COVID-19: A physician's guide to digital preparedness
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Digital preparedness during COVID-19: 5 things every practice needs to do now

It’s on everyone’s minds — the novel coronavirus, which quickly evolved from a news story to a global pandemic. Countries are closing their borders. Cities are shutting down. Companies are telling employees to work from home. People are practicing social distancing. And the healthcare industry is experiencing unprecedented strain.

Today, the digital tools once used by physicians and hospitals for their convenience properties have become lifesaving prevention measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

1. Update listings information so patients can find and reach you

Many physicians are closing their offices temporarily to limit face-to-face contact and slow the spread of COVID-19. Others are adjusting their hours to accommodate patient demand. Even more are turning to FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other audio and video technologies to treat patients.

However you’re adjusting to COVID-19, make sure patients know what measures you’re putting in place. Update your listings across the healthcare web so patients don’t find conflicting or incorrect information. Consider adding banners and important messaging to your web profiles on sites like Healthgrades to redirect patients to special announcements, updated accessibility information, hotline numbers, and more crucial information.

Some tips to get started:

  • Google: Pay special attention to Google, as an influx of “near me” searches will send more people to your Google My Business profile. Try out Google Posts to share new protocols, precautions, or how your practice is reacting to the crisis.
  • Healthgrades: Earlier this month, Healthgrades launched a chatbot to help the public deal with the coronavirus. The bot also embeds Healthgrades’ find-a-physician directory to make it easier for at-risk patients to access care. 
  • Facebook: With more people staying at home or under shelter-in-place mandates, many are relying on the social network to alleviate feelings of isolation. Check out Facebook’s recommendations for managing your business page here.

2. Monitor your reviews to identify problems and make changes as needed 

In times of crisis, physicians may be less concerned about their online reputations, turning their focus wholly to the responsibility of caring for patients. But reviews can shed light into performance issues that may require addressing — especially points of communication failure. Frustrated patients having difficulty getting in contact with the front office may resort to reviews as a way of getting heard. Other issues like appointment availability, overtaxed healthcare professionals, or ill-prepared waiting rooms may arise. You can even test-drive tools that do sentiment analysis to take the pulse of what’s happening outside of your purview.

Some third-party sites are tightening the reins on reviews during this pandemic. Google has suspended leaving and replying to reviews, and Yelp has put stricter content guidelines in place to limit the spread of misinformation. These new rules mean healthcare sites, like Healthgrades and Vitals, will see a spike in traffic, as patients search for trustworthy advice. Encourage patient reviews on these sites from patients’ own devices. If you are a current Doctor.com client, reach out to your customer success manager and ask about ReviewRequest — a fully digital method of collecting and publishing patient reviews, no shared surfaces involved.

3. Adjust your online scheduling capacity based on your practice’s needs 

Digital scheduling capabilities make it easier for patients to book appointments with you on their own time. They also free up your front office for more critical tasks — like screening patients, sterilizing the waiting room, or managing an influx of in-office demands.

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Make sure all locations and physicians keep their office hours up to date. Adjust your appointment availability to reflect any changes, including expanded or reduced business hours, virtual appointments, and walk-in visits. If you’ve decided to temporarily stop seeing patients for the foreseeable future, use the vacation settings to block out the time you won’t be accepting appointments.

4. Consider virtual visits or partner with a telemedicine company to limit face-to-face interaction 

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it is relaxing penalties for HIPAA violations to let doctors conduct virtual visits via audio and video technologies. This is a critical step for practicing “social distancing,” restricting the need for interactions, and curbing the spread of this virus (and others). If you decide a patient requires an in-person examination, telemedicine saves otherwise healthy patients — as well as physicians and their team members — from exposure.

5. Don’t throw the customer experience and service out the window 

Panic and chaos seem to be the ruling order of the day. In a time of crisis, however, the need for humanity and understanding is never more apparent. People are desperate for information. They are looking for leaders to assuage their fears, calm their nerves, and help them get through this trying time. So, don’t forget to show the human side of your practice.

Steps physicians can take to communicate on a personal level: 

  • Emphasize your care philosophy and the steps the office is taking to ensure everyone’s safety.
  • Leverage one-to-many communication platforms to reach out to patients and make them feel like valued members of the community (while being mindful of HIPAA).
  • Email patients with updates so they don’t have to hunt for information on their own.
  • Use video to put a face to your message.
  • Anticipate questions and have a place with responses to enable patients to self-serve.
  • Share your knowledge and information from reputable resources to curb the spread of misinformation and mass hysteria.
  • Offer tips to help people during this difficult time even if your practice is less affected by COVID-19. For example, physical therapists can demonstrate in-home exercises; therapists can share coping strategies; dentists can reiterate best practices for optimal hygiene; dermatologists can offer DIY skincare solutions. Get creative — the opportunities are endless!

At Doctor.com, we know that the healthcare community is working around the clock to get us over to the other side of COVID-19. And we would like to thank the incredible doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who are on the front lines of caring for the people who need it most. Because of you, there will be an end to this crisis.

If you have any questions about the steps and strategies outlined above, please do not hesitate to reach out. Current Doctor.com clients should contact their client success managers. Otherwise, please get in touch here if you think we can assist in any way.

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