We're definitely entering uncertain times and as a practice owner, I certainly understand some of the fears and worries you may be having.
About 2 weeks ago, when our son announced that he and the rest of Microsoft's Seattle workforce were instructed to work from home for the rest of the month, Mike and I started discussing what we would do if that happened in our area.
Well, as of Thursday, Virginia became one of the newest states to enter a state of emergency so it looks like the virus precautions have made it to our area. After the news conference on Wednesday evening, it looked like all of northern Virginia was ready to hunker down and the fear was palpable.
In preparation for the tough times, I've spent the last several weeks helping clients across the US make a plan to move forward in spite of the current fear surrounding us. And today, I want to share those tips with you.
Here are some things you can do to take action during these uncertain times:
- Be a Voice of Reason -
It's easy to fall prey to all the news reports and the general fear (and for some - the hysteria) that surrounds us. But don't let that be your stopping point. Your team needs you to remain calm and to keep everyone one track. You need to be able to think clearly even when everyone else might be in full panic mode.
They'll need you to be there for them and be willing to listen to their fears; without participating in the panic.
Like a ship's captain, it's your responsibility to keep the crew in top shape and keep the ship on its course. Even in stormy seas, it's the captain that keeps the crew calm as he steers the ship in 10 foot waves.
- Keep Your Patients Informed -
In the past week, I've received about 10 different emails about what companies around me have been doing to keep their clients safe. We should definitely be doing the same thing! So, create a letter to your past and current patient list and mail it to them. You should also post it to social media. The letter should contain important information about what your practice is doing to keep your patient safe. Things like:
Taking extra steps to clean the clinic and its equipment daily
How you have specialized cleaning crews that come in 1-2 times per week
That your policy is no sick people in the clinic - so patients and staff are to immediately report illness to the clinic
Also, include positive information - remind them you're open and that you'll keep them appraised of things as you go, let them know what other offers you have right now - maybe an online class and/or private treatment rooms for those that are high risks.
- Maintain a Healing Environment -
I can't say this enough, we got into our profession to help others. Studies show that chronic stress can weaken someone's immune system and I would venture to guess, there's a lot of people suffering from chronic stress at this point - or they will be real soon. We also know that inflammation in a joint or muscle can weaken the immune response; so patients suffering with a joint or muscle issue can be more susceptible to illness.
While we can't prevent infection, we most certainly do play a role in reducing stress and inflammation which in turn can reduce the stress on the immune system.
Here's how you can promote a healing environment in the clinic:
Avoid negative talk in the clinic - Have policy that your employees should avoid all talk of the virus and bad times. The clinic environment should be a healing environment and by keeping things light and focusing on positive talk, positive action, positive thoughts, our patients will have a respite from what's going on in the outside world. This helps alleviate stress. So no one should be discussing the virus - not staff talking with each other and definitely not with patients. Find other more positive things to talk about with them
Post positive content on clinic TVs - If you have television in the clinic, find something fun or positive they can watch to give them a respite from the news and all of its confusion. Years and years ago, I worked in rehab that was attached to a nursing home. At times the place could get downright depressing but my boss always made sure the PT/OT rooms were hopping. He would play Riverdance often and joke with the patients that by the time they were done they would be kicking that high! It was great!
Help those who can come in, to keep their appointments - Any patient who isn't at high risk, should be encouraged to come in for care. The goal is to keep them on track and help reduce pain and inflammation. This can help reduce the drain on the immune system because we're reducing systemic inflammation.
Keep ALL illness out - Look, people are going to get sick and that you cannot change; but you can educate your staff and patients on what to do if they get sick. First, you need them to let you know the minute they begin to feel sick. Not just Coronavirus symptoms, I mean they have to let you know if they feel sick at all. We don't want them waiting until the day before their appointment and most certainly NOT the day of. This will give us enough time to guide them on their choices and help someone else who can come in. It will also help us maintain a safe - healing environment for all.
