Bob Dylan may have written those words in 1964 as an anthem for societal change, but now the COVID-19 virus is writing the tune for medical practices around the world. As discussed in August’s first blog, the virus is changing the way things need to be done around your practice offices. Reconfiguring waiting rooms to promote social distancing, ditching the much-touched waiting room magazines, remote check-ins to minimize numbers in the waiting rooms, and virtual consultations have all become the new normal for all medical practices.
Those are steps practices can take to keep patients safer and, possibly just as important, feel safer.
But what other effects are happening to medical practices as a result of this worldwide pandemic? Let’s get into a few of those in this second August blog.
In-person visits are way down
Whether by necessity or fear, in-patient visits for everything other than actual need are way down. People are forgoing their regular skin checkups with dermatologists, regular cleanings and exams at dentists, physicals with G.P.s, and avoiding visits they may have otherwise used for issues like sprained knees and such.
Primary care visits have dropped by half in the U.S. during the pandemic. In aesthetic offices, the drop is much higher still, as many offices have been closed and elective surgical procedures have been blocked at hospitals. Dental care and dermatology? Probably just as high.
The question is: How many of those postponed regular checkups/visits will become skipped visits? For instance, how many people seeing their dentist for the recommended twice-yearly visits will instead make it just once this year or skip this year entirely?
It’s important for practices, such as dermatologists, who depend on yearly checkup appointments to stay in touch with your patients, reminding them by email, on your practice Facebook page, or postcard that they still need to have their regular examinations, such as skin cancer screenings. You can reassure them in your message that your office is completely safe and following the necessary protocols, and they need to be reminded of the potential problems that can arise with missed examinations, such as potential skin cancer for a dermatologist or decay or gum disease for a dentist.
Virtual visits are way up
Analysts originally predicted that virtual medical office visits would be around 36 million for this year, a growing trend, but nothing crazy. Then came the virus, and no one could leave their house. Now, the prediction for virtual visits for 2020 is over 200 million. This is good, as it provides patients an outlet to still receive care without going to the doctor’s office.
But it’s not a trend that really helps most of our medical practices. After all, aesthetic procedures, such as laser skin resurfacing, can’t exactly be done virtually. Neither can teeth whitening for a dentist. Dermatologists could potentially check an unusual growth on a patient virtually, but it’s still better to see it in person.
One area that does have virtual potential, however, is consultations. For the past few months, we’ve been advising our practices to conduct consultations online as a way to prime the pump for the time when patients can come back into your practices. This has enabled many practices to create a waiting list of patients who have had a consultation and now have asked to be put on a list for a procedure.
This obviously lends itself to some procedures and treatments over others. For instance, a patient interested in rhinoplasty can provide photos and you can use these to create 3D modeling of potential changes (if you have the software). You can discuss the ins and outs of the open or closed methods. That kind of thing.
But for others, such as our orthopedic surgeons, virtual consultations are far from the real thing. They have to move the joints in question, feel the joint with their hands, and even listen for possible popping and such. Virtual options don’t really work in these situations.
Patients have money saved up
The good side of this mess is that potential patients have not been spending money. They’ve been trapped inside, unable to go out to dinner or take that planned trip to Hawaii. Jigsaw puzzles and Netflix don’t exactly eat up much disposable income, so potential patients now have lots of saved cash for all kinds of treatments. Everything from a new dental implant to a new pair of implants for breast augmentation, from teeth whitening to Juvéderm injections.
Again, as with reminder emails above, this is a good time to reach out and contact past patients about specials you may be running or treatments that are timely, such as starting laser hair removal sessions this fall once beach season is over.
Communication is key
Moving forward, those practices that communicate with their patients and potential patients in every way possible — email, postcards, and social media — will be better positioned to get patients coming back in for the treatments they’ve been missing for the spring and early summer of this crazy year.
Tell them you’re open again and you’re thoroughly safe. Offer digital check-in to eliminate people in your waiting room. If you’re still hard pressed for hospital space for cosmetic surgeries, be sure to push treatments in your office, things like dermal fillers, IPL skin treatments, and the like.
If you’re a dentist, stress the importance of maintaining patients’ regular schedule of twice-yearly professional cleanings and exams. The same is true for dermatologists and skin check-ups.
This will all come to an end with the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, but your practice should be able to get back to more normal operations long before then. If you have other questions about things you should be doing now, contact your Advice Media representative or fill out a contact sheet. We can help navigate these weird times.