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    Editor’s note: This episode of the MGMA Insights podcast continues a series focused on COVID-19 and its effects on healthcare professionals and their patients. Keep up with the latest updates by visiting the MGMA COVID-19 Federal Assistance and Advocacy Center.

    In uncertain times, clear communication is vital. As medical practices adapt to new workflows due to COVID-19, organizations need to keep lines of communication open. It’s been no different for Christi Siedlecki, chief executive officer, Grants Pass Clinic, Grants Pass, Ore., when addressing the challenges presented by COVID-19.

    “We have to be careful about having a united voice; it makes people feel safer,” Siedlecki said. Recounting a recent employment law webinar she watched, Siedlecki noted that “employees trust the information they get from their employers more than they trust information they get from the government or media,” underscoring her need to communicate effectively as a practice leader. 

    Conveying the right information

    With so much information on COVID-19, Siedlecki said it can be challenging to identify what needs to be conveyed to her team and to patients. “What we're doing is trying to get the most recent information out to people about what kinds of patients we should see in the clinic, what kinds of patients they should be concerned about,” Siedlecki said. “We have ever-changing workflows related to patient screening and information that we need to share with patients, and also how people can or cannot get tested.”

    For Siedlecki, organization is her No. 1 priority, starting with clear communication. Currently, Grants Pass Clinic is using multiple platforms to share information with staff, including Zoom meetings, an intranet, email and even flyers. Many staff, including those in the accounting department and even some medical assistants (MAs), have been asked to telework. Siedlecki pointed out that MAs are spending more time on the phone, rather than one on one with patients.

    Overcoming obstacles presented by teleworking

    For some employees, it’s been difficult to work from home, but Siedlecki has been consistent with her messaging: “What I want people … to do is to create a certain workspace and certain work hours, and to have some structure about their day similar to what they have in the clinic,” Siedlecki said. “People aren't used to this way of doing things, and I just want them to have the resources they need.” 

    COVID-19 Zoom MeetingIn addition, she wants staff to report back to her regarding challenges they may encounter. To address this, she’s asked managers and supervisors to check in frequently with employees. The clinic has provided tutorials to help staff manage the new tools they have to do their jobs remotely.  

    There remain challenges in handling the flow of information, she noted. “We're waiting on information from the state and federal governments about how to handle furloughed or laid-off employees,” Siedlecki said. “So there's some things that we can't even tell people yet because we're waiting to get more information.”

    The clinic also must ensure the security of proprietary and protected information take precedence. “We're having employees do a remote desktop into their work computer … so that offers some protection,” Siedlecki said. “We're really working to make sure people aren't taking papers home, because papers get lost and dropped along the way and that sort of thing.”

    COVID-19 task force and telehealth 

    The clinic created a COVID-19 task force, primarily composed of directors and managers who assess Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Oregon Health Authority guidelines and how to apply them in the practice. With this information, the task force has established new workflows, ways of screening high-risk patients to reduce exposure and methods for conserving personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition, members attend community meetings and work with other local organizations to further educate themselves. 

    The clinic’s response to COVID-19 also altered the launch of a new telehealth platform, which was originally set for an April 8 start. COVID-19 altered those plans, which prompted a move to a temporary platform. 

    “Just this past weekend, I was working with a couple providers to start a different platform so we can start using telehealth right away,” Siedlecki said. “There's a lot to sort through regarding billing, but we're working on written documentation to share with providers and how to access this.” 

    The task force also played an integral role in getting the platform up and running and setting up specific providers. “One of the things we did to conserve PPE was have a small number of our providers see patients that we were concerned may have COVID,” Siedlecki emphasized. “Because the fewer people who are coming in contact with risky patients, the less PPE you're going to use.” After those providers have been set up, the task force will roll out the platform to the rest of the clinic’s providers.  

    Despite these challenges, Siedlecki notes that the support of the physician owners is invaluable, and that their commitment to care is matched by her focus on the business side of keeping the clinic operating. “They understand that seeing fewer patients in the clinic means reduced revenue,” Siedlecki said. “But that's not their focus. Their focus is on keeping staff safe and keeping patients as well as we can. As the CEO, it's up to me to sort out the rest of the details … but I am really impressed that the focus is on caring for each other.”

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