The Future of Outpatient Practice: 6 Opportunities for Growth and Change

As we emerge from the height of the COVID-19 crisis and examine the challenges we faced, it’s important to see opportunities for progress. I think we need to reframe the way we deliver care and how we manage our practices — breaking down constraints of what we think our families need and reconsidering existing structures.

In fact, I think it’s time to tear down the bricks and start over. Because of the pandemic, we’re connected to patients and their families in a way we never were, and we went through challenges with them. We now have a chance to rebuild from the patient and family perspective. Here are six opportunities for growth and change.

Update Your Website and Social Media Presence

While it probably does not seem like an ideal time to move, many families are relocating because of unexpected job losses. How will families who are new to your area find you? Young, millennial parents are digital natives who go to Google first.

All pediatric practices should have an updated website and social media presence. Start by Googling “pediatrician” with your zip code. If you’re not at the top and your presence isn’t inviting, now is a great opportunity to give this the attention it deserves.

Communicate and Connect Creatively

As pediatricians, we are focused on providing high-quality care, as we should be. However, buzz words like “medical home” often don’t resonate with patients and their parents. Families want providers who meet them where they are to give them the care they need. That means telehealth, but there are other ways you can communicate. For example, you might do a Facebook live every Saturday afternoon or meet families at a local daycare by offering a presentation (virtual or in-person small groups).

During this time of social distancing, connectedness is especially important to all of us. Try recording a short video about yourself and uploading it to your website. Tell them how you like the beach or beating your spouse at Scrabble. They want to know you as a person because they’re going to entrust you with the care of their children.

Focus on Keeping Families Safe

Parents of young children want to know what measures you’re taking to ensure their safety. If you don’t share that information, they may look elsewhere for a pediatrician who gives them that confidence.

Think about the optics of your waiting room: Are there a lot of people in it? Is there a line? If the answers are yes, families may wonder, “Am I safe here?” Consider offering curbside check-in, which allows patients to go immediately to an exam room. Have a greeter who opens the door for patients, decreasing contact. Make small adjustments to your exam rooms by rearranging or adding a sign just outside that reads, “Clean.”

In addition, one of the most effective ways to keep families safe is to reduce the number of handoffs by creating an office culture of accountability. This means implementing experience-based care, rather than task-based care. Handoffs in medicine leave the opportunity for the ball to get dropped. Patients find that frustrating and wonder, “Why do I have to keep repeating the same story?” More handoffs equal more contact. By reducing the number of team members who interact with each patient, there are fewer reasons for parents to worry about safety.

Advocate for Value-Based Care

The time has come for value-based care, rather than fee-for-service. In fact, if we had been in a value-based market before the pandemic, none of us would have been worried about getting paid for telehealth. We would have just done video visits and phone calls. The right answer was giving patients what they needed in whatever form we were able to safely provide it. Going forward, we should gather data and determine, “What is true value?”

From the standpoint of families, they are on our side when it comes to telehealth. Families are no longer going to drive an hour and wait two hours to see a specialist for 10 minutes. We will all have to figure out what care must be in person and what care can be safely delivered via video visits or portal exchanges. It’s all about providing the right care, at the right place, at the right time.

Re-Evaluate Your Workforce

If you’re offering telehealth, there are some opportunities to engage unique sections of the workforce. For example, there could be pediatricians who are parents and don’t want the 9-5 grind. However, they might be willing to see patients virtually for a couple of hours in the evening or on weekends when their spouse is home.

Additionally, folks who are nearing retirement might prefer to reduce hours and would like to virtually see patients early in the morning. It’s especially important for practices with 9-5 hours to consider walk-in telehealth appointments to answer the question, “Should I send my child to school today?” When schools resume, our patients cannot afford to miss important educational time.

Virtual walk-in hours also are great for evenings because they help parents who are trying to reinvent their workday for tomorrow if a child is sick. Evening telehealth availability may be just what your practice needs to compete with urgent care centers and direct-to-consumer models.

Invite Yourself to the Discussion

Now is a great opportunity for physicians to be in the driver’s seat, which we haven’t been for a long time. If you’re not invited to the table, invite yourself, and bring your folding chair. Or sit on the floor. We’re pediatricians — we don’t mind.

We need to use our power and our collective voices, instead of feeling victimized. Let’s take this opportunity to do what’s right for our businesses, our patients, our families, and our communities.

We win when we do this together. Collective ideas spark other collective ideas, which lead to innovation, which leads to change. And that’s what we and our families desperately need in the healthcare community.

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