6 Tips for Balancing Illness Spread and Practice Needs

All of 2020 has been full of unexpected challenges. Now, as we move through fall and head into winter, flu season is colliding with COVID-19, so we have to be ready to balance illness spread and practice needs.

While many of us in pediatrics like data and checklists that allow us to control things, that is not a realistic approach for the rest of 2020 and the start of 2021. We must continue to be flexible.

How? Well, a Zen mindset that says, “Everything is going to be alright, and we will get through this,” never hurts. But here are six suggestions to help you handle the spread of illness while also meeting the needs of your practice.

Stay Out of the Office if You’re Sick

It’s common for clinical providers to have a culture where the mantra is, “I have to go to work no matter what, even if I’m sick.” However, we can’t do that this year. It’s not fair to our team members or our patients. Start preparing yourself to feel empowered in saying, “I have a fever and I’m not well. I can’t come to work.” Be psychologically and operationally ready for how you will handle that; it’s the right thing to do.

In addition, make sure all providers and support staff understand the importance of staying home when ill. Get everyone together in a room. Pretend you’re in the emergency exit seat of an airplane and ask every person, “If you are not well, do you agree not to come to work?” Go down the line and make sure everyone says yes.

Be Supportive, Not Judgmental

Understand that everyone’s capabilities are different. When providers or team members become sick unexpectedly, others will have to fill in the gaps. However, remember they have responsibilities outside of work. Another provider might take her mother-in-law to chemotherapy, or an employee may be overseeing his children’s remote learning.

Discuss with providers and support staff what their capabilities and deal breakers are in a non-judgmental way. Be open to switching in-person visits to telehealth appointments if physicians are able to work from home. Help everyone understand that, when schedules change suddenly, the accommodations are not always going to be fair and equitable in every way. We’re all in different situations, and it’s important to create a culture where everyone supports each other — which ultimately supports patients.

Do What Needs to be Done

If you’re a provider, don’t wait at your desk for someone to room a patient. Answer the phone if it’s ringing. Clean up vomit if it happens and you’re the one who’s free.

Everybody has to pitch in, and the culture starts at the top with the physician. There is no elevated position that says, “I don’t do that.” Everyone should lean in and help each other.

Communicate Early and Often

Before providers and employees even report to the office, send out a group text. Think of it as a pre-huddle. Ask for a thumbs-up from everyone who is feeling well and will be at work. If you’ve got a full team, you’re prepared for the day. If someone is ill or a team member has a sick child, doing this early morning check-in will help you plan for the regular daily huddle. You’ll know what you need to adjust as you strategize for the day ahead.

In addition to daily morning huddles, consider an end-of-day huddle. Ask yourself and your team: What worked well today? What didn’t work today? What do we need to adjust for tomorrow?

Get Creative with Scheduling and Overtime

Consider a strategy that’s common with hospital labor and delivery units as they manage the ebb and flow of fluctuating patient volume. This may involve paying providers or support staff to be on call, which means budgeting appropriately for overtime, or perhaps undertime.

You might think about extending your office hours or offering telehealth appointments during evenings or weekends, both of which also require planning and budgeting. If you have team members who recently worked reduced hours because of the pandemic, they might appreciate the opportunity to be on call or work overtime because of the extra pay.

Set Clear Expectations for Patients

When you schedule patient appointments, let them know that, if their provider’s schedule changes suddenly, they may see another doctor for their visit. Remind them that unexpected illnesses do occur, but the practice will still have someone available to care for them.

When you set these clear expectations with families ahead of time, they are less likely to be disappointed. In addition, sometimes seeing a new physician will offer an opportunity for families to relate in a different way. For example, a parent who’s struggling with a child’s sleep patterns might connect with a younger pediatrician whose toddler also won’t sleep at night.

When communicating with patients and their families, remind them that your practice is their medical home. Drive home this message: “We’re all in this together. We’re committed to seeing you — seeing you on time and providing quality care. But that may look a little different right now as our family cares for and supports your family.”

Click here to watch the full conversation between Dr. Sue Kressly, MD, FAAP & Alisa Vaughn, CMPE.

Guest blog submitted Dr. Sue Kressly, MD, FAAP & Alisa Vaughn, CMPE

Guest Blog

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