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Encouraging Signs as Practices Re-emerge from COVID
Many eye care practices are experiencing business and operational changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are doing their best to adapt, move forward, and remain sustainable. To better understand how ophthalmology practices are progressing in their own reopening process, we surveyed our BSM community of valued clients.
We gained valuable and encouraging feedback from the roughly 200 practices located throughout the country that responded to our Hot Topics Survey. In this post, we will highlight the survey’s key findings along with the insights we continue to gain from first-hand accounts with our clients as they make further progress in reopening. From them, we are learning how they are making such encouraging strides, and we are happy to share their methods in the hope that one or more of their techniques can be applied to other practices across the country during this re-emergence period.
Survey Results and Analysis
It’s clear based on our ongoing communications with practices that they have been making significant efforts to stay viable in our new business landscape, working through their practice financial health and updating workflows after being forced to shutter operations or operate under extreme reductions. That is no small feat, so let’s take a closer look to see how practices are succeeding.
Current Practice Activity
Just over half of practices that responded to our survey in mid-May were already operating at around 50% or more of their typical pre-COVID-19 activity. We’ve learned that practices are achieving this activity level by creating new workflows and making process tweaks backed by their strong cultures and creativity from our continued interactions with clients. We see practices adopting telemedicine and virtual scribing, considering their usefulness for the long term. Given the capacity and provider shortages predicted before COVID-19, this situation has afforded practices to try out new tools and flexible workflows to help weather future challenges. We commend their effort to adapt and become even more efficient, all while prioritizing safety.
Practice Reopening Expectations
Nearly half of the survey respondents rated the reopening of their practice as going better than anticipated. In order, the top three items that are going particularly well for practices are:
- Patient screenings,
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)/safety precautions, and
- Patient scheduling.
However, challenges are being encountered, some of which are the same items that are going well in other practices. In order, the top three challenges are:
- Patient scheduling,
- Staffing/human resources, and
- Clinic flow.
Based on our ongoing interactions with clients on how they are overcoming these particular challenges, let’s focus on how other practices can do the same moving forward.
Patient scheduling and clinic flow: Social distancing plays a large part in these areas now, with the patient experience and safety still paramount. Practices that are doing well in these operational areas are engaging in telemedicine for visits where it makes sense, shortening clinic visits by having remote prep calls with patients to acquire histories and collecting copays and deductibles in advance of visits. These efforts are allowing practices to have more room in the practice for in-person visits.
To enhance the ability of practices to see as many patients in the office as possible, we advise bringing the team together to consider what other less high-touch practice activities can be automated or eliminated to increase efficiencies. For instance, evaluate the tools the practice uses for administrative tasks and which tasks can be further automated. A few options for software efficiencies are using texting software appointment reminders instead of staff making calls and using nightly batch eligibility checking software instead of performing this function manually. Remember to take a holistic approach to finding efficiency opportunities.
Staffing/human resources: This is the largest expense and greatest asset to practices. For sustainability, practices need to make the best staffing decisions possible based on the amount of work available. This is the time to evaluate the staffing levels your practice really needs. In addition, regular and clear communication to staff on transformations in care and expectations needs to occur. Being open and transparent is key to maintaining employee trust and loyalty, qualities needed for practices to make it to the other side of this pandemic.
Practice Return to Pre-COVID Norms
Nearly half of survey respondents think it will take 2-6 months to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. Now that the country is starting to return to normal (albeit with some setbacks), finding the new normal is now the mission. As we’ve learned from our clients who are seeing encouraging progress, the new normal should include addressing patient and staff concerns and fears, showing them you are taking steps to maintain safety with each decision made, and voicing that nothing is off the table for consideration in redesigning the practice to continue to deliver excellent care. This will go a long way toward ensuring future engagement and success.
We at BSM Consulting remain impressed with our clients’ resilience and optimism in the face of any challenge they encounter, including this one. We in ophthalmology are problem-solvers, and that continues to serve us well today. Remember, BSM is here for our clients to help them get through these tough times. We will continue to provide support through relevant information, tools, and resources to help businesses move forward, remain viable, and re-emerge from COVID.