In communities across the country, people are wondering what ‘normal life’ will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a certainty that many things will change, including the way we work, travel, entertain, educate, and manage our health and safety.
The pandemic has caused most people to adjust to a constant work-from-home schedule, adapt to new technologies, and take extra precautions to safeguard the wellbeing of their family, friends, and community.
As towns and cities begin the process of opening up local businesses, private healthcare practices are preparing to reopen for in-person office visits, or have already expanded practice hours to allow for more patients.
As people become more comfortable visiting your office in person (rather than via telehealth services only), they will expect your office environment to look and operate differently to protect everyone’s health.
These once-familiar sights should be eliminated from your waiting room, to decrease the risk of illness and to allay the anxieties of your patients and staff:
- Crowded check-in and seating areas. As you open up your practice doors to treat more people, keep the number of patients in your waiting room to a minimum by limiting your patient volume at any one time. Clearly mark ample spacing between seated or standing areas. Do not allow visitors to enter your office unless they’re helping to facilitate care with a patient. If possible, ask patients to call your office once they arrive at your parking lot or building, to check-in digitally or via phone. Then, they can wait in their vehicle until you’re ready, and be sent directly to their designated exam room once they step into your office.
- Contagious people, and anyone not wearing a protective facemask. To minimize exposure to COVID-19, any patients displaying symptoms during screening should not be in the same common areas as other patients — and the screenings should be conducted in a separate area as well. If a patient does show symptoms, you may choose to send them directly to a testing site or hospital setting. (The same could be expected of any other contagious illnesses.) Also, in general, exposed faces shouldn’t be allowed in your practice office, so require your providers, staff, patients, and any visitors to wear protective facemasks until further notice.
- Sign-in and registration forms, clipboards, and pens. Before the pandemic, your patients might have been accustomed to arriving at your office early to fill out paperwork, presented on a clipboard with a communal pen (or even on an iPad that a dozen other patients touched earlier in the day). Those days are likely gone, as we know viruses, including this coronavirus, can live on different surfaces for varying lengths of time. The alternative to paper and shared pens is actually a plus: Patients will want the convenience and safety of checking in with your office from their personal device, whether that’s their laptop at home, or smartphone when they arrive at your office.
- Magazines or brochures. Now that we know the coronavirus can remain on cardboard and paper, it’s safer to remove any magazines, books, or marketing brochures from your waiting room tables or display racks.
- Coffee bar or water cooler. Courtesy coffee and tea drinks, or water from a water cooler, are another convenience that should be removed from your waiting room area. There are ways to sanitize these if required, but it’s better to have your patients bring their own water bottles for refreshment while in your office.
- Kids’ play area. It goes without saying that kids carry a multitude of germs with them and simply won’t practice the level of hygiene that an adult will. Toys in practice waiting rooms were already one of the most germ-infested items, even before the pandemic. Remove the play area and toys, and everyone can breathe a little easier. If your office isn’t a pediatric practice, it’s best to leave kids home, if possible. If you must bring children to your own appointments, parents or guardians of children should be encouraged to bring their own kid toys when visiting your office.
- Appointment follow-up cards. After an in-office visit, don’t bother with the hand-written appointment card. Now’s the time to begin sending your patient follow-up appointment confirmations via text, with reminders via email and/or text. Also, encourage your patients to book all of their appointments online, via your practice website.