3 Strategies for Primary Care Practices Working to Reduce Financial Stress and Rebound from COVID-19
Tashfeen Ekram, MD
Primary care practices in the U.S. are facing significant financial stress as they work to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. Patient volumes are down significantly from where they normally are and, as a result, primary care practices are not bringing in the revenue they need to run a healthy practice.
Unfortunately, there are real concerns that it will be difficult for clinics to survive unless they can find ways to minimize losses and recoup revenue.
Fewer chronic and well visits is one of the biggest sources of financial stress for primary care practices.
Here are some sobering statistics from Primary Care Collaborative and The Larry A. Green Center that show the impact of COVID-19 on primary care:
• More than two-thirds of primary care clinicians reported that the financial stress on their practice was at an all-time high.
• Primary care professionals cite patients limiting their chronic and well visits (80%), practices limiting chronic and well visits (61%), and parents delaying well child visits (52%) as some of the biggest causes of financial stress.
• 84 percent of primary care physicians say patients are independently delaying visits.
• More than one in three healthcare professionals (35%) believe that the majority of independent primary care practices will be gone by the time the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
• Fewer than half of primary care providers are confident they have the patient volume (46%) or cash on hand (47%) to keep their doors open another month.
Download this thought leadership white paper for ideas on how to make a plan to drive appointments and recoup lost revenues. Don’t miss these actionable patient engagement tips.
Furloughs, layoffs, and temporary closures have become a reality as primary care clinics try to curb the financial damage of COVID-19. Healthcare practices that are looking for better solutions to help successfully recover lost revenue and cut their future losses can leverage the following three revenue recovery strategies:
1. Prioritize the care needs of patients, then use automated outreach and patient self-scheduling to reschedule cancelled appointments.
Patient volumes may be down, but the need for primary care is high. Many patients are behind on care because of clinic closures, stay-at-home orders, and fears about the safety of visiting healthcare facilities during the pandemic.
One in five patients say they are overdue for chronic care visits, and one in three patients are overdue for wellness visits and preventive care. Seeing patients who are overdue for care – either in the office or via telehealth virtual visits – generates revenue.
Of course, with such a large backlog of patients in need of care, patient outreach and scheduling can easily overwhelm staff. The solution is to identify the patients that need to be seen most urgently, and use automated messages to prompt them to self-schedule appointments. Who needs to be seen in the next week? Two weeks? Month? EMR data can help inform these decisions. Contact patients with urgent needs first.
Currently, the majority of appointment scheduling across healthcare is done manually. But it could be done more efficiently if it were automated. Automating outreach and scheduling helps minimize the strain on staff and the number of phone calls practices must make and answer.
Again, the key is to prioritize care for patients with the more urgent needs, mass message patients to invite them to book appointments, and encourage them to self-schedule.
2. Adopt processes that allow you to get back to a normal patient volume quickly.
Welcoming patients into a clinic isn’t as easy as it used to be. Primary care practices are having to adopt a number of new processes and procedures in order to maintain social distancing, sanitize more frequently, and minimize COVID-19 exposure risks for patients and staff.
While safety is paramount, ensuring that new processes and procedures are efficient and enable providers to see as many patients as possible is essential for clinics that need to drive revenue to reduce financial stress.
A practice with a waiting room that can accommodate 20 people may want to only allow a handful of patients in at a time so they can social distance (at least six feet apart). Or clinics may want to have patients wait in their vehicles and complete intake forms electronically.
As clinics test out these and other solutions, they need technology solutions in place that help them streamline processes so that they see a relatively normal number of patients. For example, a clinic could instruct patients to wait outside (or in their cars) and text the clinic the word “arrived” when they show up. Then, staff can respond with further instructions or forms for patients to complete upon arrival.
When the doctor is ready to see a patient, staff can send a message inviting the person inside, and then take the patient directly to an exam room. Implementing smart processes and leveraging the right technology can help clinics safely see more patients in person and get paid for providing care. See our Zero Contact Waiting Room in action:
3. Embrace telehealth, but be sure your solution is fully integrated with your EHR.
Even doctors that have never given much thought to using telehealth are recognizing that it is an essential part of primary care’s survival right now.
For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, and possibly thereafter, providers can be reimbursed for telehealth virtual visits, providing care via phone calls, and even for some patient check-ins via text messaging. While phone and text messages may not earn providers as much money as video virtual care, all three are billable and therefore provide opportunities for revenue recovery.
Whether providers have used telehealth in the past or they are new to it, using a telehealth solution that integrates seamlessly with the existing EHR is essential. Otherwise, converting appointments to telehealth can create extra work for staff, slow down workflows, and make it harder for clinics to recover from financial hits.
When a telehealth solution integrates deeply with a practice’s EHR, the solution can facilitate scheduling and all of the patient communication — like sending links to virtual exam rooms — automatically. This integration is what enables clinics to scale telehealth offerings to the point where they truly help with revenue recovery.
If you’re looking to improve your telehealth offering, this on-demand webinar shares some best practices.
Primary care looks much different today than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Focusing on solutions that offer automation, efficiency, and EHR integration can help with quick revenue recovery. Plus, because many of the changes that are happening today will likely stick around longer than the actual coronavirus, clinics that adapt now will likely see long-term benefits.