With the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) outbreak mounting around the globe, medical practices of all types and sizes throughout the United States are gearing up to deal with this unprecedented healthcare crisis.
Whether you are a primary care provider, a specialist, or part of a multiple healthcare facility or hospital, the demand for treatment from symptomatic or diagnosed patients is likely to be overwhelming — especially as testing for the virus becomes more readily available and the number of potential cases rises, inundating your practice with those seeking expert medical care and therapy.
The sooner you prepare your practice and its staff for what is likely to be a long, protracted change from business as usual, the better you’ll be able to safely weather the storm and provide the highest quality of patient care. In particular, you will need to focus and cope with several key areas of concern:
- How to protect all members of your staff from contracting the COVID-19 virus.
- Dealing with a surge of appointment cancellations and rescheduling.
- Ensuring that the patients who visit your facility for other specialized services aren’t contagious.
7 Ways to Deal with the COVID-19 Challenge
In order for your medical practice to function efficiently during the COVID-19 pandemic while containing the spread of the virus, here are several steps it needs to take right NOW:
- Create a plan to identify patients who may have COVID-19 and those who are at risk for the virus.
Develop a set of triage questions that your employees can use to ascertain patients who are or may be infected with the coronavirus. That includes providing a script your staff can use for patients who call your practice. Questions should include:
- Have you traveled to any location within the last 14 days where there has been an extensive and continuous transmission of COVID-19? (For example, China, Europe, or domestic hotspots such as Washington State, New York, or California.)
- Have you had contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is suspected of being infected?
- Do you have respiratory symptoms, such as a cough or shortness of breath?
- Have you recently had a fever?
Patients who are at risk of having COVID-19 will require testing. If your medical practice is experiencing a shortage of coronavirus test kits, refer the patient to a local designated testing facility. However, be sure to alert the facility that a patient with coronavirus symptoms is en route. Be familiar with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) preparedness checklist regarding the arrival of patients who have possible or confirmed coronavirus.
- Have infection controls in place and follow them to the letter.
Regardless of your type of practice, your staff should be well trained in infection-control procedures. That includes proper hygiene and the correct use of masks, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment.
See to it that high-touch and high-traffic areas are frequently disinfected with approved cleaning supplies. The COVID-19 coronavirus has been found to survive as long as three days on metal and plastic surfaces.
- Ensure you have enough masks, eye protection, gowns, and gloves for your staff.
It is essential to protect your staff from coming into contact with infected patients who may inadvertently transfer the virus to staff members, including non-medical staff. If you do not have enough high-protection respirator masks, regular face masks are an acceptable alternative.
- Manage appointments Prepare for a spike in the number of patients who visit your practice without an appointment.
Depending on your practice’s priorities, consider cancelling or postponing non-urgent appointments and procedures – such as annual well visits, for example – so you can accommodate the needs of more seriously affected patients. and lighten your workload. Reschedule non-essential appointments as necessary. This will not only help lighten your workload, but also reduce the risk of infection from patients who may be carrying the coronavirus without knowing it.
You may also see a spike in the number of patients who visit your practice without an appointment. To help manage the situation, start by posting a notice at the entry to your practice that advises patients who don’t have an appointment to call your office if they have basic questions regarding their risk of having COVID-19.
In the case of patients who are at risk and come to your office, make sure they are furnished with masks and are taken promptly to a private room to avoid exposure to other patients or members of your staff.
- Coordinate your efforts with local hospitals and other medical facilities.
Contact facilities in your area so you know ahead of time where your additional medical resources are located. Be sure to understand what processes are in place to effectively treat high-risk patients – especially if yours is a specialized practice and not equipped to handle COVID-19 cases or is in a remote or rural area that doesn’t have a nearby hospital. Also, if you are treating a high-risk patient, notify your local or state public health department.
- Have contingency plans in the event that you run short on staff.
Make sure everyone on your team is well-versed in the practice’s policies and procedures as they relate to illness. Advise your employees to stay home if they are sick. At the same time, plan on providing backup in the event that one or more employees cannot report for work – especially if yours is a smaller practice.
- Stay up to date on all breaking developments and the latest healthcare advisories.
Current information is vital to medical practices at all times, but especially during a pandemic. The CDC is a key source of news and information about COVID-19, and this information can enable you to better inform patients and help alleviate their fears and concerns about the coronavirus.
Mobilizing to Meet and Defeat the Coronavirus Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic represents a formidable healthcare crisis, the likes of which most of us who are alive today have never seen before. However, it also presents an opportunity to bring out the best in you and your staff as medical professionals.
By ensuring that your medical practice is well prepared to provide quality healthcare and support when it is so critically needed, you will be saving lives as well as upholding your practice’s reputation as a caring provider in your community.