Dr. Tashfeen Ekram

Re-opening: Four ways practices can recoup lost revenue

June 22, 2020
By Dr. Tashfeen Ekram

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial losses practices face are real.
Between having to cancel elective procedures, patients being unable to visit clinics due to stay-at-home orders, added expenses to acquire protective gear, and other obstacles, a majority of healthcare clinics are experiencing significant financial strain. We continue to see more and more examples like this one: Seattle-based UW Medicine expects to see financial losses in excess of $500 million by the end of the summer due to a dip in clinical revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.

To offset losses, healthcare clinics are implementing pay cuts and furloughs. But those are often akin to a band-aid solution to a much larger problem, and leaves the underlying issues unsolved. As we look to reopening plans and a potential second wave, it’s important that clinics implement sound and action-oriented strategies that minimize the damage and set a more solid foundation for an uncertain future.
Here are four steps healthcare organizations can take to begin the process of financially recovering from COVID-19.

One: Prompt patients to reschedule canceled appointments
Recovering money that was lost due to canceled appointments during the shutdown is crucial. One way to do that is to reach out to patients with a reminder — and an easy process — to reschedule. With so many cancelations, the easiest way to do that is by sending a mass message to all patients whose appointments were canceled (rather than manually sending a message to each individual).

Within that single message, you can include a link for patients to self-schedule their appointments, preventing your staff from having to spend their time on the phones and giving your patients more control over scheduling. In addition to prompting patients to reschedule their appointments, messages can include screening questionnaires that help prioritize which patients need to be seen first, and whether patients have any symptoms of COVID-19.

Two: Enable seamless screening
Your website can be used to pre-screen patients – saving time and resources. As more people look to reschedule their appointments, it’s important to screen for COVID-19 symptoms to ensure the health and safety of office staff and other patients. By automating processes and making information available digitally, you can drastically reduce the time office staff needs to spend on these tasks – and fit into most patients’ preference for digital interactions.

Three: Make patients feel comfortable seeking care
Many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of leaving home, especially to go to a doctor’s office. Therefore, to get them to reschedule canceled appointments, it’s important to ease those fears. One way to do that is by offering virtual visits. Seizing opportunities to convert some of your in-office appointments to telehealth virtual visits helps reduce risks of COVID-19 exposures for both patients and staff.

If patients do need to be seen in your clinic, you can encourage them to complete intake forms and pay co-payments digitally to minimize exchanges between patients and reception staff.

Houston-based endocrinologist Medhavi Jogi, M.D. is working to remove any reason for patients to talk to someone at the front desk by collecting information – for example, COVID screening, co-pay payment and insurance information – online in advance of appointments. His practice uses a telehealth tool that enables staff to interact via text message so patients can alert the front desk of their arrival at the clinic. When rooms are full, a patient is given a period of time when they can return, and like many restaurants, they receive a text when it's time to come back for their in-person visit.

Four: Communicate conveniently and efficiently
If you are like most offices around the country, your phones are ringing off the hook as patients call to reschedule, ask questions related to their health and inquire about COVID-19 policies (among other things). One way to manage the overwhelm staff is experiencing – and increase patient engagement and satisfaction – is by adopting text messaging as one way to communicate with patients. Many patients actually prefer texting for its convenience. It allows them to get in touch with your clinic without long hold times, and fits into most people’s existing communications process. Think about how many times a person picks up the phone to call someone versus to send a text message.

There are countless ways you can use text messages to drive efficiency — from appointment reminder text messages to sharing educational information about managing chronic disease. Texting will play an important role in the future of healthcare communication; embracing it now is a step in the right direction.

As we all know, the effects of COVID-19 on healthcare will be felt long after clinics reopen. While the new normal is still being defined, there are sizable financial obstacles providers must overcome. Rather than reacting to what comes next, clinics that have a strategic plan in place to help recover lost revenue will be in a solid position to bounce back faster. These steps aren’t the sole path to getting there, but they are solid and proven actions that lead to increased patient engagement and more consistent revenue.

About the author: Dr. Tashfeen Ekram, MD, is the co-founder and chief medical officer of Luma Health.