The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a unique series of challenges to private healthcare practices. From basic practice operations to marketing and strategy, practice owners are faced with having to manage it all in a rapidly changing environment, week after week.
Use these five strategies to keep your patient pipeline healthy as you move through the evolving stages of business survival, stabilization, and eventual growth. With the right planning, you can maintain your well-being today and be ready to adapt when the pandemic begins to abate.
Adjust these strategies as needed to stay ahead of your competition, stay open, and help your patients and community in need.
1. Maintain consistent and clear communication.
Keep communicating with your existing and potential patients during this time, to let them know how you’re seeing patients right now. With a commitment to the health and safety of your community, this may be through telehealth appointments or a mixture of telehealth services and in-person visits in some areas as stay-at-home orders are lifted. If you plan to offer in-person appointments soon or have begun to do so, tell patients about the specific steps you’re taking to keep them and their loved ones safe at your office.
2. Hone your plan for quick decision-making.
The pandemic presents scenarios that are fluid, and may require a one step forward, two steps back approach. Keep refining your rapid response plan during this time. The regulations and requirements in your state (or even your municipality) may change, and your financial status may change along with them. Be ready to adapt.
Know the specific chain of command your practice will use throughout the course of the pandemic, through re-opening for non-essential or non-emergency procedures, and beyond. Assign a “response team,” Ensure they and the rest of your staff communicate with each other, and have an official monitoring plan in place to evaluate business procedures on a daily basis.
Throughout this period of rapid decision-making, remember that the safety of your patients, providers, and staff is what’s most important.
Map out response procedures ahead of time so real-time responses can be avoided whenever possible. For example, what process will you follow, and how will you notify patients, if you partially or fully reopen your practice, and a provider tests positive for COVID-19? Will you be able to continue with daily operations, or need to postpone them again for a while? Have the answers to those questions ready, even if they never need to be asked.
3. Use healthcare technology designed for private practice.
Digital tools, including a telehealth platform, can help keep your practice busy with patient visits even if you aren’t physically in your office. Most likely, your practice will benefit from a combination of telehealth and in-person visits, as the national emergency lifts and well beyond. Continue to communicate with your staff and patients about the availability of telehealth at your practice, and when virtual care is a viable choice versus an in-person visit.
You can refer to the American Medical Association’s quick guide to telemedicine in practice for COVID-19-related updates on telehealth implementation, policy, coding, payment, and more. For practices that plan to start offering non-essential care again, the AMA has resources to guide practices through non-essential care during COVID-19.
4. Keep up with your practice marketing activities.
Do you currently offer telehealth appointments? Are you limiting office visits to emergency services only? What are your practice’s plans after the national emergency is lifted?
Through the duration of the crisis and beyond, make sure your marketing and advertising focus on the medical terms and keywords that reflect your current business operations, whether that includes a focus on telehealth or the types of medical procedures you’re conducting at this time.
Patients have a bit more time to research their healthcare options online right now, and you’ll want your practice to show up in their search inquiries. To optimize your web presence, you can create specialized content that answers their questions during and after the pandemic, and positions you as an expert for immediate and future care. The following are helpful for patients:
- Updated website. Your website should include current information about your practice operations during the pandemic and should be updated as conditions change. Include clear information and instructions about booking telehealth appointments (online scheduling is preferable) and/or in-person office visits, as well as hours.
- Blog posts. Posts on your website help expand your visibility, and are ideal for patients who want answers to medical questions during this often-confusing situation, and want to know you’re available to them for solutions.
- Guide books. Consider information focused on your specialty that your patients can use to help them manage a chronic condition or maintain their health while at home. Not only can this be helpful to your current patient base, it can also help you gather patient leads by attracting the attention of new patients seeking information online.
- Webinars. You can support your current and prospective patients by conducting a webinar, during which you offer medical insights and answer common questions on a webinar platform. Think of this as a ‘live clinic’ with patients online for the time being.
- Social media. Popular platforms offer a great way to distribute your blog posts, guide books, and webinars to a broader patient and prospect audience. You can also comment on timely medical news or COVID-19 developments, where appropriate, and share relevant information with your community. Social media also offers a good way to keep patients informed about your basic practice information including telehealth appointment availability, office hours, etc.
- Local media. Chances are your local media and patients are looking for expert sources to help your community make sense of the pandemic. Offer information and your perspective to local journalists, suited to your specialty and community, to help boost your visibility and credibility. You can also share practice news with your local media, including information on reduced hours, closures, re-openings, and telehealth services.
5. Plan for practice growth in the long term.
Seeing your practice through the COVID-19 pandemic will yield a long-term gain. Over the next few years, we will undoubtedly witness dramatic changes in healthcare technology, patient trends, patient preferences, and government regulations — all of which will have an effect on the way your practice operates and delivers care.
Practices that succeed will innovate, and move with the changes. The shift to telehealth services is a perfect example: Right now, the pandemic has created a demand for telehealth, unlike anything we’ve seen before. If you’re not currently set up for telehealth, now is the time to integrate it into your short- and long-term business plan.