Between the months of October and March, outbreak of the flu hits its peak, which is what we refer to as flu season.
During this time, it’s advised that people avoid contact with those suffering from flu-like symptoms since it can be caught any number of ways. This is easier said than done for those who work with patients, who find it almost impossible to avoid exposure to sickness on a daily basis.
Healthcare facilities find themselves in a uniquely frightening position during flu season, which is why instituting mandatory flu vaccinations has become critical.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that healthcare personnel get vaccinated to decrease the risk of contracting the flu, and while many facilities choose to go this route, there are still some that offer more flexibility when it comes to mandatory vaccinations.
But, with that flexibility comes consequences, and many medical practices are playing a dangerous game.
That’s because the flu and its associated complications were responsible for an estimated 80,000 deaths during the 2017-2018 flu season. What’s even more troubling is that there were about 900,000 flu related hospitalizations last year, exposing many of this nation’s healthcare workers to the illness. The good news is that the CDC reports 91.9% of HCP (Health Care Personnel) working in hospitals had vaccination coverage.
Still, there are healthcare workers who often don’t get flu vaccinations like office personnel, assistants, and those working in long-term care facilities. Due to the unpredictable nature of influenza and how it travels, it’s advised that these employees also get vaccinated.
Aside from vaccinations, which is the best method for keeping a practice safe, there are also other preventative measures that should be in place. These are guidelines that every medical facility should follow, especially during flu season.
Here are some steps your practice should take to further protect against the flu:
- HCP should be notified of incoming patients with flu-like symptoms.
- HCP with flu-like symptoms or an acute respiratory infection should not be allowed to report for work.
- Institute hand hygiene procedures.
- Promote cough etiquette.
- Always provide gloves and give gowns to patients with whom you will have any tissue or fluid contact.
- Communicate between departments and notify any relevant personnel when a patient is being transferred.
A combination of smart vaccination policies and safe practices when handling patients is the best way to protect your staff from the flu this season. When it comes to the dangers we can’t see with our own eyes, education is our best friend. Maintaining constant communication with your staff and staying up to date with preventative measures ensures a safe environment for both personnel and the patients they care for.
The scope of telemedicine’s effect reaches all ends of the medical industry. Patients, medical practitioners, and insurance companies have had to adapt to new technology that is making healthcare more accessible to patients around the country.
Whether it’s a difficult trip to a doctor’s office, or a quick question concerning an unusual change in body temperature, telemedicine is putting patients in direct contact with the help they need. Physicians are taking notice, as well as the insurance companies who are learning how to treat these new services.
What we’ve seen is more patient outreach and participation, but with more services being rolled out over time, there’s more to be seen from telemedicine’s impact.
A Changing Medicaid Landscape
With more telehealth options available to patients, the way providers handle these services will no doubt change over the next few years. Medicaid, for example, is used by an estimated 20% of Americans. Despite this, and the growing use of telemedicine, only 9 states have current laws concerning Medicaid coverage of telehealth and other related services.
To further complicate things, there are still some states that don’t consider the patient’s home as an eligible site for a telehealth visit or consultation and designates that another designated location be used.
There are also many other limitations and processes in place set forth by individual states concerning reimbursement of telehealth services, but the industry seems to be shifting towards more inclusive Medicaid policies.
Rising costs are a major factor for medical practices, and telemedicine poses a solution in its use of remote systems and services that can substitute for in-face meetings.
These services include
• Telehealth appointments
• Triage services
• Remote monitoring
Telemedicine can also add some alleviation to practices with a small staff since in theory, less unnecessary visits would mandate less staffing.
The example just mentioned is indicative of telemedicine’s current position in the world of medicine; while it does provide cost cutting alternatives, its success lies in the hands of the patients. With the assistance of mobile devices, telemedicine can lead to stricter adherence to medications, a decline in the number of Emergency Room visits, and use of video consultations in place of in-person appointments.
Quicker Response Rates
We continue to see the effects of inaccessible and often unavailable mental health resources for the majority of Americans. Behavioral health issues, unlike most physical conditions, can be treated through telehealth services.
“Crisis” situations can be averted if from the privacy of their own home, a mental health patient can utilize existing telepsychiatry services to get in touch with someone they trust. Emergency help aside, people living in areas with little, to no mental healthcare providers in the area, can reach a professional through convenient methods.
