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Rising above: Telehealth cited as top initiative for helping medical practices through COVID-19

MGMA Stat - June 17, 2020

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The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders: “What practice initiative has helped your organization the most amid COVID-19?” 

Not surprisingly, a majority (60%) of respondents cited the addition and expansion of telehealth services as a major initiative that helped throughout months of stay-at-home orders that saw a significant decline in patient volumes and revenue.

Other major initiatives cited by respondents during the early months of COVID-19 include:
  • Changes to patient flow and screening protocols (10%)
  • Applying for government programs and grants (9%).

Other responses included leadership, staff communication and training, improvements in patient communication, and changes in pay, staffing and hours of operation.

A follow-up question asked respondents, “What additional resource(s) does your practice need to help with recovery?” The top three responses were: 
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) — 24%
  • Extended telehealth — 17%
  • Government/financial assistance — 17%.

The poll was conducted June 16, 2020, and had 308 applicable responses.

Adapting to the “new normal” of care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant the need to merge old and new workflows in an attempt to get back to normal levels of productivity despite a slow, gradual increase in patient volumes.

In many cases, practices supplemented or replaced in-person care with telehealth while also adopting new safety and cleaning protocols, all of which throw a major wrench in previous workflows. 

As Marion Jenkins, PhD, FHMISS, writes in the upcoming July issue of MGMA Connection magazine: “With reduced patient volumes, the timing is perfect for practices to take a holistic look at operations and technology, and create more robust processes to optimize their workflows, while increasing the strategic value of technologies, with the goal of reducing costs, improving patient care (and patient experience) and in the process adding more value to their practices.”

Telehealth and COVID-19: Time to innovate, not merely adapt

In the face of these obstacles, MGMA has heard numerous stories from practice leaders about how they are solving difficult problems, overcoming challenging situations and contributing to the well-being of their communities with innovation and excellence. These stories underpin the MGMA Rise Above Recognition program, in which compelling stories are shared to honor our nation’s healthcare heroes. Here’s just one of those stories:

Managing people and change effectively: Leslie Baker, Adjuvant Health

Leslie Baker, executive vice president of operations, Adjuvant Health, lives more than 900 miles from many of the Allied Physicians Group practices she works with, but she’s been a key figure in the group’s response to the devastating effects of COVID-19 in New York.

“Leslie was ahead of the virus,” said Patricia Martin-Quinn, director of practice operations, Allied Physicians Group, who has been focusing on practices within the 500-plus-employee pediatric group that are in recovery, restructuring and implementation.

Allied Physicians Group was slowly rolling out telehealth to practices prior to the pandemic with a pilot group of 10 practices, but in late February and early March, it became necessary to push thousands of appointments into virtual visits.

Baker “efficiently and effectively ran our telemedicine program and worked with all the clinicians to get them comfortable with the process,” Martin-Quinn said. “Our volume of telemedicine visits exploded under her leadership.” Before COVID-19, the group was seeing about 300 televisits a month, predominantly in after-hours care and behavioral health, Baker noted. By March, that figure jumped to 4,500 televisits — in April, the group reached nearly 7,000 televisits. 

Martin-Quinn attributes the ease of the process to Baker being an excellent communicator about the COVID-19 crisis to all clinical and non-clinical staff. “She coordinated virtual social events to boost the morale of our managers,” Martin-Quinn added. “She displayed the skills of a true leader.”

Baker noted that the change management work and focusing on people to ensure they understood the telehealth platform and workflows was instrumental to the group’s success, and that also meant underscoring that a virtual visit shouldn’t be all that different from an in-person one: “Stop thinking of telemedicine as anything different than an office visit,” Baker said she recommended to providers. 

Behind all this work, Baker was doing a daily online huddle with 30 office managers across the group, in which questions could be answered, especially the numerous human resource concerns in the middle of the pandemic. “That helped a lot,” Baker noted.

Baker, in turn, notes that she didn’t do this alone. “It takes a team,” Baker said. “I’ve had great people supporting me through this entire process.”

 

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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