States around the country are in the process of reopening, and while healthcare didn’t close completely, the virus shook the industry to its foundations. Organizations experienced a tremendous drop in patient volume resulting in lost revenue and laid-off workers. Supply chains ran dry, exposing the workers that remained to possible infection and causing elective surgeries to be canceled. Routine care was put on hold to keep the focus on COVID-19. Now, healthcare needs to find a way to resume operations and prepare for a possible second wave of infections.
Managing the impact of a reduced workforce, future supply chain concerns and patients returning to the office amid a pandemic are a combination of challenges healthcare has never faced before. Here are some practical ideas and tips to help move your organization forward.
Adjust workforce management
Many organizations were forced to lay-off or furlough workers because of cancelled elective procedures and stay-at-home orders. The May 8 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that around 1.4 million healthcare jobs were lost in April, compared to 43,000 healthcare jobs in March. Administrators will need to make the most of the staff left while ensuring their health and safety. Some strategies for workforce management include:
- Limit staff to one building entrance so screening can take place before entry
- Ask COVID-19 screening questions and take temperatures at the beginning of every shift
- Prepare and plan for elevated employee sick days
- Cross-train to ensure office operations can continue
- If treating patients with COVID-19 or suspected cases, create a care zone and contain patients as well as staff to that area, so other parts of the office are not exposed
- Ensure necessary cleaning supplies are readily available to staff and confirm staff knows how to use them correctly
- If lay-offs have occurred, begin the process of interviewing so when the need arises, hires can be made quickly
- Consider split shifts: for example, if two people typically work the front desk, have one check-in patients while the other disinfect rooms and equipment between patients
- Continue telehealth visits to minimize staff needed in-office to handle patient flow
Make plans for supply chain challenges
The lack of PPE and drug shortages during the outbreak made daily headlines. Moving forward, facilities will need to expand supply chain management to prepare for increased demand during health crises. At the HIMSS20 digital conference, a presenter noted, “Historically acceptable levels – or ‘par’ levels – simply won’t be enough to meet the surge of (future) demand.” Tips to ensure adequate supplies include:
- Compile a list of the most popular prescribed drugs and create a directory of alternative medications in the case of shortages
- Assess PPE needs and ensure that adequate supplies will be on hand in case of future infection surges (everyday patient as well as provider use)
- Consider employing an analytics system to monitor daily demand for critical supplies, such as swabs and N95 masks
- Investigate alternative sources for procuring equipment and drugs in emergencies
Get ready for a patient surge
A recent survey by the Primary Care Collaborative found that over 70% of clinicians are concerned about a surge in patient volume after the initial pandemic wave. In addition to increased volume, providers will need to implement social distancing and infection control protocols. Here are some ideas to manage in-patient visits moving forward:
- Communicate with patients to let them know what to expect during their next office visit; for example, there will be pre-visit screenings, patients will need to wear masks, family members will not be allowed at the visit, etc.
- Avoid waiting to screen patients until after they arrive for their appointment. Consider screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms outside the office entrance, while they remain in their cars or during a call before the visit
- Set up a phone number for patients to text or call to let the office know they have arrived if they prefer to wait in the car
- Remove all magazines, toys and other non-essential items from the waiting area and ensure that seating is six feet apart
- Specialists may want to consider putting missed appointment penalties on hold to account for patients that display symptoms on the day of their visit
- Consider a respiratory illness waiting area or a waiting area for ‘well’ patient appointments
- If feasible, consider separating entrances and exits for patients to help maintain social distancing
- Communicate with your patients about office cleaning protocols
- Post patient educational materials about COVID-19 in several languages
- Offer touchless payment options for office transactions
Healthcare, as well as our society-at-large, has entered a new era of pandemic infection. The lessons learned during COVID-19 in terms of workforce administration, supply logistics and patient management will help both providers and patients be prepared for future large-scale health emergencies.
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