Practice managers are time-poor, stressed, burnt out and overwhelmed with the sheer volume of administration. At the same time, patient anxiety and stress levels are at an all time high.
Clinic to Cloud's recent whitepaper, Building a Better Practice Beyond COVID-19, surveyed both practitioners and practice managers uncovered 31% of health professionals are more stressed out, burnt out, with 69% reporting an increase in administrative burden or ‘paperwork.’
In a recent webinar uncovering the survey’s key findings, Kenna Jefferson, business manager at Ear Nose Throat Newcastle discussed the major impacts the pandemic has had within Australian clinics and what practice managers can do to alleviate the critical pain points.
Impact of telehealth on time management
While more clinics are embracing telehealth it's actually causing more administrative work for clinicians. According to the survey, 61% of respondents said a quarter of their consults occurred via telehealth and 23% said three quarters or more of their consults happened via telehealth.
Kenna says thinking back to pre-COVID, making the transition to telehealth services she didn't expect the increase in administration.
"We're in Newcastle, so we do have a lot of patients that do benefit from telehealth. A lot of rural patients travel a long way to see us, so it's fantastic for the patients. And we had already been doing some telehealth at the practice.
"However with the pandemic, doing it more often we found it a bit clunky. We didn't do it often enough to make it an easy thing for us to do. It was a bit clunky and we always forgot how to do certain steps," she says.
Communication is everything
With the survey showing an 71% increase in patient anxiety since COVID, Kenna agrees her practice also saw a surge in patient stress since the pandemic.
“For instance, cancelling surgeries when they patients didn’t know when they could be rebooked during the early moments of the pandemic was very stressful, but thankfully our patients were understanding,” she says.
To avoid patient anxiety and stress, Kenna highlights the importance of patient communication to ease patient stress, while enhancing internal workflows to manage the higher volume of patient communication.
"Communicating with patients, giving them every opportunity to either cancel, or call and ask a question about how to attend their appointment, what they should be doing. And getting all that information out first so that there isn't that confusion in the end," Kenna explains.
"As a whole community, most people during these times have been pretty reasonable and understand that there's limitations on what we can do and what we can offer them. But it's all about the messaging, and making sure that they're not having to chase you for information and that they know how to log onto their telehealth consult."
To get their practice on track to alleviate patient pain points, Kenna says they had to get everything streamlined and decide what the procedures were going to be, starting with enhancing methods of patient communication.
"Communicating to the patients about how the telehealth was going to work via an SMS through Clinic to Cloud was a big help for us. We could send them an SMS five minutes before their appointment and say, 'We're running on time. We'll be ready to go in five minutes.' Or, 'We're running a little bit behind schedule.'"
"They know that they're supposed to wait in their car until their appointment time to come in. They know that when they come in, we're going to take their temperature. None of these things are a surprise, because we've sent them the email or the SMS, and we've told them exactly what's going to happen.”
Make the technology work smarter for your practice
With the survey finding 50% of private practice reporting an increase in patient appointment confusion and no shows, Kenna says technology can be a key enabler to help clear the lines of communication from the outset.
"I think confused patients generate a lot of long telephone conversations,” she explains. “You end up with a lot of phone calls that don’t actually need to happen if patients had the clear information from the beginning. I’ve always made sure my team is clear on what the messaging is for our patients."
"Staying on the same page, keeping everybody on the same page, and making sure that the patient gets the information they need so that they're not confused is critical. And by doing that with SMSs and emails is a big help. It’s all about making sure they've got all the information they need at each step of the patient journey.”
Technology investment and uptake
There's a good level of optimism within healthcare in terms of investing in it. According to the Clinic to Cloud report 52% are maintaining spend in technology solutions across private practice. Especially technology solutions that support virtual or remote clinical practice management, like cloud solutions, online payments, telehealth, mobile apps.
When investing in technology, Kenna recommends choosing the solution that makes your life easier.
"If you can look across the board and say, right, at the moment I'm spending two hours a day dictating, then I'm paying a staff member to type it all out and then print it out and send it,” she explains. “There's other options. There's technology that's now taking all that hard work out.”
Looking into the future beyond the pandemic, Kenna says if you want to stay relevant and if you want to maximise your efficiency, you've got to at least try new things.
“And like I say to my staff, we can always try something new. If it doesn't work, we can go back to how we were doing it before,” she adds. "But looking into embracing new ways of doing things, it's the way of the future. And in our practice, we only have one doctor, we only have one nurse - their time is precious. If we can make better use of their time, then it's a win for everybody.”
Find out more of Kenna’s top tips in the complete episode of the Building a Better Practice Beyond COVID-19 webinar. Watch free and on-demand here.