Long-term COVID-19 recovery for medical practices: Handling phased reopening and ramping up telehealth

MGMA Stat - JuneĀ 25, 2020

Business Strategy

Operations Management

MGMA Staff Members

The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders: “Does your practice have a long-term recovery plan for COVID-19?” The majority (52%) answered “yes,” while 48% responded “no.” For those who answered “yes,” the most frequent response was “phased/staged reentry plan,” followed by “continuing to ramp up telehealth.” Responses included:
  • “Tracking daily revenue, visit volumes by budget, cancellations due to COVID-19 to understand trends as they are happening. Returning furloughed staff only with data that justifies it. Evaluating staffing needs carefully. Revamped cleaning entirely and has changed for the long term. Looked at consolidating where needed. Discussing plan regularly to change when needed.” 
  • “We are selling the practice to the affiliated hospital system to ensure long-term financial coverage.” 
  • “Restore productivity to 100% pre-COVID-19 volumes, set labor targets at 105%, elimination of some positions and open jobs, cut nonessential expenses, defer capital expenses and defer physician recruitment.”

The poll was conducted June 23, 2020, with 675 applicable responses.

No matter what stage of reopening your part of the country has entered, the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic for medical practices is a time to review practice operations and push for improvement. This can include a review of your strategic plan and finding performance gaps. 

Future surges in COVID-19 cases, paired with the start of influenza season, likely will pose unique challenges beyond those faced in the initial spread of the coronavirus. To be prepared, remember to regularly check current CDC guidelines, as well as region/state-specific information — the prevalence of flu, strep and coronavirus will vary and may dictate how much you can do while remaining open. 

To assist in managing recovery planning, MGMA has released a new COVID-19 Recovery Planning Checklist and Patient Engagement Flowchart, which are now available.
An opportunity to evaluate and make appropriate changes
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented numerous challenges for practices, but with these challenges comes opportunity. Many healthcare experts agree that there’s a window for practices to review operations and decide how best to move forward. With so much uncertainty around what’s to come, practices have the potential to adapt and seize on new opportunities, including better leveraging telehealth and technology, boosting collaboration among staff and providers, evaluating office space and improving charge capture. 

Opportunity was a key theme brought forth by five expert panelists during a recent virtual town hall, “Preparing Your Practice for COVID-19’s Second Wave.” 

According to Cameron Cox III, MHA, FACMPE, president and chief executive officer, MSOC Health, large organizations such as Aetna, Optum and CVS haven’t skipped a beat in making the most of the situation. 

“They’ve turned this threat into an opportunity, so it’s up to you to compete with that,” Cox said, also noting that patients are ultimately consumers and are going to expect practices to meet their demands, whether that means expanded virtual care options or shorter wait times for an in-person appointment. 

“There’s going to be a large portion of the patient population that’s going to sit in a realm of concern and fear, so you need to solve this problem, because your competitors on a national level are solving it,” stressed Cox.

Likewise, Nan Gallagher, JD, principal, The Nan Gallagher Law Group, sees COVID-19 causing a paradigm shift in the healthcare industry. “Try to ignore that COVID-19 is going on,” she said of looking at the bigger picture. “Use this opportunity to make your practice more competitive in the marketplace. … Telehealth is here to stay. If you’re not in the game of maximizing telehealth, you’re out of the game.”

In emphasizing the importance of telehealth, Nelson Gomes, senior vice president of development, Medicus IT, conveyed that practices should ensure any new vendors and platforms are HIPAA compliant both under existing regulatory waivers and after any waivers expire. He also noted that practices should determine how they can best access “mission-critical applications” and stay in constant contact, particularly when staff and providers are working remotely.  

“Connectivity is king,” he said, adding that “softphones,” which can make calls via the internet or rely on users’ cell service, are an area to consider implementing to promote ease of communication on your team. “Collaboration is key, and it’s not just video,” Gomes said, adding that Microsoft Teams remains free for use and helpful for managing chats, meetings and file-sharing.

With some staff and providers working from home for the foreseeable future, practices should also evaluate their office space needs and utilization. According to Gallagher, practices should determine whether they are leasing too much space. “Look at your leases … what are your termination clauses, when are you up for renewal, when can you renegotiate?”, she said. 

Much like connectivity, collections are extremely important in the midst of COVID-19. Brian Ramos, MBA, CMPE, chief operating officer, Capital Anesthesia Partners, maintained that practices need to have easy access to cash, which is why having a strong charge-capture system is imperative. This means ensuring that practices reduce the amount of time it takes to capture all charges in the system and bill them out to a carrier. “That needs to be within 24 hours, 48 at max,” Ramos emphasized.
MGMA Stat 
Would you like to join our polling panel to voice your opinion on important practice management topics? MGMA Stat is a national poll that addresses practice management issues, the impact of new legislation and related topics. Participation is open to all healthcare leaders. Results of other polls and information on how to participate in MGMA Stat are available at: mgma.com/stat
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