Solutions to Making Your Practice Survive & Thrive During This COVID-19 Crisis

“How Can I Help?”

That is the first thing that comes to my mind during this time of crisis. So I wrote this article. This post is broken down into many sections that outline what I think are the best ways for your practice to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic. The short action item list includes:

  1. Send email to staff updating them on the current situation
  2. Set up Slack or group chat for instant messaging
  3. Schedule weekly team calls/meetings
  4. Set specific hours for emergency appointments
  5. Define emergency appointment with the staff
  6. Send email newsletter with COVID-19 announcement
  7. Update your website with COVID-19 announcement or blog post
  8. Update Google My Business with new hours and COVID-19 Updates
  9. Update social media with announcements
  10. Post regularly on social media to stay relevant
  11. Reschedule all appointments in April into May and June
  12. Change your voicemail and call-waiting messaging
  13. Have a missed call to text message or call centre service active
  14. Setup remote computer access so you can access your PMS software
  15. Figure out employment strategy and order of staff that are being let go
  16. Go through a comprehensive audit of your practice and fix things now

Before we dive into these action items in more detail, let me provide you with a bit of context…

For the past 10 years, my only goal has been to help dental and medical practices grow. One of my writing teachers in college used to always tell me “write what you know”. I applied that same advice 10 years ago to my business and focused on digital marketing. For Connect the Doc, that translates into our review software, referral software, search engine optimizations, online bookings, paid ads, website design, and social media. This is what I know. 

BUT…Lots has changed in the last month as COVID-19 has become a world-wide pandemic and medical practices around the world have been limited to emergency only services. There is no doubt that this virus is going to have a major impact on you, your family, your staff, your patients, your friends, and virtually every person you know.

From one business owner to another, I can tell you with certainty that this is not the type of scenario I could have even dreamed of when I put together my “worse case scenario” or “risk mitigation” strategies at the beginning of the year. 

So before I get into the fun stuff (below), I want everyone to know that we are all in this together and that no one has a crystal ball as to what is going to happen next. Our responsibility (outside of staying home and being socially distant) is to first survive this shock to our business and second to bounce back and be prepared for the changes that need to be made over the next few months.

This post is going to be a long one. I am going to basically sum up all of my thoughts and suggestions into this one post. And as our clients and other doctors approach me with new ideas, or my team forms new partnerships, I will update this post and keep adding to it. My goal is for this to be a COVID-19 BUSINESS WAR PLAN.

Let’s get started.

What’s going to happen to my staff? When will my practice reopen?  What if we don’t open for another 6 months? 1 Year? How am I going to make sure that my patients are taken care of while my practice is closed? Where is the money going to come from?

These are a few of the many questions you may have. I’m a big believer in writing lists, breaking down thoughts, finding solutions and prioritizing action items into tasks. It might seem daunting at first, but as you start to break things down, every small task is possible. One more thing… Think like an outsider. 

Imagine you were stepping into owning/managing your practice today with all this auxiliary drama that comes hand in hand with the Coronavirus. What would you do? You do NOT need to spend thousands of dollars a month on a consultant to help you through this. Not yet. A few years ago I wrote a post on 20 ways to grow your practice. When you are done reading this COVID-19 post, try reading that one to see if any of those tips can help you today. 

If you have any suggestions for me or the medical community, please let me know so I can update this post. My email is nadeem@connectthedoc.com

So now that we have set the stage and you are fired up to make your practice survive and thrive, let’s get the ball rolling. If at any point in time you want to talk to me personally about anything, you can reach me on my personal cell at 415-287-4999 (US), 778-882-6663 (CAD) or shoot me an email.

Step 1: Office Hours, Expectations & Communication with Staff

In fast-moving and uncertain situations, communication with your staff is crucial. Remember in Captain Phillips when the villain says, “I am the captain now”? This situation reminds me of that scene (except you’re not the villain). You have to lead your team and communication is crucial. 

A few things to think about are:

  • Sending a company-wide email with a COVID-19 update letting your team know that you are working on a strategy. The team goal over the next few months is to get your ducks in a row so that your practice can prosper when the office reopens
  • Setting up a free Slack account or a group chat / WhatsApp so you can instant message with your staff while they work remotely
  • Scheduling weekly meetings / check-in calls with each team member
  • Documenting your revised office hours with the team
  • Defining “Emergency Appointment” with the team

You could even have a shared Google Document that you keep updating with all the relevant information that you want to share with your team. Being transparent is incredibly important during this time as they are going to want to know if their job is on the line and what the time frame is for them to start working again full time.

