Future Proof Your Medical Practice In A Post Pandemic World

By now medical practices have adjusted to TeleHealth and social distancing within consultations, changes to MBS items, challenges sourcing personal protective equipment, the introduction of workplace and IT systems associated with those adjustments, along with a plethora of staff and clients needs.

Thankfully everyone, including patients, are familiar with, and have adjusted to, this new normal of how medical practices are operating.

On the flip side, no-one has a crystal ball to tell us what the future holds, but as we have all weathered the changes, any further alterations should be easier for everyone to adapt to.

One thing we have learnt is that staying ahead of staff and clients needs are imperative to good practice management. Also by being up to date with protocols related to COVID-19, medical practices can provide an important leadership role in the community and encourage safety for all.

We are all aware that the pandemic can either end through immunity from the virus or immunisation from a vaccine, but as that seems a way off, this working environment should be treated like a marathon – slow and steady.

Future Proof Your Practice For The Road Ahead

Some of the changes brought upon by the pandemic will be here to stay, especially ones that have improved practice efficiency or client convenience. Embracing these changes to transform your practice may also provide a catalyst for change in other areas that will see your practice thrive.

When reviewing a medical practice to see where improvements can be made, it may generate ideas for the future. Perhaps the introduction of TeleHealth will see it blended in with face to face consultations permanently, to offer clients choice and convenience. This could be compared to the introduction of online booking, that once upon a time could only be completed over the phone.

Whatever changes are made for the future clients will need to be educated about them. After all medical practices provide care, and an extension of this is good communication. A notice at reception is nice, but to capture the breadth of a practice’s clientele, a multitude of mediums is best for reaching existing and potential clients.

One of the biggest hurdles of marketing a medical practice is finding a point of difference. The introduction of TeleHealth and associated systems and technology provides an opportunity to let your audience know what you are doing to meet their current and emerging needs.

If that point of difference remains elusive, then at the very least keeping up your medical marketing is essential to stay connected to the practice patient base. At the very least it can let the general public know that you are still open for business.

Some geographic areas will be forced into lockdown, while some patients may voluntarily stay at home due to frailty or a chronic health condition that makes them especially susceptible to the health implications of COVID-19. For these groups making sure that they know you have TeleHealth options available to connect them to their regular doctor is once again an extension of care provided by the practice. Through the use of existing advertising mediums already in play, more immediate and targeted communication can be directed to these groups.

At some point there may be a temptation to reduce your advertising dollar and thus provide a buffer to ride out this storm. Turning off this promotional tap may not have initial consequences but the same cannot be said for the future.

Keeping Pace With Technology

Another way in which to supplement those areas of client interaction affected by the pandemic, while helping to support practice staff, is to see how technology within the practice can be improved.

The basics like a slowed internet speed due to video consultations may have been resolved, but how has technology been used to improve a reduction of face-to-face consultations? After all, a shift to TeleHealth has seen an increase in paperwork. Are there simple, time-saving applications or even email templates, that could be created by staff to assist communication with clients?

With so many changes happening, technology can be utilised to keep clients informed using social media, but are there other methods that could be tapped into other than SMS? Could you utilise the database of client emails to communicate the changes that are happening specifically within your clinic?

Changes to the clinic can create problems but also opportunities. Do staff record client feedback and translate that into practice improvements within the practice and better management of patients?

The pandemic has changed how some systems work, such as how patients collect their prescriptions or pathology and x-ray results. It may be worth looking at your technology partners to see if this can be streamlined, especially as once something like electronic prescribing is offered it’s more likely to stay.

Is the technology used by the medical practice secure? It may have been set up in a rush to provide TeleHeath or supplement other areas of the business that have changed. They could be worth reviewing and improving either from a security or usability perspective. Either may be dependent on cost, yet protecting client information and the potential saving of administration time would be a worthwhile investment.

Systems can always be improved, so bouncing ideas around within the clinic can help find areas for improvement. Targeted use of technology can then support those ideas and in turn demonstrate to all the benefits of a cohesive work environment.

Technology can also provide the convenience of virtual practice management. Historically utilised by geographically remote medical practices, the challenges faced by practices in this pandemic has seen it brought to the fore.

The reasons for this is the immediacy with which staff can draw upon support for a variety of issues. It offers the convenience of having queries and problems resolved independently so that the valuable resources within the practice are not strained and staff can focus on client service and care instead.

Providing this other level of support for both doctors and reception will ensure the practice can not only work at optimum efficiency but facilitate growth through the potential for improved client experience. After all your reputation through word of mouth is more valuable than any advertising.

Reviewing Our Approach To Business

To remain competitive practices will need to re-evaluate their current approach to business and establish a forward-thinking approach that embraces a more dynamic work environment – as opposed to ‘business as usual’.

Some medical centres may be well versed in organising flexible work arrangements to assist those who have commitments outside of work. Experience in this area may have enabled a better transition for everyone within the practice as the pandemic arrived.

Taking flexible work arrangements further could see staff organised into two groups that do not physically cross paths. This would be used to allow the clinic to function in case one staff member tests positive to COVID-19. This would be more practical for medical centres with larger staff numbers. Smaller practices with less staff would have the benefit of successfully implementing social distancing and other preventive measures.

Even without implementing such a change to staff rostering, the adjustments already seen to work environments have taken their toll on workplace culture. As such the health and wellness of staff should be paramount so that they are in a position that positively impacts the quality service offered to patients.

Social distancing alone may have adversely affected your medical practice culture, but there are ways in which those effects can be mitigated.

Taking a greater interest in events of those within the clinic such as birthdays or significant life events, being sure to compliment clinic staff on a job well done or providing support through proper feedback, training and mentoring.

We also often overlook the simple things that can make a difference in the workplace environment. A re-evaluation of the practice may see some small changes that introduce something fresh into the practice space. This could be indoor plants or the winners of a kids colouring-in competition being posted up for everyone to see.

Such measures can also counteract the fact that clients are under stress due to uncertainty in both their working and home lives. Making visitors to the practice more at ease can perhaps assist their interactions with staff.

Helping preparation meet opportunity

We have witnessed widespread social upheaval, which was a challenge to cope with let alone have prepared for, however, it’s wise to have a certain plan even if you’re uncertain about the future.

Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Looking for and establishing what clients, staff and doctors will potentially need in a post-pandemic world will go some way toward future-proofing your practice.

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