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8 Tips for Issuing a Statement to Your Physical Therapy Practice Patients Regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Handling communication

During time of health of crisis such as Coronavirus/COVID-19, many are often looking for information, especially from health professionals. There’s a high likelyhood that both staff and patients have wide and varying feelings about this issue. Information can help patients and your staff feel more comfortable. Only you can decide if issuing a statement makes sense but if you choose to, this article will help offer you some tips to craft the right statement.

Tip 1: Communicate with patients through a medium they are comfortable with

There are so many ways to communicate with patients today. It may be in-person during a visit, through an email blast, by text message and so-on. You should communicate with patients through a medium they are comfortable with, where practical. It is also a good idea to use more than one medium to connect with your patients. Selecting a primary medium can depend on your patient population.

Sending out an email blast may be the easiest/fastest thing to do, for most practices. It is sensible for most practices to only contact active patients and not all patients that have ever been to your practice.

Common sense will go a long way in this respect.

Tip 2: Acknowledge the concern

As you might expect, different people will react to an issue in different ways. Some patients may feel that Coronavirus isn’t a big deal while others may be deeply concerned and rattled. It’s important that you show empathy and understanding to all patients regardless of where they may fall on this spectrum.

Tip 3: Discuss specific steps that your practice is taking

There is plenty of information being published across the spectrum on what different organizations, governments at all levels, and corporations are taking. Make sure to address what your practice is doing and don’t unnecessarily complicate things by discussing the response being offered by others. For example, you may have a hand-washing or sanitizing station or you may be clear that you are not allowing employees with any symptoms to come to work. You might also be having providers wearing face masks. You may even be taking a higher level of action such as curtailing visit scheduling, etc.

The point is that you need to address what you are doing in YOUR practice for YOUR patients at YOUR practice locations. This will also you keep your statement concise and to the point.

Don’t forget to address practical questions such as:

Cancellation Policy (e.g. Patients might be wondering what happens if they don’t come for their visit)
Physical Therapist availability (e.g. if a patient’s regular therapist is not available.)
Scheduling of future appointments (e.g. are you booking further out than normal)
Payment policy
Changes in clinic hours

You should also address patients who are not feeling well for any reason and your expectation as a practice as to what the patient should do (e.g. not come in for their visits).

Patients may also be concerned about losing progress they have been made to their goals. You should address this if it comes up and possibly offer alternatives, such as a stepped up home exercise program.

This is especially true if you are offering exceptions to your regular policies on these or other topics.

Tip 4: Avoid exceeding your knowledge

There is a lot to unravel with respect to Coronavirus, in general. There are public health aspects, economic impacts, social impacts and more. In your statement you should avoid trying to tackle things that are out of your wheelhouse. Going beyond the scope of your knowledge is unwise for a variety of reason, including risking your licensure. Right now, many are getting an overload of information anyways so keeping your statement local to your practice will likely help you get attention paid to your statement instead of getting lost in the noise.

Tip 5: Provide connections to other resources

Adding links to content from other sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and other official sources can really help you fill
in the gaps where directly providing information would be out of your scope or knowledge.

Here are some sample links:
CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
EUCDC: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/novel-coronavirus-china/questions-answers
WHO: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
WHO Q/A: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
APTA: http://www.apta.org/Blogs/PTTransforms/20/3/Coronavirus/

Tip 6: Address follow-ups that you may provide

In your communication, you should have clear information on when you might expect to follow up with patients you are communicating with to provide updates. This can vary depending on the severity of the Coronavirus in your area. You may be providing weekly updates or just updating when there is new information. It’s important to set an expectation so that patients know when they might expect something. Don’t go crazy trying to figure out whether or not you’ll have a substantive update by that date. Your update can always be that you are continuing to monitor and that the previous email continues to apply.

Tip 7: Provide ways for patients to contact you with questions

Make sure that your statement is a two-way street. Let patients know that they are welcome to contact you with questions or, if you are speaking in person, encourage your patient to ask any questions that they have. Perhaps patients can contact you by calling your practice or emailing. Just be mindful about HIPAA if the patient is interested in discussing their specific situation.

Tip 8: Make sure your staff is educated

Your staff should see any statement you are going to issue to patients before you issue it. It’s crucial that your entire staff is on-board with what you are communicating to patients, how you are communicating it, and why you are communicating it. They should also be equipped to answer questions or know how to get help if presented with a question that they don’t know how to answer.

This will also help ensured that your practice is providing a unified front to patients and not receiving different answers to the same questions depending on who they ask. This will further instill confidence from patients in your practice.

The bottom line

Communication is crucial. Make sure you’re on top of communicating with your patients in a professional manner to show your professionalism and to give aid and comfort to patients who are concerned. It can also help reinforce your practice’s professionalism and place in the healthcare continuum of care.

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