*Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding reopening your medical practice, please refer to the official guidance published on www.gov.uk or consult a knowledgeable legal professional. *
With lockdown restrictions lessening and more and more businesses reopening across the country, now is a good time to consider when and how to reopen your medical practice. However, it is important that your business is set up properly, to protect staff and patients, in what is still an unprecedented time for the medical profession.
With coronavirus disrupting so much of life across the UK, there has been a pronounced drop in serious illness cases being referred for treatment by medical practices affected by closure or from patients not feeling comfortable in visiting them due to possible infection. In fact, Cancer Research UK found that referrals for cancer appointments dropped to just 25% at the beginning of lockdown but thankfully, are now rising. Despite this, there is still work to be done to help patients feel confident in visiting their GP, doctor or dentist, and staff to feel comfortable treating them.
Here are some steps you can take when reopening your medical practice in the coming months.
Assess your situation
First, it is a good idea to consider how much of your practice you need to reopen and what services you, and your staff, would feel comfortable offering. After all, there has been a rise in video consultations during lockdown, with the BBC finding that GPs are currently seeing just seven in every 100 patients face-to-face in 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak. This is a huge change since last year, where 80% of appointments were in person. Unsurprisingly, The Royal College of GPs has said that the reason for this drastic change has been because of social distancing.
Wherever possible, the General Medical Council advises seeing patients in this way, if possible, throughout the pandemic. As Angela Ly, dentist and practice owner of the Your Smile Clinic practice in Manchester, states, this can save patients time and also potential contact with public transport and other coronavirus hotspots: “We’ve got people who travel from other cities, and to take a day out just to come for the initial consultation, and we could eliminate that by doing these video consultations, just making it a bit more efficient, long term.”
However, Angela also appreciates the need, particularly for private and mixed practices, to reopen and improve cash flow opportunities for the businesses. As she explains, “A lot of practices are mixed practices, so they might have some NHS funding, but most of their income will derive from the private side. The private subsidises things and allows the practice to run.”
Set up your practice safely
For those patients that you do need to see in person, your physical practice itself will also need setting up to make it safe to work in and for patients to visit. To do this, the UK Government advises carrying out a workplace risk assessment in line with Health and Safety Executive guidance. Next steps would be following NHS guidelines for hand cleaning and hygiene, as well as implementing frequent cleaning and disinfecting of public areas and usage and cleaning guidelines for toilets. It is also necessary to ensure hand sanitiser is available around your practice, if not already in place.
Overall, and following Government advice, all staff should adhere to social distancing rules (2 metres) wherever possible. This should be followed at all times, especially if not wearing PPE, when on breaks and in private communal areas, for instance. You can find an initial checklist of steps to take in order to return to work safely, on the Government’s Coronavirus guidance and support website.
Both the British Medical Association and the British Dental Association have also compiled extensive guides for medical practices to reopen and have staff return to work across the UK, These guides are available to all members as free resources.
Ensure staff and patients are protected
The sourcing and use of the right personal protective equipment (PPE) is also crucial to reopening your physical practice. Public Health England recommends that all primary care workers (health, dental and social care) should at least be wearing fluid-resistant, type IIR, surgical masks. The majority of positions in a standard medical practice set up are also advised to wear disposable gloves, aprons and eye or face protection such as goggles or a visor.
As the practice owner or manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the right PPE is available for you and your staff. It is also important that your staff are trained on how to use it correctly and know when to replace it and where to find it.
Alongside staff wearing masks, you may find it necessary to ask patients to also wear face coverings when visiting your practice. The UK Government has now made it mandatory for the public to wear face masks on transport and in shops for the foreseeable future.
The wearing of face masks by the general public in the UK is already on the rise, with the Office for National Statistics finding that 61% of adults who left their home in July 2020, had done so wearing a face covering. However, when considering how to enforce face-mask wearing, two-metre distancing and hand washing, clear signage and verbal explanation is encouraged, for staff and patients alike.
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Keep up communication
All of these changes and new rules need to be communicated to patients before they come into your practice. Keeping in regular contact with patients during lockdown has increased due to the rise of video consultations and the need for a clear understanding of developments. Angela, has again seen the benefits of this for her patients: “I’ve been doing YouTube videos, advice on how to manage a toothache at home, or if you’ve got a broken brace. And then just trying to interact a bit more on social media and just to let people know that we’re still there for them. If they need advice, we’re still there.”
It is crucial to maintain this level of communication as you reopen, helping patients to feel at ease with the circumstances and informed at what to expect if they do visit. You can further improve your patient’s experience before they set foot in your practice by reducing waiting times through having patients fill out paperwork, arrange their appointments and even pay for treatment, all before visiting.
By using online booking and scheduling solutions such as Appointedd, you can save time, reduce no-shows, and integrate payments - whether it’s a deposit or payment in full - directly with your Square account. Just as being able to have a consultation with you over video or even the phone is convenient and comfortable, paying upfront can be straightforward and stress-free for the patient too.
Make payments part of your plan
Even when your customers make a payment while visiting your medical practice in person, you can help keep things clean and contactless. There are a few simple ways to organise something like this safely. Contactless card readers allow for contactless, chip + PIN as well as Apple and Google pay, for a flat fee of 1.75% per transaction, with next business day deposits as standard. You can even keep your card reader in a purpose-built dock to ensure maintaining the recommended 2-metre distance.
An all-in-one-card-machine is another option, which comes with integrated point-of-sale software and a built-in receipt printer, meaning you can do everything from managing items and taking payments to printing receipts and getting paid.
In some cases, it may be more suitable to process payments after your patient has visited your practice. For this, Virtual Terminal or Square Invoices are both easy-to-use solutions. Virtual Terminal allows you to manually process payments right from a web browser. It’s great for taking card payments over the phone. Square Invoices allows you to quickly and easily create, send and track invoices from the Square Invoices app, your desktop or Square Point of Sale for a flat 2.5% fee per transaction.