Across the country, state lockdowns are beginning to be lifted and restrictions eased. Additionally, temporary holds on elective and non-emergent surgeries and procedures are expiring and many specialty practices are either reopening or planning to reopen soon. While everyone is eager to return to work in this new normal, it is important to recognize the fact that this initial reopening of the country may be short-lived. In fact, many experts are already warning that a second wave of COVID-19 will hit in the fall of 2020. Without a vaccine, there is a high likelihood that this will result in another period of lockdowns and restrictions.
The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was an event unprecedented in our time, and one that caught many in the healthcare community off guard. As a result, many healthcare providers found themselves in reactionary positions as they scrambled to implement contactless procedures and telemedicine solutions that would allow them to continue operating while maintaining social distancing guidelines. We have been warned in advance of the second wave though, which means now is the time to make sure your practice is ready to act (as opposed to just react) when it comes. One way to ensure your practice is never again unprepared for a pandemic, whether from COVID-19 or any other virus, is to consider establishing and maintaining a Pandemic Response Team among your staff.
In a continuing effort to support our readers in dealing with issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, this blog will offer guidance on how to establish and maintain a Pandemic Response Team in a specialty practice or clinic.
Pandemic Response Team: Roles & Responsibilities
Any Pandemic Response Team will need to have multiple roles and responsibilities, which can be assigned based on the amount of staff you have available. If you have limited staff available, you should consider assigning multiple roles to each person. If you have more than enough staff, however, feel free to assign more than one person to a role. No matter the configuration, your Pandemic Response Team should consist of the following roles:
This person will be responsible for coordinating and leading the team as a whole. Depending on preference, the provider or office manager may be best suited to this role. It is important that this person have a strong grasp of how the practice operates and have enough seniority to assign tasks and authorize actions.
It is the responsibility of this role to acquire and compile accurate information on the disease in question, whether COVID-19 or some other virus, causing the pandemic. The only skill required for this position is the ability to effectively research the internet and understand the validity of research sources (i.e. CDC website). This person should subscribe to updates from official organizations such as the CDC and WHO. This person should also do a daily readthrough of multiple (and valid) news sites such as the BBC or CNN. He/She also needs to have strong writing and communication skills, as it is his/her job to interpret the information they gather and share it with the rest of the team.
If the current pandemic has taught us anything, it is that PPE and medical supplies can quickly run out or become hard to acquire. It is this person’s responsibility to ensure this does not happen. It would be best to assign this role to a staff member who already has a strong familiarity with your practice’s inventory and supply chain (suppliers, vendors, etc.). This person will have to track and maintain a reserve stock of medical supplies and PPE for use in emergencies only, as well as create a rotation schedule to ensure that items in the reserve supply do not expire. This person will update the rest of the team on inventory and supplies, as well as suggest solutions when certain items become unobtainable due to supply shortages, etc.
Patient Engagement Specialist
Another lesson learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that patient communication is paramount during an outbreak. Though it is important to communicate with patients, HOW you communicate with them becomes even more crucial. More specifically, the TONE of your communication will need to reflect the situation. For example, a week before the outbreak, it was appropriate to be lighthearted and fun with social media posts, to make jokes and be a little silly. The day COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, such posts became wildly inappropriate. This person needs to understand how to strike an appropriate tone in communications, on social media and elsewhere. The individual chosen for this role should also be someone who is already familiar with your patients and clientele.
Practice Protection Specialist
This person has just one responsibility—to keep everyone safe. This person will need to coordinate with the Research Officer to determine what types of PPE will be appropriate and effective. He/She will also need to work with the Supply/Resource Officer to ensure that the necessary protective equipment is in stock (and that an appropriate amount remains in reserve). The individual chosen for this role will also need to stay up-to-date on OSHA guidelines as well as state, federal and local requirements such as social distancing measures and lockdown orders. Lastly, this person will need to report relevant information to the Response Plan Coordinator, to assist in forming response plans.
Response Plan Coordinator
Last but certainly not least, the team will need a Response Plan Coordinator. This role is responsible for creating your practice’s response plan, as well as making sure everyone in the practice is aware of and properly educated on their roles in said plan. This person needs to be a strong communicator, as he/she will be responsible for contacting all staff in the event of a pandemic to inform them of what response plans and processes are being implemented. This role will also need to work closely with the Team Leader and have a close relationship with all other members of the practice’s Pandemic Response Team. In a way, this person is the backbone of the entire group, as the plan(s) he/she creates will require information and support from multiple members of the team.
Practices should be making plans for the second wave of COVID-19 and making them now. Also, it is likely that this will not be the last virus to affect the world. Failing to have a response team with a plan in place could poorly position your practice when the next crisis occurs, leaving you and your staff with no choice but to once again hastily respond to another pandemic.
Nextech clients have complete access to our Community Portal, offering a library of resources and guidance on new regulations, best practices and other relevant information related to the current pandemic. To find out how Nextech can prepare your practice so that it is capable of continuing operations in any situation, fill out the form here.
The information provided in this blog article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or other advice; instead, all information, content, and materials are available for general informational purposes only. Information in this article may not constitute the most up-to-date legal, financial or other information. Readers should contact their attorney, financial, tax, or other advisor to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter. This article contains links to other third-party websites. Any such links are provided only for convenience and Nextech does not recommend or endorse the contents of any third-party sites.