During this pandemic, medical businesses have suffered right alongside restaurants, theaters, retail stores and others. As the owner of a large pain clinic, Innovative Pain Care Center, as well as an ambulatory surgical center, my staff and I had to scramble to determine how to close down operations in mid-March while still providing the essential care that our patients require throughout the time of our governor’s stay-at-home orders. While restaurants and retailers transitioned to curbside and online delivery, we were able to safely provide care to patients using telemedicine platforms. Unfortunately, however, we postponed any procedures beginning in mid-March, in an effort to maintain safety for patients and staff, and to save resources from our surgical center, should they be needed by the local hospitals.
Fortunately, our community has seen an improvement in the number of cases, and after nearly two months, our state can start to make plans to reopen. With COVID-19, everything has changed, which has forced all businesses, including medical clinics, to make changes in the ways we can open our doors while providing extraordinary attention to the safety of our patients and staff. For our particular clinic, we are moving to a virtual waiting room, where patients wait and fill out paperwork in their vehicles before being called in for their appointments and then taken straight back to an examination room. We have provided additional resources for cleaning between patient visits, and we have invested in a spray system that can disinfect whole rooms at a time. In addition, we have purchased Plexiglas dividers that provide protection of our receptionists from airborne contaminants.
While we’re all struggling at different degrees, the medical field does have some inherent expertise in protecting staff and patients from infection and disease that other businesses may not have considered prior to this pandemic. Medical offices have always been well-versed in disinfecting and sanitizing, but despite that, most medical offices are looking at ways to improve their cleaning procedures. While restaurants, theaters, retailers and other establishments routinely clean their facilities, there are tips they can adopt from physicians’ offices as they prepare to reopen.
Even if you think you are cleaning enough, try to think of ways to provide even deeper cleaning. There is always more that can be done. Continue to disinfect work areas, especially high-touch surfaces, but look around to see where cleaning may need to be done more frequently. One simple idea is to provide hand sanitizer to clients when they walk through the door and insist they wear face coverings while they’re inside. This will help to protect your customers and your staff.
Once you come up with a cleaning plan, share it with everyone in the company, from part-time employees to CEOs. Everyone should be working together to provide the safest working environment possible. The management staff with the greatest experience at cleaning and disinfecting may want to provide teaching sessions on cleaning for the remainder of the staff.
Rely on your staff. Every place of business has certain people who know a great deal about how the business operates on a daily basis. People are excited to go back to work, and if you hired them, and rehired them, there is a good reason. Use the knowledge of staff members in different positions to help navigate what steps are needed to reopen and how to most efficiently implement those steps for your particular business.
Professional organizations are more than just resume-builders. They’re full of information. Every industry is going to have its own nuances. Take some time to research what your industry is doing to make reopening as risk-free as possible. Whatever your business, reach out to that industry’s professional organizations for guidance. They often have key information from federal and state governments that can guide you.
In my industry, the American College of Surgeons, American Society of Anesthesiologists, American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians and the Ambulatory Surgical Center Association shared best practices and procedures for reopening.
In addition, Clark County Medical Society has a wealth of information on its website at clarkcountymedical.org, including links to the American Medical Association guidelines for reopening medical practices.
Reach out to colleagues, even if they’re competitors. Maintaining good communication with others in similar industries will serve everyone well, as we are all facing the same challenges with reopening. We should all band together to make it as safe as possible for our staffs and clients.
Protect your staff. Listen to their concerns, as they can guide you toward best practices for maintaining safety at each position within your company. Purchase Plexiglas dividers for high-flow areas. Provide personal protective equipment to your staff as necessary. Last month, our clinic received masks to provide to our health care workers through donations from The Clark County Medical Society and Touro University. There are likely similar resources available for your industry as well.
Implement COVID-19 testing if needed, as these tests are becoming more readily available.
Develop a protocol in case one of your employees tests positive for COVID-19. In the unfortunate event of a positive test for a staff member, having a plan in place will allow you to respond in a caring and consistent manner, and it will prove to staff you have their best interests at heart.
Depending on your industry, consider implementing a way to identify high-risk clients by having them fill out a questionnaire regarding active symptoms such as cough, fever, shortness of breath or loss of smell or taste. A touchless thermometer is a perfect way to screen of your clients’ temperatures before allowing entry into the facility.
As business owners, we need to be leaders and strive to make employees and customers as comfortable as possible, no matter the industry. Outpatient medical professionals are working tirelessly to get back to normal, but it’s going to take months. As we’ve heard throughout this pandemic, we’re all in this together, and it’s never been more true than right now as we determine how to successfully navigate this new normal.
Dr. Daniel Burkhead is president of the Clark County Medical Society and the owner of Innovative Pain Care Center and Innovative Procedural and Surgical Center.