COVID Made Me Do It: Clinic Programs and Innovations
By Ingrid Sparrow, PT
Initially the effects of COVID-19 varied by region and location, but by the time this article goes to print we will all have settled into the “new COVID-19 normal.”
Our clinic’s gym and office spaces have been physically rearranged, our staff and patient scheduling has been modified, and we will have a better understanding of our likely income for the remainder of the year.
It is inspiring to see the innovations in care and practice offerings created by physical therapists in these tough times. In gathering input for this article, repeated themes I heard from clinic owners are the importance of your website, networking for outreach, and that COVID-19 spurred them to complete and implement programs they were excited about but never seemed to have the time to make them fly — until now.
Here is a sampling of ideas to expand and support your care, income, staff, and community.
Value added Telehealth/Digital Care
Many of us took the jump off the high dive into telehealth, and we were fortunate to be supported by the many excellent articles and resources that came out very quickly. The following ideas show how using telehealth can offer care that cannot be done in the clinic.
Home gym equipment and stationary bike fittings: Many patients are blowing the dust of seldom-used home equipment or have made purchases as their gym or favorite fitness classes are suspended. Not uncommon, a new or previously quiet symptom has returned. Telehealth allows us to see our patients using their own actual equipment and provide recommendations as to proper equipment fit, posture, and positioning. Patients have found the recommendations to be extremely helpful and appreciate the reassurance that their fitness routine is helping rather than hurting them.
Home workspace set up and ergonomics: Many patients found themselves suddenly working from home without their usual equipment or even without enough places to work as other family members are jockeying for space to work or attend school from home. These consultations can be very eye-opening and provide insight into your patient’s persistent neck or back pain, as well as allow you to provide more specific recommendations for needed changes and equipment.
Injury screens/marketing outreach via an “Is PT Right for You?” campaign: With many in our community now without insurance or perhaps without the finances for their insurance cost share, telehealth offers a convenient way to do injury screens and triage patients with limited resources.
Virtual group classes: A very creative idea was the facilitation by the physical therapist of a virtual Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS). This provides very valuable support for parents who are feeling isolated and is a great opportunity for the clinic’s pelvic health specialist to speak to an interested audience.
Rev up your Website
Now more than ever, it is important to have a website that is easy to navigate and easy for you to modify. Items for sale: Although our cash flow is low, stocking and selling the items you frequently recommend to your patients can be a way to generate additional income. Patients like that these are items they have already tried in the clinic and are “physical therapist approved,” in addition to the convenience of being able to easily find and purchase these items. You can consider having a store on your website where items can be ordered and then be prepared for pick up at the next appointment or curbside.
It is good to be price competitive but also ensure you have included all the costs associated with stocking and selling these items so that this is profitable. Rounding up to the nearest dollar makes life easier for all. And for larger or more expensive items, consider a “recommended by your physical therapist” page on your website that patients can reference and then go shopping. Also consider having groupings of equipment so people to create their own physical therapy home gym, and offer this grouping at a discount as compared to purchasing each item separately. Be sure to consult your state’s sales tax rules in order to comply with all regulations.
Start your own channel on your website: There are numerous platforms you can use to host your own videos. You may choose to charge for these, provide them as an adjunct to the care of current patients, or provide them to other providers, which may drive more patients to your clinic.
Support and Utilize your Staff
Owners are exhausted and staff may feel a bit uncertain as to the future. Engaging your staff to create the programs shared here and to do even more outreach lets them take part in the clinic’s success and will hopefully help with your workload.
Outreach and marketing: Set up weekly and monthly goals of the number of outreach contacts that your staff will make to providers, patients, vendors, gyms and fitness facilities, and the community. It is a good time to request patient testimonials for use with social media and other marketing.
Continuing education: If your clinical staff still has more free time than usual, this may be a good time to set up CE goals and utilize online courses, some of which are free such as those to APTA members.
What do we look like?: An unexpected side effect of wearing masks is that we no longer know what many of our patients look like, nor do they know what we look like! One clinic had masks with their logo made for staff, and then crated a photo display of each staff member wearing a mask and then with it pulled away, with a big smile of course.
You are your Community
Being designated an essential service validated the importance and the value of physical therapy in both the larger medical community and in each of our social communities. Here are ways physical therapists have shown their gratitude and also further offered support.
Pro-bono care: Many clinics have been offering free care for essential workers and first responders who could not otherwise access care. Other clinics have offered free care to existing patients whose care was interrupted by COVID-19 and who now cannot afford to finish this course of care.
Consult with local businesses and fitness centers: Learning the needs and how you can support your local businesses can lead to previously untapped collaborations. One example is of a physical therapist who was contacted via LinkedIn by a tech team with the goal of building a tool for physical therapists using artificial intelligence — a project she would not have thought of.
Give with your heart: Although our incomes are less, our communities’ needs are big. Continue with your donations, matching staff charitable donations, food drives, community events, etc. Remember, we are here for the long run, and we are all better when our community is strong.
Ingrid Sparrow, PT, CMPT, is co-owner of Sound PT in Seattle, Washington. Her clinic celebrated its 18th anniversary with champagne and chocolate in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic!