After several weeks under stay-at-home orders, medical and dental care providers across the country are starting the process of re-opening their offices for patients.
But the big question on everyone’s mind is, is it safe to do so?
On April 30th, the American Dental Hygienists Association released interim guidelines on the new policies and safety procedures they’re recommending to keep healthcare providers, staff and patients healthy and safe. It is recommended that you and your staff read through the ADHA guidelines in their entirety, and to check with local authorities for region-specific protocols you will be expected to follow.
One initial challenge facing providers will be effectively communicating the changes patients can expect, and to reassure them that it is indeed safe to come in for an in-practice visit.
Provide clear messaging on your safety & hygiene protocols
After you and your staff have reviewed the guidelines, discuss how you plan to implement these in your workplace. Once a strategy has been developed, create clear, consistent messaging to share with all existing patients. This messaging should be shared via email and text messaging, on your practice social media channels and on your practice website.
Here are the topics you’ll want to address:
- What is your timeline for re-opening your practice?
- How frequently will waiting rooms, exam rooms, and other office facilities be sanitized?
- What types of cleaning products will be used?
- Is there a reliable, sufficient supply of PPE available for all members of your staff?
- Do you have a clear plan in place for communicating with patients if a staff member or healthcare provider contracts Covid-19?
- What changes can patients expect in booking an appointment, and during their in-office visit?
- Which patient procedures will you be prioritizing and performing, and which are still being postponed?
- How are you handling the re-booking of appointments that were originally scheduled during the stay-at-home mandates?
Many patients are understandably nervous about returning for in-office visits, so be clear and consistent in your messaging.
Use telehealth whenever possible
To allow for social distancing in the waiting room, and thorough cleaning of exam rooms between patients, you will likely need to stagger appointments to limit the number of patients in your practice. While this is a responsible, measured approach to re-opening, it will likely impact your revenue – and your ability to catch-up on patient procedures that were canceled during the lockdown.
To reduce the impact of these changes, use telehealth whenever possible for virtual check-ins with your patients. Here are a few common scenarios in which telehealth will help you and your staff re-start patient care with fewer physical resources available:
- For pre-visit screening to determine whether or not a patient needs an in-office visit
- To address any concerns or questions patients may have if they are nervous about an in-office visit
- To follow up on treatment regimens and any health issues that were being addressed prior to the stay-at-home orders
Telehealth is an effective way to maintain communication with existing patients, to engage with new patients and to continue providing high-quality care.
Make appointment scheduling easy
Once you’ve communicated your scheduled open date to patients, expect that your front desk staff will be fielding a high volume of inquiries. While some patients may feel more comfortable speaking with a real person, you can limit the impact of this by adding appointment scheduling tools to your social media profiles and your website.
With NexHealth, you can automate service reminder messages to existing patients, so they can see your real-time availability and book an appointment, just by tapping a link in a text or email message. Including the booking widget on your social profiles and websites can also help you acquire new patients more easily, as their previous care providers may not be able to open on the same timeline.
Update health history and Covid-19 screening
To ensure the health of both your staff and your patients, it’s vital that you receive updated health information before in-office visits can resume. Between closing and re-opening your practice, it’s possible that some of your patients have contracted Covid-19, or have had other health issues that you should be aware of. Using online forms, you can send links to patients via email or text to request updated health information.
The ADHA has also created a Covid-19 patient screening questionnaire, to be completed before, during and 48-hours after an in-office appointment. Providing these forms to patients online reduces the amount of time they’ll need to be in your waiting room, limits their contact with other patients and staff, and will provide an extra level of security that everyone will appreciate.
Communicate patient safety protocols
What protocols should patients plan to adhere to when they’re visiting your practice? Will you be providing face masks, or are they expected to have their own? Can they bring a family member or friend with them to their appointment? How early should they arrive before their appointment? As a trusted healthcare provider, your patients will expect clear direction from you on what’s expected from them during their in-office visit.
Plan to share this information in email newsletters to your patients, with appointment reminder messages and across your web presence. Make it easy for them to access this information. This will help reduce any of their concerns, and may encourage new patients to book appointments once they are assured that your office is taking every precaution to keep them healthy.
In addition to sharing patient protocols, here are some other content ideas you can use to generate patient engagement and market your practice effectively:
- Ask your front desk staff to track frequently asked questions as your re-opening begins, and send follow-up messaging that addresses those items.
- Use multiple formats and platforms to share information. Some patients prefer watching a short video, others will more likely engage with an email or text, and some will visit your social profile to stay informed. This is especially important to do if you have hard-of-hearing or visually-impaired patients. Providing a video with clear audio and closed captioning, in addition to your written messaging, ensures that everyone can access it.
The bottom line
The past months have been stressful for everyone – both economically and mentally. By providing your patients and staff with the information, tools and assurance they need, you’ll be able to re-open in a safe, responsible manner and get back to doing what you’re trained for – providing excellent patient care.
If you run a medical or dental practice, and would like to provide telehealth to your patients during this pandemic, NexHealth is offering free telehealth for a limited time. Please contact us for details.