New elements can enter the mix, healthcare is after all, an industry built on connections between constantly changing organizations. Telemedicine’s increased use can be solely attributed to our dependence on mobile technology, but that would ignore problems that have plagued the medical industry for years.
While it should be looked at as a tool to incorporate into existing healthcare practices, its use will only be effective if medical practices take time to craft an approach that works for their specific needs.
There are few places that inspire a wider range of emotions than a medical practice such as doctor’s offices and treatment centers. It’s for this reason that a practice must maintain a certain connection with patients, a human one.
This ensures that patients feel comfortable, and trust that your evaluations of their health and lifestyle advice are in their best interests. Along with an emphasis on excellent customer service, there are changes that can be made in your appearance and message which can set you apart from competing practices making the same claims of success.
Here are 2 ways you can give your medical practice a humanizing makeover.
Giving a Human Touch
You want your patients to feel at home when they arrive at your facility, especially because this will be the case for many. Sharing success stories with those that enter the building or visit your website validates the claims you make pertaining to treatment.
Hospitals and treatment centers for children can display artwork from current and past patients, along with photos, and their success stories.
Another way you can give a human touch is by showcasing your staff. Provide photos, short bios, or internal award recipients like “Employees of the Month” on your office walls.
Don’t Give Your Technology the Center Stage
In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, there is a scene where Hayden Christianson’s character, Anakin, is being treated for a series of injuries and burns from battle. Several droids and mechanical arms tend to the patient and give the viewer an eerie image of what medicine could look like in the future.
What makes this scene so impactful to the viewer is the cold, faceless caretakers; devoid of emotion, they carry out the surgery with no regard for the patient. While this is a fantastical vision crafted for the big screen, it can serve as a warning to practitioners concerning the way they let technology take away from the human elements that are so much a part of their practice.
The faces behind the care, and the sincere vision that defines your practice, should always be in the spotlight.
Do you need to have extensive information about your machines and innovative treatment methods?
Of course. But it’s the trust you establish with patients that encourages them to embrace the technology you have to offer. Earning that trust means connecting with the people around your practice. Embodying a unified message among your staff and creating an environment rooted in compassion is the most effective way to humanize your practice.
Anyone who says they don’t care about their reputation is either one of two things: Joan Jett or a liar.
Medical practices are some of the few organizations that cannot afford to let their reputation fall by the way side. When someone is choosing the practice that will be responsible for treating, caring, and possibly diagnosing them, they tend to be picky about who they choose.
That is why, in order to attract a steady flow of patients, medical practices need to take an active role in preserving their online reputation. They can do this by focusing on three major areas where their reputation is vulnerable.
Healthcare Site Profiles
There are websites that cater to people looking for the right physician for themselves and their family; it’s here that your practice needs to pay close attention to the information attributed to your name.
Like your name.
Basic information like this needs to be up-to-date. Names, photographs, philosophy, and whether or not you are taking new patients should always be accurate or you run the risk of misrepresenting your practice or yourself.
Photos should be professional and of good quality, and your personal philosophy should make sense to the average patient.
Insurance information should also always be accurate, have your staff regularly check to see if the right carriers and plans are listed on your profile.
Sites like ZocDoc, Vitas, and Healthgrades provide even more extensive information to those who visit your profile. Here is where you can expand on your expertise and make mention of the procedures and fields you specialize in.
Medical practices serve as prime targets for cyberattacks, in fact a recent survey of 1,300 physicians found that 83% had experienced some sort of cyberattack.
Healthcare related industries are attractive for criminals since they usually deal with tons of personal information pertaining to their patients. If any of that information were to get out, it could mean bad news for your practice. Cyber criminals know this, so they will attempt to hold a practice ransom until their demands are met.
You can take steps to protect your practice from cyber attacks by constantly updating passwords, never sharing login information with one another, utilizing cloud software, and creating backups of important files.
Probably the most vulnerable place for your reputation to be damaged is your practice’s social media page. If your practice does not have a social media presence, then you are already opening yourself up to damage. You need to own your social media presence, that way no one else but you and your practice can define the service you give.
