One of my favorite parts of my job is visiting our Solv partners and getting a first-hand look at how their business is thriving and how we can help optimize your time and profits. You’ve probably started seeing your clinic numbers increasing with the beginning of the school season, but we all know that our busiest season is ahead of us–the respiratory season.
As the weather grows colder and people are forced indoors, your clinics will reach their peak volume, but it doesn’t have to be crisis time. This fall could be your most profitable quarter with wise planning and smart staffing. Here’s how I would plan for the coming months:
Forecasting supplies has been challenging since 2020, as lulls and surges have kept urgent cares on their toes. But as more people get vaccinated or gain natural immunity to COVID-19, business is leveling out. Since the last two years probably aren’t indicative of your future needs, look back to your 2019 numbers as a guide.
Order testing and treatment supplies for RSV, flu, strep, and mono using those numbers. If your clinic has grown since 2019, add 10-20%. Respiratory testing and treatment supplies often sell out, so stay ahead of the backlog.
COVID-19, on the other hand, is harder to forecast. Order a 14-30 day supply on a rolling basis to stay ahead of testing surges, but don’t overorder. As in-office testing declines, the space and funds can be better used on other supplies.
Lastly, allergy and asthma season is here–-make sure you have plenty of nebulizer kits, albuterol, and other asthma and seasonal allergy treatments. Make sure your oxygen tank supply is also stocked–if a patient needs a transfer to the ER or needs oxygenation in office, you need to be ready. Have someone on your staff check oxygen tanks at the beginning and end of each shift to ensure you have an adequate oxygen supply.
Human resources are your greatest strength in urgent care, so staff up now to allow time for adequate training before clinics become overloaded. Those lean staffing days of summer are over, and it’s time to diversify your workforce–hire full-time, part-time, and PRN staff now. Allow at least two weeks to a month of training and onboarding to form a cohesive unit that can handle high-volume days.
Why so many employees? Not only do you need to serve an increased number of patients, but your staff is also at risk during this season of droplet-transmitted illness. Your team will get ill, and it’s up to you to have enough staff redundancy to accommodate patient loads and create an atmosphere of calm for the remaining staff.
That calm atmosphere should extend past just hiring enough people–it’s our job as leaders to create an environment of accountability and encouragement. There will be tough days–days when everything feels wrong and everyone is overwhelmed. Create a culture where those frustrations are heard and acknowledged, and staff is praised for positive actions rather than browbeaten for mistakes.
Use excellent patient interactions as examples to bolster spirits and inspire your team. Use them as a model if someone has excellent wait times or a five-star Google review. Culture and motivation separate an average urgent care from a great one.
As patient loads amp up, patient expectations stay the same–they all want to feel as if they are the only patient you see that day. While this isn’t always possible, reducing wait times and managing expectations through clear communication can create an exceptional experience.
According to the Urgent Care Association, nearly 60% of urgent care operators use booking or appointment software. Effective software like Solv is essential to setting and exceeding patient expectations for care and wait times.
People are more educated and aware of the easy transmission of airborne illnesses, and apps for booking and registration allow them to wait for their appointments safely in a place of their choosing.
Not only do software solutions create safe waiting spaces, but they can also eliminate errors that can be dangerous for patients. With online registration, there is no option for missed allergies because of sloppy handwriting or skipped patient information. Instead, your patient’s information flows directly to the EMR and staff that need it to provide quality care.
Those apps aren’t just for the patients either–with every seamless patient experience, it eliminates potential end-of-shift issues that could cause staff to stay late, adding to feelings of burnout and dissatisfaction. Keeping everyone on schedule benefits both patients and your team.
Every action should be geared toward efficiency when you have a high volume day. Creating processes allows every team member to do their job efficiently. There are three tools to speed along your workflow.
- Create standing orders
- Cross-train your team
- Build reference guides for every workflow
One thing that can help is the creation of standing orders. Diagnosis can be tricky with multiple illnesses presenting with the same symptoms. Creating a standing order for testing as soon as the patient enters the exam room allows those tests to process before the physician ever enters. Create a standing order for respiratory viruses such as flu, strep, COVID-19, mono, and RSV. Once initial testing is completed, care providers can move on to what the patient wants–treatment.
The second thing that creates an efficient team is cross-training. You’ve staffed up–that’s great! But now that you have the staff make sure that multiple people know each job function. At the height of the flu season, someone on shift will inevitably fall ill and have to go home. If you have someone already trained to pick up the slack, a major setback becomes a hiccup.
Cross-training can be another facet of creating a positive culture. Incentivize cross-training with raises for those willing to take on a new skill. Audibly praise their efforts and celebrate those days when staff comes together to win.
Lastly, create documentation for every action in the office. New team members need to have a reference for who does what in the office and how they do it. Create expected timelines for each process and ensure it’s available to every team member. Give your team the tools they need to succeed.
Fall can be a challenging time–but it can also be a profitable one. With careful planning and helpful tools, you can win the respiratory season.