This is the third blog post in my series on working on your business, when you can’t work in your business. My intention is to help providers improve sustainability and efficiency within their practices, so they can come out of this pandemic with a renewed spirit and the ability to provide maximum benefits to patients.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the other blog posts in this series:
In times of crisis, the need for clear, transparent, and frequent communication is paramount—and this is doubly true for rehab therapists. As essential healthcare providers, we must be at the forefront of helping our patients discern between fact and misinformation—and we all know there’s plenty of misinformation tearing through our social circles day in and day out. But, your communication doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be limited to fact-checking. Offering frank, frequent communication about your clinic can help you stay relevant to patients and referral sources. In fact, ramping up your presence in your community and online will be critical to keeping your business viable as states and communities open back up.
Tony Robbins said, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” With that, here are four communication to-dos you can focus on to improve yourself and your business while patient loads are still light.
1. Reach out to your professional circle.
When I say you should reach out to your professional circle, I don’t mean that you should send a message to everyone you’ve ever added on LinkedIn. I’m talking specifically about the people in your network who directly influence your success in the clinic—whether they’re patients, staff, or referral sources.
Communicating with your staff is an absolute, mission-critical must! Many clinic leaders have made tough calls regarding furloughs and layoffs, leaving those who are still working in a constant state of suspense. Will they have a job in a week? In a month? To allay these fears and preserve staff unity and engagement, you must keep your team apprised of any and all updates pertaining to your business.
At WebPT, we have a large team of 550 employees spanning eight different states. Effective communication becomes tougher with size and distance, which is why we’ve implemented a multi-touch system. Senior leaders stay in touch with their respective teams through daily check-ins, and company-wide communication is happening on a weekly basis. Nancy Ham, our CEO, sends an email to the company every other week, providing company updates and sharing personal work-from-home anecdotes and shelter-in-place toleration tactics. On Fridays of the opposing weeks, she and I present a live company-wide webinar packed with morale boosters and detailed company information, including:
- industry data/status,
- company project updates,
- company financial reviews,
- re-opening plans/status,
- team and personnel kudos,
- community projects, and (of course)
- advocacy opportunities.
Your communication must address the questions on your employees’ minds. One way we ensure we hit the mark with our team at WebPT is by asking them what they would like to hear about. The Monday prior to our bi-weekly webinar, we send out a reminder email with a link to an anonymous survey where employees can submit the questions they’d like us to address. We then incorporate the answers to those questions into our presentation.
Strike a balance in your messaging.
It is important to strike a balance in tone when speaking with your staff. An overly chipper and positive rally speech might come across as disingenuous, but a doom-and-gloom recap of your organization’s struggles might distract (and just plain stress out) your employees. So, try to maintain a positive outlook—while also being transparent regarding the challenges ahead.
When employees receive honest details about what is going on, they will be more confident in your decisions moving forward—including how you choose to handle re-opening your clinic or ramping up your patient volume. And you don’t have to give your staff—or even have—an ironclad plan right this second. So much is still in flux (federal and state guidelines, for one), and it's okay to tell people that your decisions are made on a week-by-week basis. However, it's important that you don’t make promises you can’t deliver on—even due to unforeseen circumstances.
Emphasize safety to instill confidence in others.
As closed clinics begin to reopen (and as clinics that have stayed open start to see increased patient volume), the risk of infection will rise. Providing clear and consistent protocols for your team, your patients, and any others who may enter your clinic is imperative to instilling confidence and credibility with your peers. As healthcare providers, we must model good behaviors, because we have the potential to influence and educate people in our communities who need care.
Keeping your patients in the loop is incredibly important if you want them to continue seeking your services. Keep them apprised of your clinic’s open status and cleaning protocols—and inform them about any telehealth services or other new offerings that will help them connect with you amid the chaos. Whether you communicate with patients through your website, email, text messages, or social media, providing updated, relevant, and interesting information will help you stay engaged with an important segment of your business—existing patients.
Physicians, case managers, and other healthcare professionals are in a similar situation rehab therapists are in: with patients cancelling elective surgeries and postponing maintenance care, patient volume has dropped significantly. Take advantage of this universal downtime to reach out to, and connect with, your key referral sources—on a both a business and personal level. Compare notes regarding how this situation has affected your respective businesses. How are they coping with declining patient volumes? Is there a possibility of joining forces to put together a community event on social media? Could they contribute to your website’s blog—or vice versa? And on the personal front, make it a point to ask how they and their family are doing.
2. Update your website.
As I mentioned previously in this series, now is the perfect time to work on areas of your business that you don’t usually have time to focus on. Start with your website: look at it from top to bottom. Is it truly representative of your practice? Is it consistent with your brand, and does it drive traffic and provide insightful, up-to-date information? Is it easy to navigate? Do you have control over its development, and can you add new content when necessary? Do you have a blog? Have you taken the time to optimize the site for keywords and search? Does it provide an avenue for patients to complete their paperwork digitally? As we move further into the digital age, this will become an important feature to have. If you’re not sure where to start, WebPT has written many blog posts and hosted multiple webinars about improving and optimizing your website, so make sure you check out some of the links I provided in this paragraph.
If you already have a website that is serving your needs, I challenge you to think about changes you may need to make as we transition into our new normal.