It’s also in your best interest to look for any mentions of your practice in other people’s Tweets, statuses, or posts. If you encounter something that makes your practice look bad, kindly address the issue in a public response. Many times, people just want to be heard. Staying in communication with them makes them feel good about not only themselves, but about your practice as well.
This is the ultimate goal of any establishment that chooses to be in the public eye: to look good and have a positive reputation among the members of the community it serves.
The term “burnout” brings to mind the image of a flame slowly losing its brightness, growing smaller until there’s only smoke where fire used to be. There is a flame that lives inside all of us, it motivates and inspires us to work for what we want in life. Like a flame, elements put stress upon it and eventually put it out. Employees experience burnout when the stress of the job combines with personal issues and causes an overall dissatisfaction with the current situation. This can result in something as little as an argument or drastic as an abrupt resignation.
If you would like to keep that inner flame in your employees alive and bright, your leadership team should keep these tips in mind.
Your employees need recognition, they need to feel as if they are a valued member of your practice. Employees who feel disconnected do just that, they disconnect. You will begin to see signs of this in the way they speak to fellow staff or patients, and a sense of frustration and tension will always be evident. Establish regular employee recognition initiatives and awards, this will encourage friendly competition among your staff and motivate them to stay onboard.
Recognition does not by any means have to be formal, it can be as simple as saying “good job” spontaneously to your employees. This goes a long way with people, especially when they aren’t expecting it.
Build a Better Break Room
Your break room should be a place where staff can wind down, eat, and prepare for the next half of their shift. Give employees options when it comes to snacks and refreshments, offering alternatives to the cafeteria.
You can also bring food into work as an act of appreciation – no one turns down free cake. No one normal, at least.
Provide More Time Off
Many a relationship has benefited from both parties agreeing on a break, only becoming stronger in the end. The same can also be said of professional relationships; when employees get the room to breathe, they are able to look at their employment situation from an objective standpoint.
In the end they may think, “it’s not so bad,” and come back to work with a positive and relaxed energy.
Open lines of communication to ensure that there is nothing being withheld from you or your staff. If your employees are feeling burnt out, they should be able to talk to you about it. Let your staff know that you care about their well-being and want to be notified if they ever feel overwhelmed.
This is the easiest and first thing you should do if you suspect members of your staff are on the verge of burnout. Preemptively speaking to an employee about how they’re feeling can be the difference between developing staff who simply deal with their job and those who love their job.
Think about the last time you went to a store or restaurant and had terrible service. You probably walked out of the place in a bad mood, vowed never to return, and then ripped the company on Twitter once you got home.
While that last one sounds a bit extreme, it happens pretty frequently in today’s world. A company’s reputation is constantly at risk of being taken down by its own reputation, whether that be a ride that kept breaking down or a burger that wasn’t fully cooked, people will know when someone has dropped the ball.
It’s the same for those working in the medical profession, except you don’t run the risk of burning someone’s food or telling kids they’re not tall enough to ride.
You’re dealing with people’s lives.
Customer service plays an important role in many aspects of a medical practice’s day-to-day operations. Whether it’s the moment a patient walks through the door, or when placing a call to confirm appointments, the amount of effort you put toward the customer experience says a lot about the care you provide. You want patients to feel good about upcoming appointments or like they have someone on their team on a day that could be very trying for them.
When medical practices fail to meet these levels of service, they reinforce the popular misconception that doctors want patients in and out of their offices quickly or that hospitals only wish to make money off patients any way they can. As with any organization today, your practice’s reputation is then at risk, and it only takes a few bad reviews of your services posted online to start making some serious dents. Yearly discussions about funding, budgets, and staffing will be marred by talks of miscommunication, inefficient follow-up procedures, and high-profile incidents. When these issues become constant, it’s bad news for that medical practice.
Healthcare is not free, it’s an agreement between the provider and patient. People are paying for the care you provide. If we think of care as a product, then even the most basic knowledge of sales will tell us that demonstrating the “value” of that product is what will keep patients coming back time and again. This idea that patients will show up anyway doesn’t hold water when you consider the general population’s attitude towards health insurance and the cost of care. People will live in pain or let a condition go untreated because they simply do not like the hospital or feel like the bills would be worse than their current situation. Hospitals attempting to collect payments are sent to voicemail daily since patients don’t want to talk about their situation or feel as though there’s nothing that can be done on the other end.
