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COVID-19 has forced your practice to shut down. What do you do now?

The ongoing pandemic has highlighted the importance of preparing for unexpected risks and problems – including a sudden practice shutdown.

Having a business continuity plan in place means your practice can weather unpredictable events such as a shutdown, to better deal with:

  • increased workload on administration staff
  • technology glitches
  • managing patients’ expectations and your obligations in communicating with them about continuity of care;
  • the changing regulatory environment from stakeholders such as Medicare
  • the effect of COVID on your practice in general, such as increased operating costs around COVID-19 control measures.

Using technology for your business continuity planning can make it more efficient. This is where a practice management platform like PracticeHub comes to the fore. It offers centralised storage of your practice documents, processes and communications, which can be accessed from the cloud – even if you’ve had to shut the practice with staff working from home.

Review your risk management framework

A solid risk management framework helps to ensure business continuity in the event of a practice shutdown, to minimise disruption to your business operations and patient care.

Your policies and procedures are critical here, so it’s important to keep them up to date and compliant with the regulations and standards, especially your processes around PPE, social distancing and infection control. The policies and procedures templates in PracticeHub are aligned with both RACGP and NSQHS Standards.

PracticeHub includes a register to log all your practice equipment, including laptops, so you know who has what, if you have to shift to working from home in a shutdown. A contracts register keeps all your supplier details together so you can contact your phone system or IT people to set up those systems for off-site practice operations. Having all this information handy and online means you and your team can access it and communicate together when you’re away from the office.

To find out more about reviewing your risk management framework, see our article on post-pandemic risk management.  

Adopt systems thinking

Successful disaster planning, such as for a business shutdown, requires systems thinking. This involves a ‘whole of business’ approach, recognising that:

  • every practice system has a purpose within the larger system;
  • all of a system’s parts must be present for the system to carry out its purpose, like fitting jigsaw pieces together. Again, using the IT and phone system example, how do you coordinate those ‘pieces’ to set up an appointment system when you’re shut down?
  • systems need to be flexible enough to accommodate for changing circumstances and feedback.

By thinking through your practice systems in advance and how each of the individual pieces fit, you can document them so you’re not making things up at the last minute.

In response to the pandemic, PracticeHub now includes a specific ‘working away from the practice’ policy template and checklist, which you can customise to suit your practice. For example, even though your team is working from home, they still need to adhere to the practice's privacy and confidentiality policies, such as not taking patient calls where sensitive information may be disclosed and can be overheard by others at home.

Communicating with staff and patients

A practice shutdown is stressful, so clear, well thought out communication is vital. Your patients may be especially anxious, so you need to ensure they’re well informed and to manage their expectations about appointments and treatment at this time. Your communication policy can include how to advise patients via social media, email and website updates. But how do you inform patients who may not be internet or computer savvy?

Consider keeping signage templates on file in a system such as PracticeHub, so you can update, print and display them as needed.

PracticeHub also makes communicating with staff easy via the message board, so when they log in they see those messages, from anywhere. You can also select which users can see which messages: certain messages for your doctors, admin or nursing staff.

Learn from a real-world practice shutdown

Consulting Practice Manager, Denise Whitehead, experienced a 14-day practice shutdown in July, after a COVID positive patient visited the practice. She shares her top tips for navigating a shutdown:

  1. Ensure your staff contact list is updated regularly with address, LGA (local government area), mobile phone plan, email and type of computer at home (Windows or Mac).
    Public health agencies may ask which LGA your staff live in, to determine whether they can feasibly work somewhere else. Do your staff mobile plans include unlimited calls? Software compatibility can be an issue, so do staff use Windows or Mac at home?
  2. Keep your IT support on side.
    Develop a great relationship with your IT support provider. They will be vital in helping set up staff to work off site.

  3. Phone systems: investigate compatible handsets and app licences for mobiles.
    If you don't know what's compatible with your office phone equipment, that's a challenge. “We thought we could use one set of apps for mobile phones but it wasn't going to work with our particular set-up, and we had to get landlines for our full-timers and make sure they were NEC compatible,” Denise explains.

  4. Ensure all GPs know how to use Telehealth, ePrescribing, eReferrals and ePathology.
    As much as you can prompt GPs to use this technology, some will be resistant. In Denise’s case, the shutdown forced them to get on board. These delays can impact patient care.

  5. Engage a nearby practice for in-person consults.
    If your patients need a face-to-face consultation and you can’t accommodate that, have a couple of options for nearby practices that you can send patients to.

Preparing to keep your practice running during a shutdown is more a matter of when than if it happens, so now is a good time to start thinking about the systems, policies and processes you need to have in place.

Our business continuity planning webinar has more tips.

Watch the replay

With PracticeHub, your business and administrative files are accessible from anywhere, helping to ease the transition to off-site operations if your practice has to shut down. To find out more, book a demo or call 1300 96 86 36.

Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant and PracticeHub are not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2021.

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