Fall and winter have always been cold and flu season, but this year there’s a new peril to beware of: the coronavirus pandemic. Since common cold and flu symptoms can sometimes mimic those of COVID-19, it’s important to prevent both types of illnesses from spreading. Fortunately, many of the tactics you use to manage a normal cold and flu season can also help protect your practice from the novel coronavirus. Here are seven steps you can take to keep your practice healthy this fall and winter.
Start with your employees. When shutdown restrictions in many places eased this summer, both patients and employees may have become more cavalier about COVID-19. As cases spike again, remind your team of the importance of strict precautions. Review daily protocols with employees and make sure they’re using personal protective equipment consistently and correctly. Carry out daily health checks and insist that employees who are feeling ill stay home from work. Even if it’s only a cold or flu, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends staying home from work for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone.
Get the flu vaccine and encourage or require your staff to get it as well. Most insurance plans will cover the cost, but if yours doesn’t, consider reimbursing employees for the cost of vaccination to get more compliance. Requiring or even just recommending vaccination can make a big difference. The CDC reports that during the 2019-2020 flu season, 94% of healthcare personnel whose employers required vaccination and 80% of those whose employers recommended it got vaccinated. When employers made no recommendation, just 69% of healthcare workers were vaccinated. (Before requiring vaccination, check with federal, state and local employment laws to make sure you can legally do so.)
Keep it clean. In addition to keeping treatment areas sanitary, be diligent about cleaning any surfaces employees and patients touch. Keep EPA-approved disinfectant sprays and disinfecting wipes on hand so your staff can spot-clean as needed throughout the day. Ease patients’ concerns about cleanliness by recording and emailing patients a short video demonstrating how you disinfect and prepare for each patient.
Stock up on supplies. Now is the time to make sure you’re stocked up on PPE, tissue, soap, paper towels, disinfectant and hand sanitizer. If COVID-19 cases continue to rise, we may see shortages and supply chain delays as we did in the early days of the pandemic. A good rule of thumb is to maintain at least a one-month supply of PPE and place reorders early; expect shipping to take two months. Place tissue and hand sanitizer, as well as trash cans for disposing of used tissues and PPE, throughout your office where both patients and staff can quickly access them when needed.
Clear the air. If you haven’t already done so, have your HVAC system serviced and make sure you’re following CDC guidelines regarding air filtration. You may also want to use a HEPA air filtration unit during procedures to reduce aerosol concentrations in the room. The more particles you can remove from your office air, and the more outside ventilation you can provide, the better.
Set up a Virtual Waiting Room. Lighthouse 360 has everything you need to set up a Virtual Waiting Room and reduce patient contact. Instead of filling out paper forms, new patients can use the Patient FastTrack feature to fill out and sign registration forms on their smartphones. Two-way texting facilitates curbside check-in, allowing patients to relax in their cars until their treatment room has been cleaned and sanitized. Eliminate the need to touch PIN pads or exchange payment cards with Lighthouse 360’s Online Bill Pay feature—just text patients their bill and they can pay safely online.
Prepare for cancellations. Cancellations are part of life during cold and flu season. This year, patients’ hectic lives and worries about COVID-19 will likely cause more cancellations than ever. If you normally charge a late cancellation fee or fine for patients, waive it for patients who are sick to prevent them potentially infecting your office. When you contact patients or send automatic appointment reminders, tell patients that if they are feeling ill, they can reschedule with no financial penalty. (Here are some other seasonal scheduling tips for dental practices.)
With Lighthouse 360, a last-minute cancellation doesn’t have to mean lost revenues. Lighthouse’s Fill-In feature automatically detects cancellations, contacts patients who have expressed interest in last-minute appointments, and lets you approve the new appointment within the portal.
If you or someone on your staff is exposed to or becomes ill with COVID-19, you’ll need to close the office immediately. Lighthouse 360 can send an alert message to all the patients whose appointments are affected that day, as well as to upcoming patients, giving you one less thing to worry about.