Once the dust settles after a major challenge, great things can happen. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our daily lives so profoundly, and now is the time to consider what we can learn from this on an individual level and a professional one. We are now having to constantly explore what the future of healthcare will look like in the coming days, weeks, months and years.
There is no better guide than Dr. Susan Kressly to help us on this exploration. Dr. Kressly sees things in multiple dimensions. as a general pediatrician in Philadelphia, the medical director at Office Practicum, as a leader in local and state chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and at the national level in payer advocacy, health quality and practice management.
That certainly is a lot of hats.
Working in so many different facets of healthcare means Dr. Kressly has her finger on the pulse of everything going on right now. With all of the challenges, there have been many opportunities to innovate in practices across the country. There has been a decade worth of innovation in the last three months. Now that we are collectively getting a better handle on some of these challenges, it’s time to ask an important question: How are you going to use this as an opportunity?
The following discussion took place live on my Back to Busy Summit in early June to address how to keep building our private practices now in COVID-19. The full webinar is available on-demand now.
A starting point to turn this challenge into an opportunity is to “Completely reframe the way we think about both delivering care and the management of the business of our practices,” says Dr. Kressly.
Dr. Kressly continues, “For so long we have been living under constraints of what we think our families need or how the health care office and community are structured. It’s time to totally tear down the building blocks and start over. This is a great opportunity to do it from the patient and family perspective, because all of a sudden we're connected with them in ways that we never were, and we are going through the same challenges with them.”
Although it may seem that people are staying put, many families have been forced to move because of sudden unemployment. Take a step back and consider how these new families or existing ones in your community will be able to find and choose your practice.
To ensure your patients are able to find your practice easily, start by checking on Google. In Dr. Kressly’s experience, “Our families are now young millennials and digital natives. Online is where they are going to find us. I encourage everyone to start Googling pediatricians with your zip code to see who comes up first. If you are not at the top and don’t have a presence that’s inviting, this is a great opportunity to change that.”
The buzz words are shifting these days as well. “What we think we delivered for high-quality care and other phrases thrown around like the medical home for a decade may not resonate with families now. Instead, families are looking for people who meet them where they are and give the care they need.”
Telehealth is much more than just seeing patients online. Dr. Kressly says, “Telehealth includes all kinds of virtual communication. You may have a Saturday afternoon Facebook, live or you may do a virtual meeting with their daycare on how to be safe with COVID-19.” Once the parents are introduced to your practice, “You’ll have to have a system in place to make them feel safe in and out of the office.
Parents who are searching now for answers that you can answer will only be able to connect if you have an appealing online presence.
The return on time is huge, not just in patients coming into the office and feeling comfortable coming in, but having those conversations and finding out what parents actually want and need from you. The change is asking “What do you need from us?” instead of: “This is how we do things.”
People have been so isolated, so more than ever they are seeking connection, even if it’s just on a screen. Dr. Kressly says, “The sterile nature of big healthcare organizations can have an impersonal feel, which isn’t going to fly anymore. We are looking to build a trusted relationship with the patient and family.”
People are accustomed to this Instagram age and seeing the inside of everyone’s lives. They want to know more about you and see whatever you are comfortable sharing. This may be hard for physicians who are on the shyer side. Dr. Kressly offers encouragement saying, “Even making a small video on your website with something personal, a hobby or interest will help show your personal side. This is the start to building a trusting relationship where a parent will feel comfortable sending their children to you.”
Now that the patient has found your practice, you need to make sure the experience is safe and welcoming. You don’t want a parent to walk into the waiting room to find 10 people standing in line ahead of them. They will start to question whether they are safe or will be nervous thinking the person in line ahead of them is sick.
A key part of innovation is for physicians now is to give parents expectations of what your office will look like. To make patients feel safe and comfortable, implement a curbside check, use a texting app when the patient arrives to then assign them a room, efficiently sanitize rooms between patients are all ways. Having a clean sign on the door and flipping it when the patients walk in is a simple thing, but as a parent who feels certain they are entering a clean room, this is crucial,” says Dr. Kressly.
If you are not going to have a front desk check-in, Dr. Kressly urges physicians, “To have a greeter at the front desk or when the door opens so patients can have a contactless entry. If online check-in isn’t an option, another suggestion would be to take patients right to an exam room to cover any paperwork or insurance.”
Part of building a trusted relationship with your patients is to reduce the handoffs. If a patient has a consistent person working with them, that’s one less opportunity for a parent or patient to be fearful of coming in contact with additional people during their visit.
The time has come for value-based care. Dr. Kressly says, “If we were in a value-based market, none of us would have been crying when we weren’t seeing patients. We would rely on telehealth. We would have done phone calls because the right answer was giving patients what they need in whatever form we were able to safely provide it.”
When you are looking at the profit of your business, don’t forget the expense piece. Dr. Kressly takes into account the changes to expenses with the innovations in the COVID-19 era. “Expensive atriums and waiting rooms are no longer as important as you're providing care for people remotely That helps give us the opportunity to engage parts of the workforce that we can do virtually to give us more time.”
This new model can also help the pediatricians out there who are not practicing medicine because they don’t want to work the grind of eight to five. Now there is a possibility for them to join the force again. Instead of walk-in hours, you can have virtual walk-in hours or find other ways of engaging with busy parents who would benefit from having an easier way of getting in touch.”
Telehealth is here to stay, but the insurance companies are still figuring out the telehealth piece. “There’s a lot of work going on at the AAP to get long-lasting commitments to pay for telehealth, especially for Medicaid. The private payers are fighting those battles to get insurance caring for the needs of the workforce and to give access to the patient and the provider regardless of if the visit is in the office or online.”
Often physicians don’t even know what’s available to them. If you can do the research on the subject, you can offer these services to your employees. Dr. Kressly says, “No matter what the problem is with intermittent or prolonged access to care that families have, we have to figure out how to solve it so that everybody wins.”
When you take better care of your patients, they are less likely to end up in hospitals to see specialists. This is appealing for insurance companies as much as physicians and patients which is a definite win-win. For everyone, it’s a return on your investment to take the time to explore these opportunities for your practice.
Check out more of Dr. Kressly’s resources at Kresslypediatrics.com. She gives permission to “steal” her content, “Do whatever you want for your practice. I’m happy to share everything that we’ve done at Office Practicum.” She is also on Twitter @DrSueKressly, and is happy to have a conversation by direct message or email.
The power of the collective voice is clear as Dr. Kressly puts it, “When we do this together, collective ideas spark other collective ideas which lead to innovation, then change which our families and we desperately need in the healthcare community.”
This discussion is part of our Back to Busy Summit to help you move your practice forward during COVID-19. Watch it now at https://www.privatepracticematters.com/back-to-busy-summit/