Practice Management

What is your practice's business recovery plan?

Eye care provider are looking toward recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here's how to position your business for growth.
Published 5.12.2020

Here's something you’ve heard too often already: These are unprecedented times.

However, that’s exactly what we’re facing. The coronavirus pandemic and the symptomatic battered economy are unprecedented. And they require unprecedented effort. Including from practices and clinics across the country.

People need their chiropractors, optometrists, physical therapists and opticians. Beyond the coronavirus, health needs will remain.

A post-COVID business recovery plan can help healthcare providers ensure people get much-needed care.

Why is a business recovery strategy important?

Other than unprecedented, a similarly prefixed word that describes the current moment is uncertain.

While vaccines are finally on the way, there's still uncertainty about what lies ahead in the coming months. That makes it essential that practices and clinics of all kinds have a recovery plan for business post-COVID.

Challenges in a post-coronavirus business world 

The one thing we’re sure of is that the post-coronavirus world will present challenges for businesses. Including healthcare providers.

Did you spend your Paycheck Protection Program loan correctly? Are your patients able to pay down aging accounts? Are online or telecare competitors hindering potential growth? Providers face these questions and more on the other side of this pandemic—if not sooner.

Here are some of the obstacles practices owners can expect to face in the coming months:

Wariness of close contact after long stretches of social distancing

We’re all figuring out how to pass the time while social distancing. Seeing friends from six feet away and no-contact food orders are the norm. Everyone’s excited to get back to the way things were before the coronavirus pandemic. But don’t expect people to give up social distancing without delay.

There will be lingering concern over the highly contagious coronavirus. In the coming months you’ll probably see substantially fewer patients than you would have otherwise.

Increasing competition from internet competitors

Some practices, such as vision care providers, will see increased competition from online retailers. People concerned about close contact will be apt to turn to these options.

Warby Parker and 1-800-Contacts will snatch up new customers. And internet wisdom may seem a more cost-effective way to treat pain. Practices will have to find ways to differentiate from online competition and draw in foot traffic.

A fragile economy may be in the offing

To safeguard recovery, practices will have to take precautions. Making it this far is certainly an accomplishment. Making it further will be a test.

On the exam? Your ability to plan well and maximize revenue in a fragile economy.

People are going to be careful with their money in the coming months. Will an eye exam or a back adjustment be worth the money? It’s up to your practice to ensure it is.

As patients starting coming back, is your patient set up for success?
As patients starting coming back, is your patient set up for success?

Setting your practice up for success after coronavirus

Given the challenges above how should practices aim for success in 2020 and beyond? With a post-COVID business recovery plan.

That starts with setting your practice up to succeed. A pandemic and down economy are potent enough to crumble a cracked foundation.

Gauge where you stand financially

To map your practice's future in a post-COVID world you need to know where it stands at the moment.

That starts with measuring the working capital your practice has on hand. This is the accessible cash you have available. It should stand at about 7.5% to 10% of your annual gross revenue collected. In the face of a shaky economy or a drop in appointments, this bucket of cash could prove vital.

Judge your expected reduction in patient flow as well. This number will be an estimate for the time being. Base this on the appointments you still have booked in the near future. Then adjust depending on booking activity as businesses start reopening.

Keep in mind that appointments booked mean revenue in one to two months for most patients.

Is your billing cycle healthy? 

Speaking of a one-to-two month wait for revenue, how’s your billing cycle looking? Do you have aged accounts receivable you can collect on for additional revenue? Considering recent changes in the economy do you forecast certain accounts will age longer than expected?

Analyze your A/R to see what revenue will look like in the coming months. This way you can judge the adjustments you’ll need to ensure practice success.

Do you really need that shiny, new purchase? 

One way to maximize practice revenue is to not spend it. You should be especially careful about your purchasing moving forward. How important is that equipment to your patients’ needs? Will that new shelving increase frame purchases? Do you really need a new spinal decompression machine?

Review your planned purchases and cut whatever won't improve your bottom line.

There are other things you can do to free up cash on hand. For example, review state and local measures on rent or eviction relief. And if there are none, try negotiating some respite from rent options with your landlord.

Getting the message out: You’re open for business

Speaking of uncertainty, you shouldn’t expect existing or prospective patients to know you’re taking appointments. You’re going to have to proactively inform your community of your updated services and hours.

There are a number of ways practices can get the message out:

Run email campaigns to existing and prospective patients

Email is going the way of snail mail, right? Not quite. In fact, 99% of people check their email daily. Furthermore, 50% peruse their inboxes at least 10 times per day! Email will be an essential to a successful practice recovery.

This is going to be a unique email campaign, though. It’s important to not be too pushy about setting appointments. As mentioned earlier, people will be wary of close contact—and for good reason. Come from a place of understanding when reminding people you’re open for business.

Here are a few more tips for an effective email campaign:

  • Use a compelling subject line! Boring subject lines don’t get clicks. Think of something short and engaging that will draw attention. You don’t need to go wild. Keep it simple and build interest with words like appointment, reminder or action required.
  • Write a short email with a clear message. People won’t want to read a novel. Nor are they interested in a long story. Keep your email short and to the point in order to get the message across. Try to keep it around 100 words or less.
  • Include a strong call to action. Every story needs a quality beginning, middle and end. In fact, the end may be the most important part! It’s the same with an email: Your subject line and email body were great but the CTA closes the deal.

