As healthcare begins to resume some of its pre-COVID-19 activities, health system administrators are faced with logistically and strategically bringing non-emergent practices back online. When these practices cover a wide geographic footprint, the reopening challenges are escalated. It may be difficult, even impossible, to take a blanket approach to reopening. Assuming the availability of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), here are five areas every administrator should consider when developing a reopening plan:
- Patient engagement – Many practices are reaching out to their patients to see if they’re ready to return to the office for non-emergent care. Answers are varying widely by market and by specialty. Some have resorted to having physicians initiate these calls to reassure patients of both the safety of returning and the clinical need to do so.
- Provider engagement – Interestingly, physicians are also widely varied in their response to office reopening. While many are eager to return to the practice, others are seeking a more measured approach.
- Staff availability – With layoffs, furloughs, unemployment benefits more lucrative than some full-time wages, staff illness, and the closure of schools and daycares, staffing may not resume at the flip of a switch. In addition to human resource considerations, determining how to resume staffing may vary significantly depending on the age and health of staff, as well as the specialty. Staff with young families may want to return to work, but be unable to do so without other childcare options. Those at high risk due to age or health conditions may want to wait longer to return to providing patient care.
- Location – With a geographically dispersed network, and the above considerations, administrators must be creative in designing a reopening plan. For instance, identifying specialties whose patients have a high probability of returning sooner rather than later, combining them into centrally located offices, and consolidating staff may be particularly effective in the early weeks of reopening. (Medicare waivers established during the public health emergency should permit this temporary reassignment, as long as the location is added to the provider’s profile as soon as possible.) Modifying hours may further maximize efficiency. Bottom line, operating every office on a historical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday schedule may be overkill until patients are willing to return, and all other pieces are in place.
- Telemedicine – This public health emergency has pushed providers, patients, and most importantly, payers over an adoption hurdle. The question that remains: will it “stick?” The mainstream conversation certainly suggests that the holistic adoption of digital medicine is here to stay. But there is much to do legislatively, after the public health emergency ends, in order for telehealth to have staying power. Regardless, practices need to plan for a future characterized by more virtual encounters. While certainly not a replacement for all face-to-face care, this pandemic validates that some routine and urgent care can be provided effectively without an office visit, avoiding travel challenges, long wait times, and close contact with others who may be ill or immunocompromised. Evaluating when and where telemedicine fits into the go-forward routine will be key for physician practices as the pandemic subsides.
Creative approaches that give consideration to these factors will allow systems to be responsive, yet nimble, in these changing times. Administrators may find the “temporary” strategies and tactics implemented to reopen aren’t so short-lived. Some may become more permanent, as the general public finds its new footing and both providers and patients make course corrections in the weeks and months following the pandemic.
If your organization is evaluating its reopening plans, PYA’s experienced executives can provide ideas and perspectives along the way. For additional current and post-COVID information visit PYA’s COVID-19 hub, or contact a PYA executive below at (800) 270-9629.