The return of in-person visits

May 15, 2020

Patients returning to the waiting room need reassurance-and rules. 

Everyone has been through a lot. Besides your fear for people, your work took a strange turn in the irony that your business- helping with health issues-had a downturn because of a health issue. But we also know issues can happen from avoiding-such as missing the careful check-up which finds the unexpected problem and early or a patient not getting the heart to heart talk about making a lifestyle change which maybe just can’t come through the same way on a screen. Let’s face it: the everyday in-person appointment can win the day-and, potentially, save the life. Still, patients are skittish about possibly losing their life from the coronavirus. Patients are scared. Here we gain insight in making them feel comfortable when they’re finally ready to come to your office.

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Down to the Visual

You want to make sure they’re wearing masks and, if not, that you have one at the ready. Papers filled out before patients arrive means less time at the office. “As we send them confirmation which identifies their level of comfort, we also ask them if they have a fever, any other symptoms, and also take them through the steps we expect them to do,” says Tom Sullivan, MD. 

But Sullivan says the visual of the office is also a key- they don’t see a crowd in the waiting room and there’s awareness of hand sanitizers and a wiping down of places that will be touched. Sullivan, who is a specialist in cardiology and internal medicine and chief strategy officer with health tech company DrFirst, says that as in a grocery store social distance still matters. People feel uneasy in those places if those guidelines aren’t met (if they don’t feel uneasy regardless) and they won’t feel any less so just because there are doctors around and it’s a medical facility. 

Robert Thoburn, MD reminds that when a patient is ready to make the step to come in, that even the steps from the waiting room to the examining room will need to be considered. “Think about taking the patient to the room,” says Thoburn, an adjunct associate professor in the department of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Florida. “Does the nurse make sure to open the door so the patient isn’t touching the door handle? You don’t want to overlook even something small like that.”

Sanjiv Lakhanpal, MD, Founder and CEO of the Center for Vein Restoration, hints that you shouldn’t be afraid to be even more conservative than guidelines, his office actually liking to keep patients at nine feet of distance. In their waiting room, they once had 10 to 12 patients, but are presently keeping it to two. Everyone else behind them waits in the car, he says. For a small waiting room, he recommends only having one patient sitting there at a time. 

Sullivan also reminds that handouts can make a difference. Patients will likely appreciate the education on guidelines they may not be aware of, along with your own suggestions, and it also just further shows that the practice is being run with knowledge and thoughtfulness.

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Listen Up

Now more than ever, it’s important to listen to your patient. They may need to get out their fears-and seeing a familiar doctor nod their head in understanding could be worth its weight in medicinal gold. “You need to remember they may be coming here to feel better but they worry about what’s brought everyone else to the office, too.” Thoburn says. “They need reassurance and understanding during this difficult time.”

Even expect them to possibly be emotional because of the reunion-if they’re a regular patient, they’re used to seeing you and this step may let them know in one more way that life might get a little closer to the way it was, though we don’t know the ultimate picture of where it will be. And, hey, it may even be a little emotional for you, too-these aren’t just patients, these are people you may have known for years, people who kept you in business, people who helped you take care of those in your life even as you were taking care of them.

This is your chance at the first visit to remind them that we’re all in this together-including their trusted doctor.