When your patients are faced with a decision to make an appointment or go to the hospital you want their faith in you to outweigh any costs or reservations they have about receiving your care. This is where your practice can excel, in comforting the minds of current, past, and future patients.
Let’s consider today’s average consumer: when shopping for something they would like, let’s say for instance a television, they first conduct a bit of research. This involves checking prices online, reading product reviews, and watching YouTube videos about the TV they’re considering buying.
If that same consumer is in the market for something a little more important, like a new physician, you can be sure they’re going to conduct the same amount of, if not more, research. That’s why maintaining a good presence on review sites and social media pages is essential to running a successful practice. It’s not difficult to stay on top of reviews and profiles but more a matter of keeping up-to-date information posted.
This is especially important for websites that specialize in physician and hospital reviews.
Examples of these sites are:
On these websites, you will have to provide current information since many potential patients may be totally unfamiliar with your practice. This means you risk seriously misrepresenting your practice if you don’t always have accurate information posted.
Your basic information like your name, photo (if allowed), and education is the first thing patients will see. When choosing a photo, make sure it’s professional and of good quality.
You need to also give specifics about your practice, since this is what most patients will care the most about when choosing a physician.
Information you will be asked for includes
- Whether or not you’re accepting new patients
- Field of expertise
- Care philosophy
- Affiliated hospitals
- Accepted insurance carriers and plans
That last one is especially important, since the health insurance landscape can be tricky for many patients – you want to help any way you can in giving them their options.
Getting patients into your office is only half the battle when it comes to maintaining an online reputation, it’s what happens after that can really harm a practice.
That’s because social media has given everyone a voice, and unfortunately that voice is sometimes not very happy.
Social media outlets where physician reviews can be seen include
If you encounter nasty or unflattering reviews, first do your research and find out the back story for the situation. Next, address the issue publicly in a professional and apologetic response. If, however, you are being tarnished without reason, take the steps necessary to remove the review according to the platform’s policies.
As long as physicians or their practices have not misrepresented themselves, and they take the time to respond to reviews in the appropriate manner, this shouldn’t be an issue. The main concern for physicians and the practices they represent should be maintaining an image of trustworthiness and care in their presentation online.
Streamlining operations is the name of the game for many industries today, and medicine is an area where that transition is long overdue. Increased costs, changing health insurance procedures, and a more educated patient base has led to a growth in telemedicine offerings from medical practices around the country.
The ability to stay home and contact a health professional is a big deal, considering that when telemedicine began to take shape over half a century ago it wasn’t considered a serious option for receiving care. Today, telemedicine is changing the way patients view about their health, and in turn, changing the ways that practices serve their patients.
Medical practices should all be looking at ways to embrace telemedicine and telehealth technology, since it will undoubtedly be crucial in the future.
How crucial? A 2017 survey found that 77% of patients would like to take part in a virtual care session. This statistic alone is evidence of the effect telehealth technology has already had on our society. Mobile health apps have made patients more proactive about keeping track of their health. This is an increase in patient engagement, which means better communication between doctors and patients. When doctors’ offices spend a bulk of their day calling patients, following up on appointments and info requests, another avenue to easily communicate with multiple patients at once is needed.
Telemedicine also helps smaller hospitals that may not have access to specialists or are short on staff, freeing up time to focus on patients currently in the building.
Another attractive aspect of telemedicine is the effect it’s having on costs, or rather the way it’s addressing unnecessary costs.
There are several reasons for why this is happening, including:
- Declining ER visits
- Adherence to medication / treatment
- Substitution of in-office appointments for video calls and chats
There are costs, however, for maintaining a telemedicine operation on a large scale. But any practice can integrate small telemedicine measures into their operation without fully replacing it. Small web cams are a start, and as patient needs change then the equipment needed will also follow suit. However, many offices are currently supplementing their practice with telehealth technology.
Get with the Program, or the App
The patient landscape is changing, and the use of apps like iBlueButton and MyChart are helping hospitals and medical practices evolve in tow. Your practice can take small steps towards telemedicine implementation by using one of the many popular apps designed for patients and healthcare professionals. There are also automated scheduling programs and apps currently being used by medical practices looking to stay ahead of the curve.