Now that your staff know that you have some hard decisions to make and that you are working on getting your ducks in a row to fight this crisis, you can start going through a list of all the things that you need to do.

One thing to keep in mind is that almost everyone is in panic mode, which means that there is potentially a HUGE opportunity for you. In 2008/2009 after the financial crisis, the Nasdaq bottomed out at around $1350. Today, even after all the COVID-19 drama, the Nasdaq is at $6800, which is down from $9800 in mid-February. If you are in the business of stocks, you’d know that in the near future, depending on how everything unfolds, that there would be an opportunity. The same applies to you. Yes, of course, you will need to scale back your expenses with no production coming in, but just keep in mind there may be some opportunities along the way. 

Typically, finding receptionists, front-end staff, associate dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants is extremely difficult. For the first time ever, you may be able to recruit for these positions while lots of other offices have laid-off their staff.

You may be long overdue for an office-renovation, which you were never able to complete because you couldn’t interrupt your flow of patients…. Now may be a time to look into that.

You may want to expand and open up a few more locations. Small businesses are struggling and many of them will not be able to hold their lease. You may be able to reach out to new owners who don’t have a big enough line of credit and discuss the opportunity of a merger or partnership. 

Your website might need a re-do and your number one challenge may be “time”. Now that you have time, you might want to focus on an online presence rehaul. And while we are on the topic of time, having to cut down on expenses and trim the proverbial “fat” will make you think of your practice as a business. Now is the time to really think like a business owner and figure out what approach you are going to take to make sure you are coming back with your best foot forward.

Step 2: Suggestions for Handling Your Online Presence

Now that you and your staff know exactly what the situation is, we can start making immediate changes to your online presence so that your existing and prospective patients know how you are handling this situation. Here are some things that I think you should do as soon as possible.

Send An Email Newsletter to ALL Active Patients

Keeping your patients in the loop is incredibly important. If you are already using Connect the Doc for your reviews/referrals or if you are on any of our marketing packages, we will be happy to send out an email or SMS announcement to all of your patients. If you are NOT a subscriber of Connect the Doc and you are using a patient communication software like Lighthouse 360 or Demandforce, you should have the functionality within your software to send out a newsletter. If you have neither of these solutions, schedule an appointment with me and I will create an account with you on the phone and we can do this together. 

Please note, I will need you to have all of your data in an EXCEL or CSV in order to make this work. You will need to:

  1. Go into your practice management software
  2. Run a report to get a list of all of your active patients and their email addresses
  3. Download this report to a CSV/Excel file
  4. Provide me with the data during our call

How to come up with the best email newsletter is a completely different blog post, but you’ll definitely want to have a button or link in your email that takes them to a page on your website that has more information on COVID-19 and your office.

Update Your Website

Since we are sending out a newsletter and updating your Google My Business (next task below), we need to make sure that your website is updated. My recommendation is having a clear message on your homepage like this, that tells patients when your office is open and what it is open for. If you have any special technology in place for 2-way text messaging or scheduling a video consultation, you may want to put a banner at the top or bottom of your website. We put this yellow banner on the bottom of our sales website so we could make it known that we’re here to help while the doctors have time at home… What do you think?

This is an example of what you will soon be able to build for free with our website announcement widget creator. Simply place a snippet of code on your website and the pop-up will appear when someone visits your domain.

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Our development team at Connect the Doc is working on adding a “website announcement creator” so you can easily create pop up banners on your website – for free. If you are interested in this functionality, please let us know so we can add you to the waitlist. Also, if you don’t like your website, or you are getting charged an arm and a leg to make updates like this, please let us know. We’ve implemented some promotional website discounts during this time to help new and existing clients.

Google My Business

When you type in your business name on Google, you’ll normally see a box on the right side of the screen that has all of your business details. The information in your Google tile is controlled by you via Google My Business. If you have not claimed your account, you should do that ASAP. If you have claimed your account, I’d highly recommend logging into Google My Business and doing the following:

  1. Update Your Business Hours
  2. Manage Your Information
  3. Create a New Post
  4. Mention Temporary Closures

If you are not too familiar with Google My Business, you can click here to read our guide on Google My Business and why map visibility is so important.

