In the United States, flu outbreaks can start in October and last until May. The official "flu season" arrives when certain key indicators rise and remain elevated for several weeks. Though it varies from year to year, flu activity in the US usually peaks from December to February.
By preparing both your practice and your patients for flu season, you can keep your practice running efficiently and make sure your medical billing stays on track, even if you experience a large influx of patients during flu season. Here are 7 tips to help your practice with flu season.
1) Offer flu shot clinics
Some practices choose to hold flu shot clinics apart from the regular practice. This may mean stationing a nurse in part of the clinic solely to do flu shots, or it could mean staying open late some evenings for giving flu shots, or perhaps scheduling a flu shot clinic on a Saturday. Other practices find that working flu shot appointments into their regular operations works fine. If you choose to have a flu shot clinic alongside regular operations, it's smart to assign a medical billing worker to it so claims and payments stay on schedule. Look at past years and what went well and what didn't. What caused time crunches, and what could you do differently this year?
2) Share educational content to social media
If your practice has social media pages, educational content about flu season is perfect for posting. You can let patients know about extended hours, when flu vaccines will be ready, and how to schedule them. If your practice management software includes an online patient portal, this is another terrific place to post educational information about flu season.
You might post information about hand-washing and other sanitation measures (since there are plenty of other illnesses too), what necessitates a trip to the doctor and when watchful waiting at home is appropriate, and how to know when children have recovered sufficiently to return to school.
3) Use automated reminders
If your practice management software offers automated reminders via email, text, and voicemail, you can use these to remind patients to schedule flu shots as well as annual physicals and other well care. Believe it or not, in recent years some practices have been slower than usual during flu season due to high vaccination rates, and practices can make up for lost volume by scheduling annual physicals and screenings during these periods.
4) Schedule strategically
Should your practice see an influx of patients during flu season, you should be prepared to alter your scheduling strategy to keep appointments on track. Some practices find that a modified block schedule, where sick visits are block scheduled for a particular segment of the day, helps manage volume better when there are large numbers of sick people wanting appointments. Also during flu season, many practices do some screening during appointment scheduling, asking patients if they have cough, fever, and other flu symptoms and providing face masks or a separate waiting area for sick patients.
5) Prepare for prevention
If you have had busy flu seasons before, you may consider posting signs and posters (in multiple languages if necessary) at reception desks, waiting rooms and other strategic locations asking patients to inform nurses if they have respiratory symptoms. Educational posters about coughing and sneezing into the crook of the elbow rather than the hand, throwing away tissues immediately after using them and then washing hands, and other hygienic practices are helpful too. A supply of tissues, alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations, and no-touch trash bins can also help curtail the spread of disease.
6) Urge Staff Vaccinations
When it comes to protecting your staff from flu season, be sure to stress the importance of getting vaccinated. Mandating flu shots may not go over well with every staff member. If you're struggling to get everyone on board with a flu vaccination you may try offering it at no cost to employees.
7) Enforce a Sick Policy
Creating a sick policy is also critical to stopping the spread of the flu. Make sure employees are well aware of your sick policy and will stay home if they don't feel well. You should already have a plan in place to cover shortages, but if you don't, work with your team to determine what will work best for your practice.
Flu season has a measurable effect on many medical practices, and an influx of patients (or lack of patients if vaccination efforts are successful) can throw off medical billing cycles. You can put your electronic health record (EHR) software to work helping manage your practice during flu season, particularly if you use a unified EHR like eClinicalWorks.
With eClinicalWorks, you not only get a fully integrated electronic medical records and practice management system, you get features like Messenger to ensure patients receive reminders for flu shots, a patient portal for distributing educational information, and the tools that enable strong communications among clinicians and office staff. The result is streamlined workflows that keep medical billing on track while helping you improve care quality. We invite you to schedule a free EHR consult at your convenience and are more than happy to answer your questions.