Once your website is up to par, update your blog with relevant COVID-19 information. This will help patients and site visitors know that you are staying current with the latest CDC guidelines. Share how your clinic is adapting to these unprecedented times by highlighting specific operational changes that will stay in effect for the foreseeable future (e.g., new clinic hours and cleaning protocols).
Positive reviews and five-star ratings are crucial to cultivating a strong online presence. Good reviews will help your clinic pop up on that coveted first page of Google results when patients search for a rehab therapist in their area.
One way you can improve your reviews is by measuring your Net Promoter Score® (NPS®), which is an indicator of patient experience and satisfaction. Your NPS can provide insight about how patients are responding to your new processes and procedures. And you don’t have to track it by hand. Implementing an automated system to collect and amalgamate these responses can save you time and give you easily accessible analysis about your raving fans as well as your detractors (i.e., those who are unsatisfied with their experience in your clinic). Once you identify the patients who are giving positive feedback, you can source reviews from them—thus encouraging other patients to venture back into your practice. And you can use critical feedback to adjust your processes and approaches accordingly.
As our profession adapts to this new age of social distancing, you will likely have to integrate virtual rehab therapy visits (probably something your clinic hasn’t offered in the past) into your clinic’s repertoire. Remember, virtual rehab therapy is new to almost everyone—not just you—which is why it will be critical that you educate your patients about the ins and outs of remote treatment. Help patients adapt to these novel healthcare delivery methods by dedicating a page on your website to remote therapy. Explain how virtual visits work, why they work, and how patients should approach a remote appointment. Outline a clear step-by-step process that they can follow, and let them know exactly what to expect. But, don’t stop at updating your website. Make sure your front office staff (or whoever is interfacing with patients at this time) are telehealth experts who can confidently educate patients about these services. Providing this information is imperative if you want to maintain a positive brand experience. (Check out this video to see how one PT practice successfully launched a telehealth program in the wake of COVID-19.)
3. Look forward to telehealth.
As you are hopefully aware, CMS announced some fantastic news last week: Medicare will now cover telehealth treatment provided by PTs, OTs, and SLPs. Not only will CMS pay for a telehealth visit at the same rate as an in-person visit, but it is also retroactively paying for remote visits completed on or after March 1, 2020. At this time, we have no idea how long this change will remain in effect—but in the meantime, telehealth is a wonderful mechanism to help you start generating revenue in your clinic. We have provided a ton of information on how to complete, document, and bill for these visits.
But if telehealth services are completely new in your clinic, then you will need to form a game plan to ensure your telehealth program kicks off without a hitch. Here are some tips:
- Educate your patients. Create a step-by-step process to ensure patients know how to set up an appointment, how to complete paperwork, and what to expect during a virtual visit. You can provide this info via your website or through an email to your mailing lists. Pro tip: Having a patient relationship management (PRM) system to help you keep in touch with your community is extremely beneficial at this time.
- Choose the right telehealth platform for your clinic. Remember that, even though the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is giving providers a little bit of HIPAA wiggle-room, it’s still best practice to contract with a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform—and even better practice to pick one that is willing to enter into a business associate agreement (BAA). Also be cognizant of any tech requirements that the software might have (e.g., minimum Internet upload and download speeds), and ensure that your clinic can meet them.
- Establish new telehealth administration processes and train your staff. Try to create a system that addresses every step of the telehealth process. Who sets up patient appointments? Who collects their insurance and payment information? Who follows up with patients post-appointment? Additionally, think about your cancellation and no-show policy, your intake and telehealth consent forms, and how you’ll create a consistently high-quality telehealth experience. Then, train your staff and run through some practice scenarios.
4. Stay true to your roots and connect with your family.
We pour ourselves into our work, so if we don’t have our personal lives straightened out, that’s liable to bleed into our professional lives—especially now, when the boundaries between work life and home life are paper thin. So, part of strengthening your business involves getting your ducks in a row at home.
As physical therapists, we are on the front lines of human interaction. Many of us are still putting our hands on our patients to treat them each and every day. This kind of professional environment can be daunting—and downright dangerous—for therapists who have (or interact with people who have) underlying health conditions. Even when our clinics administer health screenings and require us to use PPE, our close contact with patients puts us and them at a higher risk of contracting communicable diseases like COVID-19.
Having frank conversations about the risks of your day job with your significant others, family members, and friends is critical, as we could easily serve as a vector for coronavirus. We must be painstakingly aware of our interactions with others, and we should adhere to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines longer than others.
It’s prudent to create an isolation plan in the event that you become ill. Try to account for every scenario, and start by asking yourself hypotheticals. If you get sick, how will you divide up your home environment? How will you protect your significant other and your children (if you have them)? How long will you need to follow strict lockdown protocol? Will you lock down your entire household? Do you know anyone who could help with supply drop-offs if required? You get the idea. There are many scenarios that you should plan for in case you become ill.
We don’t know for certain what our new normal is going to look like. There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty percolating throughout the world, and crystal balls are cloudy when it comes to the financial state of our country, consumer sentiment toward hands-on care, and the permanence of telehealth regulatory expansion. We don’t yet know what a rehab practice will really look like moving forward.
But, in times of uncertainty, you can never go wrong with honest, transparent, and informative communication. I’m helping homeschool my daughter, and right now, we’re covering the American Revolution. We recently came across a quote from Nat Turner, who said, “Good communication is the bridge between clarity and confusion.”
Be the bridge! We can do this!