Some trends are permanent; if your practice isn’t taking advantage of telehealth technology then it’s not reaching its true potential. Telemedicine can make life easier for your patients, and equally as important, your staff.
From an early age we’re taught that teamwork yields some of the best results. It’s why in sports we pass the ball or, as students, get divided into groups for big classroom assignments; goals are reached and often exceeded when we harness the power of teamwork.
Traditionally, the relationship between doctor and patient has been one of “teacher” and “student,” where the doctor or physician hands the patient their homework in the form of prescriptions, diet recommendations, etc. We’d like to think that the patient always goes home and completes their homework right away, we’d like to think that. The truth is, a patient may get their prescription filled but fail to adhere to dietary restrictions, exercise, or make other lifestyle changes advised to them.
This disconnect is what’s driving more medical practices to push for more patient collaboration. Working together with patients ensures that the efforts of doctors or physicians remain effective even after the patient walks out the door. Patients also feel like they have someone on their team, who is also working toward the same goal, which is improving your health.
The need for increased accountability on the part of the patient is currently being met with the help of technology. Health tracking apps give patients a chance to monitor aspects of their health in between appointments. Other apps allow patients access to their test results, immunization records, and other aspects of their health. Miscommunication leads to problems in the healthcare industry, whether it’s missed appointments or insurance related issues, communication between doctor and patient is key to maintaining a successful practice. Scheduling apps that can reduce scheduling discrepancies, with less calls needed between appointment setters and patients, are now being utilized more than ever in an effort to keep the lines of communication open between doctor and patient.
Telemedicine is one of the driving forces behind patient collaboration, and with more practices taking advantage of new technology, software, and mobile apps this trend shows no signs of slowing. We’re not saying that opening an app at home is the same as going into an office for a diagnosis. In-person visits will never be obsolete, but they can be improved so that more patients can be treated in less time, with fewer repeat visits. In fact, you improve the quality and effectiveness of each in-person visit since prior to the appointment you will have had more communication with the patient and are aware of any recent symptoms, changes in blood pressure, or other issues they are experiencing.
Your practice’s commitment to patients cannot be undermined if you are taking steps to collaborate with them on improving their health. This is the ultimate measure of a medical practice’s worth, the ability to act as the patient’s teammate, setting both up for a winning season.
There are more than enough reasons to go pursue a career in the healthcare industry; where most industries are susceptible to downsizing, pay cuts, and increasing competition, healthcare remains a stable and promising job market for new workers. Despite the benefits of working in this industry, individual healthcare practices around the country struggle to retain their current employees. According to a CompData 2017 survey, the total turnover rate for healthcare was 20.6% in 2017.
So, where’s the disconnect?
The healthcare industry requires a bit of resilience on the side of the employees; dealing with extensive paperwork, constant changes in regulation, difficult patient situations, all while trying to maintain their personal lives is not a life everyone can live.
Simply put, your medical staff needs some R&R.
But we’re not talking about the “rest and relaxation,” think of it more as recognition and replenishment.
A job that requires listening to patients should warrant a workplace that encourages the same relationship between management and their staff. People want to be heard, they need to feel as if their frustrations are valid. You’ll find that many of them are, but just listening to them is the first step to ensuring you do your part to address them accordingly.
Recognize Hard Work
We know that there are members of your staff who receive praise daily from the patients they help, but they wouldn’t mind hearing the same from management.
Even better, plan small events that offer you a chance to thank them for their hard work in front of their fellow employees. Realistically, your practice should have some sort of yearly event that says a collective “thank you” to your whole staff.
Depending on the practice, the day-to-day operations can be physically and emotionally draining on your staff. No one expects you to be the sole reason your employee has a good life; their quality of life also depends on the choices they make in and out of the workplace. But their job can be an area of their life that they view in an overall positive light. You can alleviate some of the fatigue and frustration felt among your staff by:
- Awarding time off to exceptional or long-time staff feeling burnt out
- Letting workers know how they can move up into a new role
- Offering training opportunities in areas that may interest the employee
- Planning fun events outside of work – you’ll get an idea of an employee’s situation this way
Turnover can have a serious effect on the bottom line at the end of the year, and in hospitals this can mean millions of dollars. Keeping a high retention rate ensures that your hospital not only avoids these costs, but also demonstrates the workplace culture you’ve helped to create.