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COVID-19: Patient & Practice Health

By: Nathan Brown | March 30th, 2020

COVID-19: Patient & Practice Health Blog Feature

While it is true that most specialty practices are currently faced with partial closures due to COVID-19 isolation orders, many providers are still doing what they can to care for their patients. To help our readers minimize the risk of exposure in their practices while still providing necessary care, we’ve outlined several suggestions for safeguarding both patient and practice health.

It is important for our readers to note that Nextech is not a governing body. We strongly recommend everyone continue monitoring and following the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as local, state and federal government regarding the appropriate procedures for COVID-19.

BEFORE THE APPOINTMENT

Before a patient arrives at your practice, there are a number of measures you can put in place to protect patients and your staff from unnecessary exposure:

Rescheduling & Telehealth

  • Update any appointments you can to telehealth visits
  • Any non-urgent appointments that can’t be done via telehealth can be rescheduled to a future date when you believe your practice will be able to reopen, based on the guidelines provided by government and regulatory entities
  • Prescreen patients that must be seen in person and make sure they are provided clear instructions on the new visit procedures during the COVID-19 health emergency

Stagger Appointments in the Schedule

  • Highest risk and immunocompromised patients should be scheduled in the morning block, providing them with a safer environment
  • Provide a small gap between appointments to reduce the number of patients in the waiting room and manage delays so patients do not need to wait as long

Keep Patients Informed

  • Set the correct expectations for patients before their arrival
  • Be sure to provide instructions on new procedures before the patient arrives for a visit
  • Keeping patients informed is key to creating reassurance and compliance
  • Use resources such as patient portals, email, text messaging, automated phone/recall systems and any other platform that facilitates mass communication

Patient Screening

  • Call patients ahead of the visit to review current systemic symptoms and travel history/exposure risk
  • Take the patient’s temperature upon arrival

DURING & AFTER THE APPOINTMENT

As the patient makes the journey from check-in to exam and checkout, follow the below guidelines to ensure the minimum potential for exposure is maintained throughout the visit:

Eliminate Waiting Areas

  • Assign one staff member (or more, if needed) to greet patients at the entrance for temperature screening and check-in, as well as to redirect patients as needed
  • Whenever possible, have the patient bypass the waiting area and go straight to the exam room
  • Ask patients to wait in their cars instead of the waiting room, then send patients a text when an exam room becomes available
  • Make use of the remote check-in option provided by your patient portal

Limit Non-Patient Visitors

  • Advise patients to not bring more than one additional person to their appointment
  • Ask any additional visitors who arrive with a patient to please wait in their vehicle
  • A staff member can assist with contacting them via phone or text if the patient requires assistance from more than one person in order to return to their vehicle

Complete Transactions in Exam Rooms

  • Screenings, exams and checkouts should all be conducted in one area, limiting exposure throughout the practice
  • Consider making use of iPads, tablets or laptops to assist with this

Rx Refills

  • Use e-prescribing to reduce exposure risk at both your practice and the pharmacy
  • Prescribe at least a three-month supply of medication, when applicable, to minimize the number of unnecessary trips patients must make to the pharmacy
  • Prescribing in the above manner will also reduce the amount of refill requests and non-urgent calls to your practice from patients and pharmacies

Disinfect & Sanitize Regularly

  • Disinfect all surfaces before and after each patient visit
  • Have all patients wash their hands (or have them use hand sanitizer, if a handwashing station is unavailable) before entering the exam rooms
  • Make sure your staff are following proper procedures for changing out gloves, which should be done after each patient to reduce the risk of cross-contamination
  • If you choose to use the waiting area, you should also be sure to remove all items that could be leisurely handled by multiple people, such as magazines, pens, toys and other similar items

The COVID-19 heath emergency is testing everyone in healthcare as they do their best to continue serving their patients during the pandemic. By following the above guidelines or the visual aid here, you will be able to protect yourself, your staff and your patients from unnecessary exposure risks.