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11 Lessons on How Your Practice Can Implement An Emergency Preparedness Plan

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Regardless of where you live, you need an emergency preparedness plan for how your practice will handle a natural disaster.
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Covid has changed the way we practice medicine, forcing us to find ways to deal with the challenges of the pandemic. One thing that has come clearly into focus is how unprepared most private practices are to deal with catastrophes. Now you may be thinking that a pandemic like Covid only happens a once in a lifetime. And, that you have adapted your practice to contend with this new reality.

 

But COVID didn’t knock out the power or the internet. It didn’t affect the water supply, make the roads impassable or your home and office uninhabitable. But natural disasters do, and they occur on a regular basis.

 

Every place has something—hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, wildfires, ice storms. Regardless of where you live, you need an emergency preparedness plan. After starting my own practice, Hurricane Katrina taught me that firsthand.

 

Lesson 1: Identify the decision maker and the decision-making timeline. if you’re the only owner then it’s obvious who’s going to make the decision.

  • Will your clinic remain open, or will you close?
  • When will you make the decision?

Your staff and patients will be trying to figure out what the plan is. The sooner you make that decision, the less chaotic things are going to be first.

 

Lesson 2: Understand the consequences of your decisions:

  • Staff
    • Your employees may need to stay home. They may not have childcare or have difficulty getting to work. Some may even to evacuate. They need to make plans and they are looking to you for guidance.
    • If you decide to stay open, understand that you may not have sufficient staffing.
  • Patients
    • When there’s an impending disaster, your patients are going to cancel their appointments.
    • Decide how many patients need to be seen to make it worth staying open.
    • Understand that only a fraction of the schedule may show up because same day cancellations and no-shows are common.
    • Remember that if you decide to stay open you may be putting your patients and staff at risk.

Lesson 3: Communicate with your staff

It’s easy if everyone is still at work. You can call a five-minute staff meeting.

But what if you can’t address everyone in a staff meeting?

Here’s what you need to communicate the plan:

  • A list with the phone numbers and email addresses for every staff member.
  • Print the list in addition to having one on your phone and computer. Paper works when there’s no power and internet.
  • Identify who will be responsible for contacting your staff. If you have more than a couple of staff members, create a phone tree. Assign a set number of people to a specific staff member who is responsible for contacting the people on their short list.
  • Understand that you’ll contact your staff multiple times as the situation evolves.
  • Text works best at the height of an emergency—it requires the least bandwidth because it gets sent in small packets of information of data.

Lesson 4: Communicate with your patients so they aren’t left wondering whether they should come to an appointment.

  • Use your website and social media sites to post to notify your patients.
  • Use the patient reminder component of your practice management software to call or text patients with a status

Lesson 5: Telemedicine may not be an option in a natural disaster

During Covid, everyone’s solution to not being in the office was to join a telemedicine platform. In a natural disaster, telemedicine platforms may not be viable if the power and internet are unavailable.

 

Lesson 6:  Have a written protocol and practice it

During a crisis, there is often chaos. Have a plan, practice it, and test it. Build in redundancy because what happens if the person calling patients or staff loses power or internet.

 

Lesson 7: Use your existing EHR/Practice Management Software to help you.

Many of the automated software options have multiple customized reminder messages. Record and store a message in advance that says the office is closed and what is your process for rescheduling appointments.  There’s so much to do when there is an impending emergency you will be happy you’ve already done this.

 

Lesson 8: If you have an answering service, make sure you have a script with a clear set of instructions for patients.

 

Lesson 9: Print 3-5 days of the schedule and the patient contact info.

You may not have the ability to access this information if you or the practice loses power or internet. Even if your software is cloud-based and you have power/internet—know that connection speeds are incredibly slow during a disaster.

 

Lesson 10: Reach the most people for the least effort.

You will want to post updates on your website, Facebook page and any other social media channels you are on. Notify your local radio and TV stations. In an emergency, everyone is looking for information in one of these places.

 

Lesson 11: If you’ve had to close because of the natural disaster, be prepared for re-opening.

You need to anticipate the barrage of phone calls to schedule, refill meds and more. Have a protocol and a script for the person answering the phone. Be prepared for increased patient volume. You may need to consider adjusting your hours.  As a private medical practice, you have the advantage of remaining flexible. You may grow significantly if you have availability when another practice doesn’t. Remember that the big corporations can’t pivot like a private practice.

 

Final thoughts:

Natural disasters occur on a regular basis and can significantly impact your practice. Having a plan will help you weather any storm.

 

 

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