Moving Forward: Managing the Repercussions of COVID-19

As the country reopens from the COVID-19 shutdown, healthcare organizations are gradually emerging from the most extensive mass disruption to healthcare delivery ever known. In March, the CDC recommended postponing all elective surgeries during a nationwide lockdown. Additionally, practitioners of all specialties saw volumes drop, leading to an unprecedented plunge in revenue that resulted in 1.4 million healthcare jobs lost in April alone.

COVID-19 caused shortages of PPE, which meant that some providers were not fully equipped to protect themselves from the virus and contracted the disease. Climbing infection rates and death tolls made daily headlines. The worst may not be over; recent reports warn Americans to brace themselves for a second wave.

Where do healthcare practices go from here? There are many factors to consider, ranging from ensuring the health and safety of patients and staff, to reviewing finances to keep the practice open, to getting ready to be hit by the virus again. Here are some practical suggestions to get you started moving in the right direction.

Ensuring the health and safety of patients and staff – adjusting workflows

Although patient volume should steadily grow in the coming weeks, many patients are still reluctant to visit their healthcare provider. Healthcare organizations are aware that some members of staff may have concerns about returning to work. One answer to assure health and safety is to adjust workflows mindful of three categories: utilizing technology, maintaining social distancing, and enacting cleaning and visit protocols.

Technology

Many providers are using telehealth to treat patients without seeing them in person, saving PPE and eliminating possible exposure in the office. Pre-visit COVID-screening phone calls are another useful tool to warn providers of potential cases. Some offices have chosen to ask patients suspected of having COVID remain in their cars during specimen retrieval, so the patient never enters the office. Phone or video visits can also be used by support staff for histories of present illness and health histories, so they don’t need to be done in-person, saving time (and limiting exposure) while the patient is in the office.

Social distancing

The use of ‘pod’ treatment areas is a hospital concept that can be applied to outpatient settings. Some offices are designating staff to COVID and non-COVID workstations. The idea is to keep staff and supplies completely separate, thereby lowering the risk of cross-contamination. Limiting staff and patient entrances and exits is another strategy to maintain social distancing (and screen for COVID before entering the building). Both patient and staff areas should have seating at least six feet apart and consider using partitions in places where it makes sense, such as the front desk.

Cleaning and visit protocols

Communicating to your patients about visit protocols, including enhanced cleaning and disinfection, may help patients feel more comfortable during their appointments. A bonus is that it is likely to help your staff feel more comfortable as well. Visit the CDC website for printable notices about stopping the spread of COVID-19 and educational materials to display in your office. Some offices have enacted ‘split shifts’ to accommodate new cleaning measures; for example, half a shift is dedicated to regular duties, while the second half is used for cleaning.

Review finances to prepare for future fluctuations

Unfortunately, many offices will begin operating with a diminished workforce due to lay-offs. As volume starts to increase, the need for staff will rise as well. Building financial forecasts will help organizations gauge their readiness to move toward building a ‘normal’ practice. Some financial considerations include:

  • Ensuring funding/capital is available for future needs (consider how to minimize the economic impact of a second wave or where you can go for money if needed)
  • Review the unforgivable part of the SBA 7(a) PPP loan, note reporting requirements and payment deadlines
  • Consider offering payment plans to patients that have become unemployed or uninsured; if you already provide payment plans, review payment options and limits to see if you think they are still appropriate
  • Review EOBs to look for trends indicating changes in payer mix and anticipate how changes may affect revenue moving forward
  • Consider outsourcing billing to protect your revenue flow; third-party organizations have layers of employees and systems resilient to staffing fluctuations

Also, think about revising your budget based on anticipated volume, historical collection ratios, and payback of deferments and loans. Moving forward will be much easier when you know where you stand.

Get ready for a second wave of COVID-19

Health officials warn that there will likely be a second wave of infections in late Fall of this year. Now is the time to prepare for possible PPE and drug disruptions, as well as renewed stay-at-home orders.

  • Avoid future PPE and drug shortages by analyzing consumption and supply since March
  • Build a stockpile of PPE that can carry you through the initial stages of a second wave
  • Find alternate suppliers of infection control PPE
  • Build a list of alternatives to commonly prescribed drugs at your practice
  • If you are not already using online visits, investigate platforms and consider adding them as a standard service; it will help minimize future patient care disruptions

Many lessons have already been learned since the outbreak of COVID-19, and there are undoubtedly more to come. Practices that continually assess their health and safety protocols, financial stability and preparedness for another emergency put themselves in the best position to weather upcoming challenges.

Using the right partner for practice management software and billing can help you continue operations during uncertain times. Contact us today for a no-obligation discussion at 412.424.2265 or email info@vrsmed.com.

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