The pandemic isn’t over, but many rehab therapy clinics are starting to resume operations. Yet, things aren’t—and can’t be—the same as they were before (at least not for the time being), which means in order to move into this next phase, clear communication is paramount. That goes for staff and patients alike. After all, everyone has been conditioned to operate in a certain way for years, if not decades. Getting people to shift the way they operate—whether that’s how they do their jobs or how they receive their care—is no simple feat. But, establishing a standard of clear (and frequent) communication goes a long way toward helping everyone adjust. With that in mind, here are five crucial communication to-dos when reopening your practice:
1. Set clear expectations with staff regarding physical distancing, PPE requirements, and sanitization.
Whatever guidelines you—or your state’s government—establish for your practice, be sure to clearly explain them to your staff. Give team members plenty of opportunities to ask questions and voice concerns. You’ll need to have everyone on the same page for this, and accomplishing that may take some reinforcement.
2. Create—and share—new scheduling protocols.
To limit the number of patients and family members in the office at any given time, you may need to adjust your appointment spacing—in which case, you’ll need to share this information with your team (not to mention your patients). We’d also recommend checking in periodically over the first few weeks to determine whether your original spacing plans need any adjustments one way or the other. Remember: This is new for everyone, so it might not be perfect on the first go.
3. Explain amended employee and patient policies.
Employees should always have access to time off to take care of their health, but this is especially important right now. So, make sure everyone on your team knows exactly what to do if they—or their family members or other close contacts—get sick. In most cases, that should be to stay home. But what if a therapist isn’t feeling well on the job? Should he or she push through the day—or not? What if a patient arrives at an appointment looking feverish? What steps need to be taken—and whose responsibility is it to take them? Be sure to clearly detail all the specifics of your amended health policies. That way, everyone in your clinic knows well in advance what to do when.
4. Teach front office staff what they should communicate to patients—and how.
It’s a given that your front office staff should be sharing any available telehealth options during their conversations with patients—especially patients who either haven’t been feeling well or aren’t quite comfortable coming into the clinic yet. But, it’s also important to share the additional safety and sanitation measures you’re implementing. As Guy Welch, PT, explained here, explaining the steps his practice has taken to protect patients has helped make other patients feel more comfortable showing up in person. While there’s no way to completely eliminate the risk of transmission, healthcare providers are very capable of creating a safe environment for patients, and confidently detailing those efforts can help allay fears.
5. Reconfigure logistics—and train your teams and patients on updated processes.
Clinic operations are bound to change—even beyond the specifics mentioned above. For example, you may have to:
- limit access to the waiting room and have patients check-in for their appointments curbside;
- offer touchless payment; and/or
- require staff and patients to wear masks.
Be sure your staff members are well-versed in any new policies—and that they share them with patients before those patients arrive for their appointments (especially policies that may prevent them from accessing care). Communicating this information in advance will help alleviate anxiety around navigating this new environment.
In addition to clear communication, patience will prove crucial during this next phase as everyone tries to navigate new terrain. Staff members are going to make mistakes. Patients will forget their masks. Things won’t always go as planned. And there’s a good chance that you’ll have to keep communicating—and re-communicating—these changes until everyone has had time to get used to them.
Have your own communication to-dos that you plan on implementing? Share them in the comment section below. There’s so much we can learn from each other.