The first article in our three-part series covered workplace safety policies, changes to your office space, and workflow processes, while the second article discussed human resources and patient scheduling considerations. In this final article, we look at ways to strengthen the return of patient volume to your practice through community collaboration and marketing.
Collaborate with Community Partners
Hospital collaboration is now more important than ever. This is an opportunity to strengthen your hospital partnership to achieve your shared goal of treating patients quickly, effectively, and safely. It is also important to ensure your hospital that you have the physician staffing and flexibility necessary to manage an increased workload as the patient cases begin to ramp back up. Many practices are reaching out to their referral partners regularly via email or fax blasts to ensure consistent communication.
In this environment, you should be identifying and discussing any unique issues such as the hospital’s role in procuring PPE and their allocations for the use of your practice and its patients.
The referring physician relationship continues to be a vital link for radiologists. Those screening and non-screening imaging patients who are uneasy about returning to physician offices for appointments will often let their personal physician guide them regarding the risk/reward of moving ahead with their imaging study. The American College of Radiology (ACR) has said,
“If the risk of illness or death to a healthcare worker or patient from healthcare-acquired COVID-19 is greater than the risk of illness or death from delaying radiology care, the care should be delayed; however, if the opposite is true, the radiology care should proceed in a timely fashion. Decision-making will be guided by imperfect attempts to estimate these risks. Practices should do their best to determine the risk to healthcare workers and patients of developing illness or death from healthcare-acquired COVID-19 in their local environment, as well as the patient-specific risk of illness or death from postponing an examination or procedure, and then use that information to guide the re-engagement of non-urgent radiology care. In this determination, the probability of negative outcomes (from COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 disease) should take precedence. Patient-specific risk is best determined through collaboration between referring providers and radiologists.”
A marketing plan for re-opening will be as important as all of the other preparations. When considering the sections of your marketing plan, the messaging content is of utmost importance. Safety, logistics, and supportive technology should be addressed directly and consistently through all communication platforms.
Once you establish your full message you can tailor that message to the appropriate platform. Your communications should be divided into three categories:
- the general public,
- former/current patients, and
- active patients being rescheduled.
You will also want to consider messaging that corresponds to the life cycle of the appointment, and there might be variations to the core messaging based on screening services vs. non-screening imaging. Be sure to explain the practice’s intake procedures, logistics during the appointment, and include a post-appointment survey. When you receive expressions of thanks from the community, remember to share them and thank the community back. Positive posts get a lot of engagement on social media that keep you visible and can help fight staff and radiologist burnout.
Communicating to patients that it will be safe to transition back into physician appointments will be a challenge. Concerted messaging efforts and precautionary measures will be an important part of a necessary marketing strategy. Be sure you are communicating that you are a reliable and steady partner to referring practices and let them know that patients with urgent imaging needs will be seen swiftly with a focus on their safety. Update the practice’s website to notify patients about any revised policies for visits and scheduling related to social distancing requirements.
Work with your hospital to manage the marketing to patients and referring physicians that may be outside of their employment to determine how will they communicate that message. Phone calls, texts, letters, social media, etc. can all be employed to get the message out. Health systems have varied resources and commitments to marketing in general so their plans may vary widely based on their expertise. Create and execute a marketing plan focused on the joint goal of getting patients safely back into the practice.
Healthcare is local and the current state of the pandemic and recovery phases are geographically driven. We are finding that practices outside of major metropolitan areas are generally seeing a faster and earlier rebound in volume than those in urban settings. Large health systems will have to target their messaging to their local regions. Remember to keep in mind that unlike your usual annual marketing plan, this interim plan will be more fluid and should be evaluated more frequently.
We hope this series of articles on re-opening your practice has provided valuable content as you look to transition your practice into the recovery phase. The amount of material shows that there is a lot of work to be done to get ready. Here’s a review of the areas we covered:
- safety policies for staff and patient protection,
- physical changes to the office space,
- human resources and physician work policies,
- patient scheduling,
- collaboration with community partners, and
- a new direct marketing plan.
You can view the references for this article series here.