8 Tips for Turning Unscheduled Clinic Time, Secondary to the Covid-19 Health Crisis, Into Productive Time.
By: Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, your practice may be faced with a continued decrease in scheduled patient visits. This can lead to unwanted free time for your therapists and staff during their work day. While this is not ideal and none of us wish for this scenario, we have some tips and suggestions on how to take advantage of the situation and turn this extra time into something productive.
1. Perform a Deep Cleaning of Your Facility and Equipment.
While cleaning your facility is something that occurs on a daily basis and has most likely increased between patients to promote a safe return to the clinic, you may not always have the time to get in there and do a deep, detailed cleaning. With the Coronavirus on everyone’s mind, now may be a good time to thoroughly disinfect the space and the equipment. You should use a cleaning agent and cleaning process recommended by the CDC that has been proven to kill the Novel Coronavirus. You can find the CDC recommendations here. Posting on your social media accounts that your facility has been disinfected and is continuing to be disinfected on a daily basis may help to increase your patient visit volume by increasing patient’s confidence that you are taking the necessary precautions to keep them safe.
2. Look for an Advanced Electronic Medical Records (EMR) System.
Using an EMR in your practice can exponentially increase the efficiency of your administrative and clinical staff. If you are still documenting on paper or using an EMR that is not meeting your needs, take the extra time you may have to research an EMR software, including participating in a demo. With the right EMR, documentation time can be significantly decreased while increasing compliance. An advanced EMR will eliminate the need for paper charts, which decreases storage needs, but also streamlines administrative tasks, which can be time consuming and expensive. There are many systems on the market, so do your due diligence to find the one that works best for your specific practice needs. Some features to consider include ease of use, time it takes to complete documentation, ability to customize, patient engagement features, including a patient portal and embedded home exercise program, and of course cost. Be sure to obtain a detailed pricing guide from any EMR you are interested in so you will not be hit with unexpected, hidden charges once you sign up. We encourage you to take a look at OptimisPT which is specifically designed for the needs of outpatient rehab therapists. Click here to schedule a demo.
3. Review the Functionality and Features of Your EMR.
If you are already an OptimisPT client, then you are likely aware of the many new features and updates that have been released over the past few months. However, you may not have had time to familiarize yourself with the new functionality, this may be a great time to educate yourself and your staff on the new features. You can find resources, including written instructions and recorded videos, on Optimis University regarding the new features such as the Patient Portal, mass emailing feature and embedded Telehealth platform. If you have not taken advantage of customizing your eval templates (custom patterns), text templates, custom exercises, exercise protocols (workouts), and most frequently used diagnoses, now is a great time! The time that it takes you to create your customization is, essentially, the time you then save on every future evaluation when using that customization. Even if you do not use OptimisPT, reviewing the features and function of your current EMR would be a productive use of any clinic free time. This would allow you to use your system in the most effective way by taking advantage of everything the software has to offer.
4. Create or Update Home Exercise Programs.
A great way to promote patient engagement and improve patient outcomes is by providing a Home Exercise Program (HEP) to your patients. The exercises that are provided to a patient have the goal of improving that patient’s impairments. In most cases, patients with the same or similar diagnoses will present with similar impairments and therefore, may benefit from the same exercises. One way to improve your efficiency as a therapist is to create a library of home exercise programs that are readily available to distribute to patients. In OptimisPT this can be accomplished electronically by using the embedded exercises and activities. These workouts would contain a grouping of activities that you frequently prescribe to a specific patient population. If you use OptimisPT you can accomplish this by creating Custom Workouts to be saved within the system. By taking advantage of any currently unscheduled clinic time secondary to the pandemic, you could create these programs or update existing programs and have them ready to distribute in order to save time in the future when visit volume increases.
5. Review and Update Intake Forms.
Along the same lines as updating or creating Home Exercise Programs, now may also be a good time to review and update your patient intake forms, as needed. If your EMR allows you to send forms to your patients electronically, like OptimisPT, your front office staff can use any excess time to review and update existing forms and create any new forms that may be needed within the software system. These forms may include Consent to Treat, HIPAA release forms, payer/patient responsibility, and with the pandemic, you may need to add a COVID-19 screening questionnaire.
6. Complete Chart Reviews for Compliance and Efficiency.
Reviewing patient charts for compliant documentation is something that should be done every quarter or at least every six months. However, in a busy clinic, this process can take a back seat to treating patients. The more compliant your documentation is, the more likely you are to be receiving the highest reimbursement. Generally speaking, better documentation equals better reimbursement.
With the extra time in your day, you could review charts or first work to establish a chart review process, if your practice does not already have one in place. A uniform review document should be generated so that each chart is being reviewed consistently. The APTA, AOTA, and ASHA all have information on their websites regarding documentation requirements for each discipline. These are great resources to be used when creating your review template. The checklist should include those items that are requirements for specific payers, such as Medicare, and any other items specific to requirements established by your practice. For example, has the therapist included the patient’s prior level of function, any contraindications to therapy or comorbidities present, have validated Outcome Measures been assessed and then reassessed throughout the plan of care to hopefully illustrate progress?
For Medicare, you will want to verify that a Medicare Plan of Care Certification Period has been established by the therapist and certified by the physician within the 30 day Medicare requirement. You will also want to review the completion of required MIPS quality measures if your practice is required to report MIPS or you have chosen to opt-in. Accurate reporting for MIPS can increase your Medicare payment incentive.
If you are an OptimisPT client, you can receive a Compliance and Efficiency Review completed by our documentation experts for a nominal fee. Check out Optimis University for additional information.
7. Review the Newest Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs) Published by your Professional Association.
The goal of Clinical Practice Guidelines are to assist in clinical decision making when treating a patient. These are established to help promote evidence-based practice. Updated guidelines are published frequently as research is completed and new evidence is available to improve treatment methods. As with continuing education, reviewing the newest CPGs is a great way to keep up with advancements in rehab therapy. After review, take advantage of the extra free time and modify or update associated treatment plans. Following evidence-based practice will improve your patient outcomes.
8. Market Your Practice to Current and New Referral Sources.
In response to the Covid-19 public health crisis, many therapy practices and even physician offices closed their doors for a period of time. If your clinic is open and ready for business, now would be a good time to make sure your referral sources know. They may be hesitant to prescribe therapy if they are unsure of practices that are open. You could call the physician offices, send them a fax and/or send an email blast. Make sure to let them know your clinic is continually being disinfected and inform them of any other changes you have made to the physical space and/or appointment increments to help maintain social distancing. You want to make them feel confident sending their patients to you for therapy. If your clinic offers telehealth, be sure to mention this as an option for the physician’s higher risk patients. If you need an EMR to help you provide Telehealth, take a look at OptimisPT. We have a built in telehealth platform.
As a result of the pandemic, your patient visit volume may be decreased. Although it may seem like the present state will go on forever, the situation will improve. While you are waiting for things to get better, take advantage of the extra free time, try some of the tips listed above and turn what could be wasted time into productive time.