Medical offices have drastically adjusted their day-to-day operations as a result of COVID-19. While most changes are temporary, some are improvements that will change the ways physicians practice medicine. Let’s look at how you can make your office more efficient as a result of the pandemic.

Impacts of the pandemic

2020 has been a trying year for physicians. Over half of medical practices have had to layoff or furlough staff, and up to 60,000 primary care practices are predicted to have closed by June 2020. As a whole, U.S. medical practices are facing some daunting long-term impacts of COVID-19. These include practice closures, a worsening physician shortage, and a stark reminder of the limitations of existing payment models.

Yet amidst the turmoil is a thin silver lining: some changes brought on by the pandemic are an improvement over “business as usual.” As Denver area internist Jean Kuttner, MD, told Medscape, “We have to embrace the fact that the way we practice medicine has fundamentally changed.”

An opportunity to make your office more efficient

As you gradually reopen following your state guidelines, consider ditching old protocols that are no longer necessary. Here are five considerations for making your practice more efficient as a result of the pandemic.

1. Continue telehealth when possible

As offices reopen, many medical practices are embracing a hybrid model of fewer in-person and more telehealth visits. Even if CMS reimposes prior telehealth restrictions, insurers are likely to embrace this approach as they see the increased cost-effectiveness.

Consider the possibility of continuing telehealth even when social distancing isn’t necessary. This can be an effective way to care for patients requiring “check-in visits.” It can also be effective for patients with minor complaints, those needing medication refills, or check-ups for chronic disease management. Your staff will save time and patients won’t have to deal with crowded waiting rooms.

2. Empty the waiting room

Perhaps the first priority for reopening practices is to limit the number of patients in the waiting room. COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets and direct contact, so it’s critical to keep patients with respiratory symptoms a minimum of 6 feet away from others.

Initially, this may require multiple waiting rooms or other creative solutions like having patients wait in vehicles until they’re ready to be seen. However, in the long-term practices should consider strategies to eliminate the waiting room altogether.

Waiting rooms provide little value, with or without a pandemic. Through a combination of workflow changes, improved delegation, and technology solutions, you can find ways to dramatically reduce patient wait times.

3. Embrace remote monitoring

Remote monitoring capabilities have reduced the need for in-person checks of vital signs like respiratory rate oxygenation, blood glucose levels, and heart rate. This expands the types of visits physicians can effectively conduct virtually.

Consider how your practice might leverage remote monitoring going forward. Even small medical practices are finding ways that remote monitoring can save them time, lower costs, and improve patient outcomes.

4. Cross-train your staff

As practice navigate staff illness, layoffs, and furloughs, everyone is being creative to fill in the gaps. Many practices have found that cross-training staff has made it easier to continue operating during the pandemic.

Consider making cross-training your staff routine as a way to make your practice nimbler during normal times. When staff can help out with each other’s responsibilities, it’s easier to navigate normal transitions like hiring, scheduling, vacation, and illness.

5. Refine your workflow

Times of upheaval are also opportunities to identify weaknesses in your office workflow. What changes have you been forced to make during COVID-19 that have made your office more efficient?

Consider keeping and refining tools and systems that have helped your practice stay afloat with reduced staff. For example, many practices are saving time with mobile software that allows them to access the EHR, schedule patients, and sign necessary forms right from their smartphone or tablet.

Further reading

As you reopen your practice, make sure to review official guidelines. The following steps are a good place to start: 

  1. Understand the federal guidelines for reopening, including the gating criteria (symptoms, cases, and hospitals) for phase 1 reopening.
  2. Review the 3-page CMS guidelines for phase 1 reopening.
  3. Think through the AMA’s 11 steps to reopen your medical practice.
  4. Review MGMGA’s reopening checklist to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

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