You opened your schedule months ago. Patient activity levels are strong and practice-generated cash is flowing. Still, you know your clinical mix isn’t what it should be and you are aware that some once-loyal patients are deferring care or, even worse, may be going elsewhere. What can you do?
We all know that a portion of our patient population has yet to become “comfortable” with returning to our traditional clinical environments. This has real cost, both financial and intrinsic. Below are some practical ideas for ensuring that your patients get the care they need and you retain your practice base through and beyond the “COVID-19 Normal” period.
Understand why your patient hesitates to schedule with you. At its most fundamental level, it’s because they don’t believe the benefit of visiting the office justifies the health risk of doing so. Think aggressively and broadly about how you can “de-risk” the visit for them. Yes, you’ve already taken steps in important areas such as waiting and staging, traffic flow, sign in, cleaning, hygiene, access, and clinical presentation. Dig deeper. Put yourself in the place of the patient and view your office through the patient lens. You will see opportunity to get better. Some of the changes needed will have tangible cost. So does lost revenue!
Extend the Invitation!
Don’t wait. Aggressively and consistently reach out to your patient population. You have the contact information. Call, email, and text. Let patients know that you are thinking about them and care about their well being. Provide electronic links to drive them to your freshly designed and oft updated website. There, tell the story of how you mitigated the risks that fuel their fears and concern. Include video, virtual tours, and testimonials, and don’t forget the “call to action.” Once you have connected, book the appointment! Think this doesn’t apply to you because you are busy? Please reconsider. Depending on your practice specialty, volumes could be high due to pent up demand. A patient deferred due to access may very well be a patient household that doesn’t return. Manage your data, know who is missing, and establish a contact rhythm that survives the COVID-19 period.
Make it a Great Experience!
Now is the time to implement the changes you’ve discussed, debated, and dreamed of. The future is now. You are no longer being compared to others in the healthcare industry alone. The bar is being set by those who deliver groceries to a patient’s door, drop off the new car at the driveway, and pick the dry cleaning up from the porch. Other industries have long focused on convenience, access, and easy two-way communication. Face it, we are behind the times and the continued conditioning of consumer behavior is forcing us to catch up quickly. Trade waiting chairs for private and comfortable waiting areas, ditch old pens and clipboards for iPads, trade magazines and play areas for flat-screens… And don’t forget to quickly and deliberately survey on both a pre- and post-visit basis. Patients will tell you what other consumer providers are doing to delight them!
Master Alternative Means of Delivery!
As the saying goes, “you can’t put the cork back in the champagne bottle once it pops.” So it goes with consumer expectations. Yes, our patients are consumers who have many choices. Telemedicine is here to stay. We must get brilliant at it. That means friendly and dependable technology platforms and the need to use them effectively. Reconsider hours of delivery and protocols to include early mornings, evening, and weekend hours. Look outside of healthcare delivery for ideas. Remember, the bar for patient expectation is now set by other service industries who have been focusing on alternative means of delivery for many years. Copy others.
If this seems a bit overwhelming to you, you’re not alone. We have been conditioned to think daily about clinical delivery, patient satisfaction, and business results. Today’s environment is forcing us to get up each day thinking about how we may innovate, ideate, and execute. For some, that’s outside the “comfort zone.” For others, there simply isn’t time. If you need a thought partner in this exercise, assistance is readily available. Be purposeful in expanding your view of what is possible and purposeful in seeking out others who can help you along the way.
The importance of the work done by the physician and staff in a practice environment remains critically important. In fact, it’s more important today than ever. How we execute and deliver, however, will require continued evolution and change. You reacted valiantly out of necessity to the challenges faced in early 2020 with distinct modifications in practice construct and behavior. Now, it is time to chart your course into the future in a purposeful and intentional way. Done thoughtfully, and communicated effectively, your patients will appreciate this and readily follow you.
Jerry L. Kelsheimer is President of Medic Management Group / MMG Healthcare Solutions. His background includes extensive work in areas including leadership development, strategic planning, and process improvement. MMG is a national provider of consulting services and back office administrative support to independent and system owned physician practice groups.