While COVID vaccine distribution is underway — and lagging as of this writing — private healthcare practices are trying to close revenue gaps, satisfy renewed patient demand, and understand changes that will be in place for many months to come. The past year brought significant financial losses, endless operational changes, increased burnout, and a variety of new stressors for medical and dental practices.
While PatientPop practices have been able to see recovered patient volumes, there is plenty of “new” work that must be maintained. As we enter what we all hope are the final stages of the COVID pandemic, it’s time to focus on the aspects of your practice management unique to this time.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can strengthen the patient-provider relationship, improve employee morale, streamline your operations, and keep your patients engaged.
Frequent missteps during COVID that can cost a healthcare practice
As many practices still work to overcome COVID-19-related operational and financial struggles, no one can afford to miss out on an opportunity or make a preventable mistake. Here are four common missteps practices are making during the pandemic.
1. Not having a patient communication outreach strategy.
Pandemic or not, reaching out to and engaging with your patients on a regular basis is a core strategy for patient retention. The use of timely and consistent email campaigns can keep patients engaged in between visits, and can be very helpful for those searching for care-related information. During this time of COVID confusion, ranging from testing sites and vaccine availability to procedures allowed for your specialty, proactive outreach has never been more important or valuable.
Whether you’re addressing COVID concerns or other topics related to your specialty, if you’re not sure where to start, consider the following:
- Provide information that answers your patients’ most frequent questions
- Share updates on your services and introduce any new providers
- Confirm hours of operation, especially if you need to limit or delay services
- Offer timely or seasonal information patients most want to know about (think flu shots, allergy season, healthy resolutions for the new year).
Segmenting your communications can offer even greater potential to target your message and get appointments booked. With segmentation, you can reach just those patients who may be due for a physical or routine screening, or benefit from condition-specific information.
2. Inefficient (or non-existent) team meetings and/or updates.
The pandemic has added a litany of tasks to practice staff, and added work that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Stress and the potential for burnout is high enough. Failing to communicate effectively with your staff makes it worse, decreasing morale and leading to frustration.
On the other hand, good communication can improve staff satisfaction and help ensure your patients are receiving accurate, consistent, and timely information, regardless of which staff member they’re talking to.
Consider implementing daily team huddles to address pressing operational issues and any changes in policies or practices. Use email for time-sensitive information to keep off-shift staff informed throughout the week. Engaging your team regularly can also help identify problems that may have an impact on the patient experience, which can negatively impact your reputation over time. Regardless of how you choose to communicate internally, make sure your team knows what to expect and where to find updates and information.
Lastly, stay consistent even when things get overwhelming. Chances are, if practice leaders feel they’re too busy to communicate, your staff needs to hear from you more than ever.
3. Hanging on to “old” practice management habits.
In the midst of having additional tasks, is your staff doing usual work the “old” way? Spending hours on outbound calls to remind patients about upcoming appointments, inputting data from paper registration forms, tracking down paper faxes… If so, your practice is likely suffering serious inefficiencies you could phase out with automated practice management tools.
Online scheduling, automated appointment reminders, digital fax, electronic registration and intake processes can all streamline your front desk and make life far easier for your patients. (Quick note: These also meet patient demand for a convenient experience, strengthening your patient retention.)
Staff have more time to manage the responsibilities that come with COVID, such as health screening processes, disinfecting, or fielding questions and concerns that can’t be addressed digitally. Additionally, if your practice is offering COVID testing or vaccination, automated practice technology — especially online scheduling and appointment reminders — is a must.
These simple changes can improve patient and staff satisfaction, streamline operations, and reduce administrative overhead for practices recovering from COVID-19 losses.
4. Ignoring your patients’ current hunger for information.
Never before has our entire nation (literally) had a shared interest and hunger for the same health information as we’re seeing today. Imagine if every one of your patients had the same health concerns — wouldn’t it streamline how you communicate with your patients? While patients have varying health histories and conditions, they’re all united by the need for timely, relevant, accurate information about COVID.
Capitalize on this interest by establishing your practice as a community resource for information on the pandemic. Develop a dedicated section of your website that outlines your safety precautions and policies, and answers your patients’ most frequently asked (and Google’d) questions about how and where to get tested, COVID signs and symptoms, recommended protocol if you think you’re sick, and current treatments.
Overlapping that need are questions about vaccines: where to get a vaccine, who is eligible, what to expect at the vaccination site, potential side effects, how long immunity lasts… the list goes on.
Each of these topics can make for great blog posts, social media content, and email marketing campaigns. Use this content to update the services pages on your website to include any COVID-related services you may provide. If you don’t offer COVID-related services, take the opportunity to provide valuable information of greatest interest to patients in your geographic area. Finally, add pandemic information and links to your online profiles, especially your Google business profile.
All these strategies can help establish your brand with prospective patients, keep current patients informed and confident about their relationship with your practice, and further position you as the expert resource in the community.