Be excessive and very outward in your cleaning - Patients are probably so used to seeing you clean your clinic and equipment, that they're almost immune to it. So, you need to be very obvious about it. Clean everything several times a day, clean tables in front of patients, clean the waiting area, and bathrooms.
Offer private treatment rooms for frightened or higher risk patients - if you have the ability to clean the rooms well, and want to continue to help these patients, offer them the chance to come in and be seen in private rooms.
Space treatment tables further apart - If your clinic has the space, take some time to shift your tables around so patients are further apart. This limits potential exposure and it helps your patients see that you care.
Create a hand-washing video - This is a fun venture for our patients and one that the staff can take part in. It's fun but it will also help patients. Also, you can play a game with patients...where's the part of your hand that's least likely to be cleaned regularly??? Guess what, it's not your palm or finger tips....
- Promote, Promote, Promote -
It a common response, in times of fear, to want to retract and bury ourselves deep in a hole out of fear. The reverse should be true. We need to put as much content out there, do as much marketing, and reach as many past patients as possible during the tough time.
Here are a few things you can do to let everyone know you're there and able to help:
Have the team create positive and informative promotions. Have each member of the team come up with a list of topics that you can cover. Then have them each take a topic and write a blog. Then they can take that blog and turn it into a short video for Social Media, and then a newsletter clip, and so on. Have them use their empty spots to work on this.
Don't just market on Social Media (it's a great tool but shouldn't be your only option) because you're going to need to build trust along with increasing someone's interest. Getting past patients to return and getting them to refer others is a great option because there's already a level of trust that you need when people are afraid to leave their homes. So, have the team send letters and call your past patients. Have them ask how the patient is doing since the last time they were there. If they're having pain or problems, the clinician can work to get them on the schedule. If they're doing great, then they can ask them for a referral. It's important we start with this population as there's a basic level of trust.
Have them reach out the drop offs - Any patient who dropped out in the last 6-12 months can be called. Find out how they're doing and if there's any issue noted, get them in for a check-up and reassessment.
Make sure you let everyone know you're open and here to help - More people are off work right now and that means that they can come in. So, if they aren't in a high risk group and they're not sick, you need your team to encourage them to come in.
- Create a 'Honey-Do' List For Your Team -
Now is the time to get things done that you've been putting off. So create a list of things you haven't had time for and get them done. We've decided that if things get light, we'll close one day and have the team pain part of the clinic. And then the next week we'll do the same. It can be a fun activity for the team and we'll be paying them so we can ensure they get paid as best as possible in the tough times.
Here are a few things that should be on the list:
Content Creation - As I mentioned above, it's essential that the entire team assist with marketing and promotion anytime the practice is going through uncertain times. So, have them create as much content as possible. You can use, re-use and re-purpose this content over and over.
Train Your Staff - Can't ever say this enough. Don't rush to tighten your purse strings and send people home. Often the reason we don't get staff trained up is "there isn't enough time". Well, now you might have some time...soooooo....what are you waiting for. Do it now. You won't regret it because they will have better skills to help you turn the tides and you'll come out on top once this passes. And this too shall pass.
Collect on any unpaid AR - This is the perfect time to get everyone collecting on Accounts Receivable because more people are at home so when you call they should answer. A simple phone call to insurance companies and past patients who owe money is a great action to take. It can help you bring in money to sustain you over a tough week. If you're calling a patient, first ask how they're doing, find out about the last body part you treated and how they're doing. Make some small talk about their life or family and then you can use a simple script to broach the subject of their unpaid bill: "Another reason I'm calling is because it looks like you have a $250 balance on your account. We're trying to see what we can work out with you..."
When you take positive action, you'll be more likely to come out ahead of this. These are all actions you can take right now to either catch up or get ahead of the game.
I hope this helps - it's meant to. Let me know if you have questions or concerns and reach out when you're ready to train your front office. If I can help you navigate these tough times in any way, let me know. I'm happy to help!
Wishing you the best, today and always!
I started Front Office GURU to forward the private practice industry and ensure that practice owners had a way to expand and help their practice THRIVE, not just survive...and I've done it over and over again!
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