Communication technologies lead to more kept appointments

Already in the COVID-19 era, healthcare providers are finding patient engagement technologies are leading to better no-show rates. In fact, Community Care Physicians achieved a 35% improvement in no-show rate after employing a number of engagement solutions, according to a Healthcare IT News case study.

The organization sought to use communications tools to keep its patients updated on changes to care as well as other pertinent news. They searched for a solution that would:

  • Offer “multi-modal approach” such as text messaging, email and voice call.
  • Enable two-way communication.
  • Send appointment reminders.
  • Include scheduling options and self-scheduling.
  • Provide in-take appointment check-in and education.
  • Advertise new services.
  • Run surveys.

With Solutionreach Community Care Physicians began its patient communication campaign. Ultimately, by leveraging the above engagement efforts the organization significantly boosted its kept appointments.

Update Google My Business and other local business profiles

Anyone looking for a new provider is going to do so on the internet. Other than social media, they’ll likely come across either a Google My Business or a Yelp profile.

Is your availability up to date on both profiles?

Your GMB and Yelp pages should always be current. This is especially important as we leave behind stay-in-place measures.

Alert your social media audience

And if prospective patients aren’t searching for new providers on Google they’re doing so through social media.

Just like GMB and Yelp your social media profiles should reflect accurate availability. Additionally, make sure you’re checking messages on these platforms. People may reach out to you through one of your profiles to learn more about your practice’s hours.

Using patient recare messaging to capture more appointments

Blues Traveler told you what you could rely on: That the hook will bring you back. In this case, the hook is expiring benefits.

Bringing patients in for their first appointment is one thing. Getting them back for the next one can be tough. And that was before the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s where expiring benefits come into play. Patients with soon-to-expire benefits are more likely to set appointments. They have a strong incentive to use their benefits. Plus, you help patients ensure they’re getting the most out of their insurance plans.

Here’s how to use expiring benefits in your recare messaging:

Check existing patients’ insurance plans for benefits set to expire

The first step is to identify patients with expiring benefits. This is going to be time-consuming. But it will pay off with a much more effective messaging campaign.

If most of your patients are in-network you can do this through the various insurers you’re contracted with. However, if you’re a cash pay, fee-for-service or out-of-network provider this task will be a little more difficult.

At least, that will be the case if you don't use software that verifies out-of-network benefits.

Build a messaging campaign for patients with expiring benefits

Once you have a list of patients with expiring benefits it's time to get in touch. Tools such as Mailchimp or Sender offer free platforms for building and sending email blasts.

Advise existing patients that they have expiring benefits to use up in your email campaign. Or you can call phone numbers you have on file. Make sure to communicate the urgency with which benefits should be used.

This technique will help you more quickly build out your appointment schedule moving forward.

Practices should identify ways to maximize revenue looking ahead.
Practices should identify ways to maximize revenue looking ahead.

Maximizing practice revenue going forward

The coronavirus dealt a blow to our communities in more ways than one. COVID-19 is overwhelming the country’s economic health as much as its public health system.

As a result of COVID-19 people’s habits will change moving forward. That includes how they interact with healthcare practitioners. Rising deductibles were already making patients more discerning care consumers before COVID-19. That was before the highly contagious pandemic popularized the term social distancing.

People will inevitably turn to affordable and online alternatives.

Materials such as frames and contacts are widely available online. And there's plenty of digital doctors out there with miracle pain solutions. People also may put off care for the pain in their back or the blurriness in their vision in order to save money.

Healthcare decision-making will change moving forward. To insulate against adverse impact practitioners need to improve financial health. In addition, it's vital to maximize revenue moving forward.

Practices can squeeze more revenue out of out-of-network services

Insurance plans you’re not contracted with offer opportunities to maximize practice revenue.

When you’re operating out-of-network, or as a cash-pay- or fee-for-service practice, you’re no longer bound by insurers’ rules. Instead, you can focus on improving patient experience and your practice’s bottom line.

There are several ways this approach to managed care maximizes revenue. For practitioners including ECPs and chiropractors it means getting out from under insurers’ fee schedules. It also means leaving behind less-than-ideal reimbursements.

Low-paying insurers limit practice revenue and restrict your ability to provide the best care possible.

For example, consider East Main Vision Clinic’s experience leaving managed care. The Puyallup, Washington, practice increased revenue per exam by 20% after leaving managed care. East Main Vision Clinic was no longer constricted by fee schedules or reimbursements.

With the right software the practice could verify OON eligibility, calculate costs and submit claims with ease.

By operating a cash pay practice you can charge flat fees for services and pocket that cash now. Facing an uncertain economy and patients who may alter their healthcare decision making creates risk. A flat fee based on the unique value your practice provides helps you mitigate that risk.

Connor McGann
Connor McGann, Content Marketing Manager
Connor McGann is Anagram's content marketing manager. He joined Anagram in February 2020. Previously he was a finance writer and animation project manager at a marketing agency, and managed content for a live chat provider that serviced various industries including health care and plastic surgery.

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