For a more specific update on COVID-19 and how to handle updating your information, you can click here to read a support article written by Google.

Social Media

The action item for social media is simply to update your social channels with your COVID-19 Announcement. If you do not have social media, now may be a good time to set up your accounts.

Let me explain a bit more about my thoughts on social media because I think it is important…

Prior to COVID-19, I was not really a big fan of social media unless it was targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram to a specific demographic for services that had universal appeal. When our clients had a compelling offer or a free consultation, we saw success with campaigns related to TMJ, Sleep Apnoea, Invisalign, and Teeth Whitening. We did not see a whole lot of benefits with daily and weekly posts on Facebook as most of the people who liked the page were existing patients. For Instagram, we loved the idea of it, but we felt that it was crucial for the office and its staff to be posting – and not some 3rd party agency. Your Instagram feed should be filled with content that is personal and paints a picture of the culture within your office.

Now – my thoughts have changed a little. Since your office is closed and time is your biggest asset, staying relevant on social media is crucial. My suggestion is that you and your staff commit to a few posts a week on Facebook and Instagram.

Plug:

Our new social media program provides your office with 180 posts like the one above spread out over 2 years so that your accounts stay active and relevant. You can sprinkle in more “authentic” content on your own or we can do it for you as part of our Gold Tier!

We’ve added a social media department to Connect the Doc to help practices stay top of mind to existing and prospective patients while the physical location may be closed. For more information on our social media packages, please contact us.

Step 3: Suggestions for Handling Internal Operations

Reschedule Appointments Now

Start a waitlist of all the patients that want to be seen as soon as the office re-opens for non-emergency appointments. Schedule them in for an appointment in mid-May or early June. If the office opens sooner, you can send out a bulk text message or bulk email inviting your patients to schedule in sooner. If the office opens later, you can notify your patients that the office is still closed and you can reschedule them another month down the road.

Call Messaging & Call Forwarding

While your office has odd hours, you’ll want to change the messaging on your phone. Let your patients know that you are only allowed to schedule emergency appointments. You can do the “press 1 for emergencies and press 2 to leave a voicemail” option on your phone as well. I’d also encourage you to forward all the calls to your cell phone or your Office Manager’s cell phone so they can handle the call.

Missed Calls to Text

If you really want to be on top of your phone calls and patients during this time, you can make your office phone number “text-enabled” and use a service that will automatically send out a text message to the person calling.

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If this is something that interests you, we have a few different solutions for you that make this possible. Let us know the exact workflow you are trying to achieve, and we can help you.

Call Center Answering Service

If you don’t think the missed call to text is a good solution for you, you may want to consider a call center like Specialty Answer Service to handle your calls for the time being. Even after your office re-opens, it’s always good to have a call center to handle overflow calls. This may be a good opportunity to build a relationship with a call center to make this possible. 

Remote Access to Workstation

If you’re using a server-based solution for your Practice Management System and you do not have access to your schedule online, having remote access to your workstation is really important. Chat with your IT provider and see if a service like TeamViewer or LogMeIn will work for you so you can stay on top of your scheduling from home during this time.

Cash Flow, Staff, Expenses
I’m not going to beat around the bush here… money is going to be the biggest challenge over the next few months. With very limited production, you have to manage your expenses. Do you need to lay off your staff? If yes, I’d strongly recommend doing this in batches. Your front-end administrative staff and office managers will need to help you with a variety of tasks, so letting go of everyone at once may leave you with a ton of tasks that you may not want to deal with. If your company-wide email in step 1 included the possibility that your staff would need to be laid off, they hopefully won’t be too surprised.

Step 4: Audit & Improve

Since time is your biggest asset, your focus needs to be on how you are going to ramp things up when your office reopens. Until then, I strongly suggest being your own consultant by going through our 20 ways to grow your practice article to see if there are things you can do.

In the near future, I will write another post that will go through some of the specific services that Connect the Doc offers that can help you take advantage of your time while you are staying socially distant.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading this post, and please let me know how I can help!