January 18, 2022

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5 Steps For Your Independent Practice to Survive and Thrive

COVID has likely forever changed how people do most everything, from videoconference meetings and consultations to contactless payments, social distancing, sanitizing, masks and more. But there are still many solutions for growing your practice during the pandemic and beyond.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on us all. For your own practice, safety and operational changes have almost assuredly impacted how you deliver services and communicate with your patients. Your expenses likely have grown because of heightened procedures to minimize contagion risk for the in-person visits you have had, even while your revenues may well have shrunk with decreased volumes.

 

The reality is that COVID has likely forever changed how people do most everything, from videoconference meetings and consultations to contactless payments, social distancing, sanitizing, masks and more. But there are still many solutions for growing your practice during the pandemic and beyond, while improving both your profitability and the satisfaction of your patients.

An apt example: Behavioral health

This specialty is an excellent example of how to keep your practice going and growing through automation and contactless service delivery.Its problem hasn’t been a decline in visits; rather, it’s faced a significant increase in those seeking help vs. available resources. An ongoing NationalHealth Interview Survey by the CDC reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorders in adults rose from an average of 11% in June 2019 to more than triple that — 31.6% last fall. In some U.S. states that figure reached as high as 38.5%. No state showed less than a doubling of the mid-2019 figure. That’s an epidemic within a pandemic.

 

In an industry long plagued with provider supply not meeting patient demand, the pandemic has made a chronically challenging situation worse. The pandemic has caused a five-fold surge of patients seeking care for depression and/or anxiety, with telehealth and other contactless services helping fill the gaps of in-person visits and enabling providers to use their time more productively.

 

In addition to enabling behavioral health professionals to serve more patients to help mitigate the coverage shortfall, they’re also finding that telehealth and the other contactless services are helping them serve patients across a much broader geographic area. It also reduces the potential stigma of a patient seeking mental-health services, since people can have sessions privately from their own homes rather than being seen going to an in-person appointment.

 

Leveraging telehealth is just one of the ways in which providers are using contactless services to serve patients while managing costs and improving profitability and satisfaction. Here are the top 5 ways that are proving to help…and will continue to do so after the pandemic is under control.

 

1.      Contactless intake

Amazon Prime, Uber, Door Dash and others have enabled consumers to order almost any goods or services online and receive them with almost breakneck speed. The shift to contactless solutions was already accelerating, but now that a Saturday-afternoon in-person shopping trip carries with it greater health risks, people leveraging the access, safety and convenience of contactless services has more than doubled.

 

Half or more of U.S. survey participants said their online activity has grown dramatically since COVID became an ongoing worldwide health crisis. While the American Heart Association has stated that heart disease and stroke are likely to remain the top killers in the U.S.,COVID’s impact now comes in at #3. In short, studies are showing that more people are afraid of COVID than a heart attack.

 

For practices still burdened with paper forms, fear ofCOVID has not only created staff shortages and back-office productivity issues, but greater risk of contagion for the 15 or more minutes in the office it takes for patients to complete the many forms. And honestly, today patients expect a less paper-heavy experience. They don’t want to write their name, the date their birthdate and other personal information on every paper form. This extremely dated intake process makes a medical practice look ancient, and totally unconcerned about a patient’s time and satisfaction.Aside from not providing a good impression to the patient, “the old way” puts a huge burden on achieving cost and efficiency goals.

 

Instead, patients can be sent a link directly to the section of your website where they can complete online forms in the safety of the patient’s home. Let me be clear, though: just providing downloadable PDF files that must be printed, hand-completed and returned simply doesn’t cut it. There are time-consuming costs of data entry from a paper or PDF form, plus inherent risk of causing potentially life-threatening errors in the process.

 

Bottom line, it’s hard to justify staying on a paper-based system, for either your productivity or your reputation as an innovative, customer-service-focused practice. Efficient contactless intake isn’t the future — it’s the now.

2.    Outreach: Automated reminders to reduce no-shows and late arrivals

Leverage the easily customizable, automated messaging capabilities that should be inherent in a modern-day system. Use them to efficiently keep in contact with your patients every step of the way. Implement an automated text or email thanking them for their completed forms and informing them of anything they missed. Reconfirm the appointment date and time, and list your current procedures for masking, proof of vaccination, and other arrival details.

 

The day before their appointment, send an automated message reminding them of the visit’s date and time and, for an in-person visit, any arrival details you feel should be reinforced. For contactless appointments, again provide the link for connecting to the session and any dial-in instructions. All of this reduces the likelihood of no-shows, or late arrivals that take time away from meeting another patient’s needs, and reducing your practice’s revenue.

 

Outreach: Campaign to patients you haven’t seen for awhile

For patients who have been off of your appointment schedule for too long, reach out. Again, easily create an automated message to inform them of your extensive health safety processes, including your telehealth options, and provide an online appointment link to bring them back into the fold. If they don’t follow-up within a determined timeframe, send a follow-up message asking them to please tell you why other than COVID they haven’t scheduled a visit for so long. Whether it’s information you want to hear or not, it will be insightful.

 

3.    Telehealth

We know that many patients have become far more comfortable using videoconferencing than they did even a year or two ago.For most clinicians, insurance payments for telehealth visits have expanded, many now the same (or similar) to an in-office visit.

Telehealth can be very effective for behavioral therapy, nutrition counseling and other consultative services. In fact, the lower graph at right shows how behavioral health has “flipped the script” regarding how many patient visits are now provided via telehealth vs. in-person.

 

This recent article published by JAMA Network discusses the expanded use of telehealth throughout the pandemic, and its particular growth for behavioral health.

 

4.    Patient portal

If your website or referrals are the front door to your practice, your patient portal is the special “side door” for your VIPs — very important (current) patients. This provides a “one-stop shop” for patients, where online intake forms sit, messaging and scheduling capabilities and much more. If you don’t have one as part of your practice management solution, definitely get one!

 

Today, an effective portal really must feature:

○     Capabilities that are easy and intuitive to use

○     Automated intake forms

○     Secure messaging (HIPAA-compliant in the U.S. and PIPEDA-compliant inCanada)

●     Safe exchange of messages and documents

●     Send and receive intake forms, share notes and much more

○     Online appointment scheduling (booking) and reminders for individual, couple or family appointments

○     Contactless payments using major credit cards

○     Practice news or notifications

○     Ability to be accessed through virtually any computer/smart device

 

5.    Contactless payments

Listed directly above under important portal capabilities, contactless payments is another important digital self-service capability that both your patients and your practice’s bottom line will love. Consumers have become accustomed to paying for products and services digitally at the time they’re ordered or services provided. And patients — healthcare consumers — are becoming no different.

With contactless payments and full integration with the patient’s insurance information and your billing system, a simple click will authorize payment quickly and easily. It saves money by not producing and mailing paper invoices, cuts down on patients’ glut of “snail mail” in their postal box, saves them from writing checks and buying stamps, prevents them from receiving a bill weeks or months later which they had forgotten was pending, and just makes everyone’s life easier.

 

Automated, integrated and intuitive operational solutions are the key to success

By leveraging fully integrated solutions that include the 5 capabilities discussed here, all working efficiently together, you can streamline operations and reduce costs, reduce the administrative burden on your staff, and provide a best-in-class patient experience that helps you gain and retain patients. That’s a platform for success both within a pandemic and going forward.

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About the author

Cassio Mosqueira is the founder and chief technology officer of intakeQ™, which helps thousands of small to mid-sized practices provide a better patient experience across all touch points, from online intake forms to scheduling, messaging, payments, telehealth, and insurance billing. For more information, visit www.intakeQ.com or email us at [email protected]