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How to Provide Training to your Front Office and Help Patients Get Care during COVID

Earlier today, I heard from a client who was forced to close their clinic with less than a day's notice. The entire town was closing down at noon today.

It's on everyone's mind, and I'm sure Mike and I are not the only owners making plans to ensure our clinic survives if we have to close during this health crisis.

I spent some time painting my office this weekend and used that time to come up with some things we all can do during isolation that can help our practices in the long run (remember, we should all be thinking about how we'll get through this long term; not just the immediate future).

First and foremost, don't panic! Instead, take action.

A common reaction for many of us when feeling fear and uncertainty is to shut the world out and hide away. But that's the worst thing you can do because it isn't proactive, and it will only make things worse in the long run.

So, don't close yourself off, shrink, or stop moving forward. Think about the future, not just this moment in time. Work hard everyday to be positive, be forward thinking! The more you do, the better you will be.

You might ask yourself, "How do we do that when we're stuck at home?" Good question!

Here are some great actions you can take now and if you end up being forced to close:

Plan for daily huddles from home with your front office team.

Keep the front office team together even while they're still at home. Have a daily team huddle, play a game online or on the phone, talk about positive things. Make plans to move forward as a team, decide on training days, set goals for the coming months, and avoid discussing the bad stuff happening right now.

AVOID talk of the bad times.

It isn't healthy to focus on all the negative. I can promise that after a weekend of being forced to watch all the crappy news reports, all the panic, all the bad, we're all pretty darn stressed out, whether we want to be or not. For many, having a weekend without watching sports is pretty disappointing as it is. But with all the constant negative news, this takes me back to the months after 9/11 when we were unsure if WWIII would begin.

Here's something to consider - we can learn a lesson from our elders. Most of the country isn't old enough to have lived through WWII or the depression; but during those times there was an unwritten rule about not talking about the 'bad times' and so they went about their days, however horrible they were. They talked about good times, good weather, and kept things light and positive.

So, start there and do it everywhere, not just your practice...

Stay in contact with your patients

We must remain in contact with our current list of patients. Our duty is to help them; we don't want them to think we forgot them during this crisis. In fact, many of our patients live alone and we should check on them to ensure they're doing okay throughout this crisis.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Remain in contact with your current patient list. his one is crucial. It's easy to say, "Well, we've been forced to close, so we'll see you when we see you." But, no, that's not in the best interest of our patients, the practice, or your front office staff's future in their jobs. (I don't mean this to be threatening. I'm being completely serious here. We must all guarantee that we have something to return to, and this isn't only the owner's or manager's responsibility.) So, members of your front office team should each have a list of patients they must reach out to several times per week. If we're home, the patient is also home, and they should be informed that we're going to call them to check in and go over their home exercise program with them. Again, we must keep this list warm and continue to help our patients even as we're forced to social distance in the coming weeks.

  • Offer online exercise classes for your patients and others. This doesn't have to be promoted as therapy, just something to keep people active while they're at home. Years ago, as a PT student, I volunteered at Shriner's Hospital, and I assisted during an exercise class for kids with Spina Bifida. We used an exercise tape from Richard Simmons. Super fun! We exercised on mats, in chairs, and standing. Now, we can hold live classes online and get people to sign up. Why not charge a small fee per class? You could have different classes for different needs and interests.

  • Write letters to past and current patients. This is another responsibility of the whole team, including the front office. Just because they're at home, doesn't mean they shouldn't want a job to return to. These actions can be worked on from anywhere; so why not do them from home? All you need to do is give them the supplies and a list of patients they're in charge of writing letters to. Need help with a letter? Let me know, I'm happy to help!

Promote like crazy!

The more you promote, the more you remain relevant as we move forward. Remember, you want people to remember you when we come out of this. Here's what you can do if you're stuck at home:

  • Have an online webinar that people can sign up for, have three if you can! Be creative with this and think outside the box. Stay in the forefront of their minds even through the current crisis. Your webinars or workshops can be educational and fun, not just some slides up on the screen. It's time to build an audience.

  • Create promotional content at home. This is good to keep us focused on our true purpose. II's not just the owners job to make sure there's a clinic to return to. It's also the front office team's responsibility to ensure patients come in as soon as you can reopen. So, give them a body part and challenge them to first create a list of five to eight blog/podcast topics around this body part. Then have them write up some blogs and then use the same topics to create newsletter content and educational videos.

  • Start or continue to promote on social media. Reuse old content, make it look new with a new title and photo. Reach out to whoever is helping you with your current social media marketing and work with them to create appropriate content that builds your list. You might not be able to treat them right now, but as specialists in the body, we know that problem isn't going away while they're sitting at home. So, now you have a list to work with! Once you collect names, you can promote to them now and in the future. Start with educational content and as things die down, and you're getting ready to reopen, you can promote to get them to sign up for an evaluation. Collect names at this time and you'll come out ahead later.

  • Use past patient success stories as promotional material. You want people to know, like ,and trust you when this is all over. The best way to do that is to have "Patient Results Tuesdays", for example, and post five to 10 patient results, of course make sure you have signed permission for those you're posting. Post a new patient result every hour throughout the day on Tuesdays.

Learn, study, train your front office team

If you and your front office team are forced to be at home for an undetermined amount of time, you should all focus on learning more to return as a better and more able team. It may seem crazy to invest money at a time like this, but investing in yourself AND your team is the best possible thing you can do.

The more you learn, the better you will be able to handle things as you return and work to build up your list again. Why not use the time wisely?

While this is a great time for your clinical team to do their CEU's, don't forget about the rest of your team, especially your front office team! Check out this information on "Why You Should Train Your Front Office Team"

In quiet times, the better they're drilled and trained, the better off everyone will be!

Finally, you and your front office must REMAIN POSITIVE

I know we're all scared and most of us have never seen anything like this in our lives; but this too shall pass and we can get through it together! The more positive we are, the better we will fair in this current crisis. Keep the "negative-nellies" out of your life and off your Facebook feed.

Learn from your grandparents and great-grandparents who survived the Great Depression and only let in the good, positive, forward thinking thoughts. Reach out to neighbors and family to make sure they're ok, do something nice for someone, laugh with your family and friends and take care of yourself. This too shall pass, and we can become stronger than we ever thought we were!

Remember, as things start to reopen, you'll need to ramp up, so if you do end up in a forced shutdown, or if things get light, work to build a stronger team through skills training. If needed, plan remote team-building activities. Grow a newer and stronger list and keep your current and past patient lists warm. Keep in touch with patients who stopped due to the closure and ensure they complete their plan of care once the ban is lifted.

The more you and your team put in the effort now, no matter how uncertain things may seem, the better you'll come through this as it subsides.

I hope this helps, and if you got something out of it, please share it far and wide. My focus is the front office of your private practice, but my purpose will always be to help others!

Wishing you the best, today and always, Dee

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