apprehension, following these guidelines can also result in a more accurate, streamlined, and—most importantly—a sanitary check-in process. Practices may also find it helpful to space out in-person visits, fill in the gaps with telehealth visits to increase cash flow, and allow time for proper sanitization.

Once the plan is finalized, practices should begin communicating these new policies with patients and rescheduling previously canceled procedures. But, how should you prioritize certain procedures? That depends on your practice needs. The internal governance committee should guide the strategic plan for delivery of care and help prioritize the sequence of procedures. For example, a practice may prioritize the highest payout procedures in order to revive cash flow. Additionally, practices can block certain times for procedures to take place, bucketing high-risk patients or infected patients to visit the practice during separate times to ensure sanitation protocols are honored. Overall, it's important for the governance committee to define and establish what's best for your individual practice. 

Communicating COVID-19 Procedures and Welcoming Patients Back In

As you begin to welcome patients back in, use digital tools such as online patient portals to inform patients about your new policies. Consider using secure messaging tools to answer any last-minute questions and to let patients know what they can expect during their visit, or when their appointment time has arrived.

Lastly, leverage your healthcare technology partners for support. Connect with their customer support teams and keep them abreast of your new procedures. Seek additional ways to improve the new policies or procedures to ensure patient safety and satisfaction during post-COVID visits. As we all are adjusting to new social norms, rely on the capabilities of technology to effectively educate, inform and communicate with staff and patients as elective procedures resume.

About the Author

David Cohen is chief product and technology officer at Greenway Health, a leading health information technology and services provider.