Prescription for Change

The top 5 priorities for independent group leaders' Covid-19 reopening plans

by Gillian Hughes and Sarah Hostetter

Though Covid-19 has threatened the margins of independent medical groups, forward-thinking groups are using this as an opportunity to not just rebound, but rethink their long-term strategy.

Covid-19 guidance from clinicians at the forefront

In early May, Advisory Board brought together leaders from independent medical groups across the country for several virtual conversations on practice reopening and financial recovery. Here are the top five priorities independent leaders are talking about as they being to reopen and recover from Covid-19. 

1. Safety measures are only as impactful as your messaging about them.

There is consensus among leaders that ensuring safety is the most important prerequisite for continuing operations in the short- and medium-term. In order to bring patients back in for in-person visits, many have taken extra measures to ensure patients and staff feel safe, such as separating sick and well visits, making patients wait in their cars, and testing employees.

But consistently communicating with staff and patients so that they feel safe returning to in-person care is as important as the safety measures themselves. Organizations are using frequent email sends and portal messages to communicate their dedication to safety and instill confidence in patients. When it comes to bringing staff back, groups have found success in holding regular virtual town halls and reorientation programs to educate them on new safety measures.

2. Telehealth is here to stay, so now is the time to start devising your long-term strategy.

Regardless of future reimbursement changes, independent groups recognize that patients and providers have embraced telehealth during the Covid-19 crisis. Groups have successfully stood up telehealth capabilities quickly, often using platforms that are not integrated into their EHRs. But now is the time to think about a more permanent, sustainable solution and which patients and visit types are the best suited for a virtual setting moving forward. Organizations are also excited about exploring telehealth's application for extended hours, specialty care, and high-risk patients.   

3. Prepare for a future where in-person volumes may never return to 'normal.'

Groups know that Covid-19 has had huge financial impacts beyond health care, and these impacts will linger as people remain unemployed and uninsured. At least in the short- to medium-term, this may lead to patients delaying care or foregoing it altogether. Beyond that, as telehealth becomes an integrated component of care delivery, in-person volumes may be permanently reduced. Forward-thinking groups are preparing now for the impact these short- and longer-term volumes reductions will have on their future revenue projections and staffing models.

4. Design agile staffing models and operations to weather future Covid-19 surges.

Groups anticipate that Covid-19 surges and temporary reductions in in-person volumes remain likely in the future. To protect their businesses, leaders are designing flexible approaches to staffing and operations. For example, groups are building staffing and scheduling plans that allow them to flex up and down depending on volumes of Covid-19 patients and changes in social distancing requirements. Independent groups that do so will be better prepared to manage future surges and rapidly adapt to ensure that any future reductions to in-person volumes don't impact their businesses as severely as the first wave.

5. Lock in the Covid-19-related changes that will be more permanent.

Many independent groups are embracing their new normal and recognizing that some changes they've made will enhance care delivery in the long-term. Covid-19 has been a catalyst for telehealth, flex work, and new practice models that are becoming more engrained in patients and staff. As a result, groups are considering making more permanent changes to their physical locations and staffing approaches to cement these changes. The sooner that groups recognize this permanence, the sooner they can start modifying their longer-term strategy to capitalize on these opportunities and solidify their competitive advantage.

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