By Andrew Schneider, DPM
The COVID-19 pandemic became an unwelcome defining factor of 2020 and into 2021. Now, we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And this makes it a good time to reflect on the pandemic’s effect on podiatric medicine and surgery. It’s also time to ask how we can be prepared for future events that may affect how we practice.
One word that was present from the start of the pandemic is “essential.” Of course, everyone thought they were essential. In some places, “essential” was defined. In others, it was a broad definition. For me, I took a good look at what I do and tried to see what I did that others would view as essential.
When I looked at this for my practice, there was the low-hanging fruit. These included my post-op patients. Also, diabetic patients with foot ulcers and those at risk for developing complications. Patients treated for fractures or other advanced conditions all fit into this group. These treatments and patients fit into the definition of essential.
Then my mind went to caring for patients who, themselves, are essential. For instance, is caring for a nurse suffering from plantar fasciitis considered essential? How about a police officer with an ingrown toenail? These are the decisions I needed to make to decide how much time my clinic will stay open when shutdowns were ordered.
To do this, I started looking at my week in terms of half-day clinics rather than looking at the week as a whole. By defining which cases go into each clinic, it will make it simpler to expand and contract our hours. It also has other benefits. Patients in those half-day clinics are coming in for similar complaints. That means equipment and supplies will be ready. We know what’s coming in and are prepared for it. It increases the efficiency of those clinics. This is 1 positive effect that the pandemic has had on my practice.
During the early stages of the pandemic, I contracted my hours and got past the concern of how I was going to pay my team. Because of our VOIP phone system, my team was able to answer our phones through an app. This helped make sure we were addressing the needs of our patients. Once I got a handle on that, I had to determine how I was going to productively spend my time outside the office.
The first place I turned was telemedicine. Since podiatry is procedure-based, telemedicine was a challenge. I was able to use telemedicine to triage patients who may need to be seen in one of our in-person clinics. In other cases, I was able to manage the treatment virtually. This was especially important with patients who were at risk for contracting COVID-19. Receiving reimbursement for telemedicine was nice, But it certainly wasn’t paying the bills.
The other activity I did in earnest during the pandemic was focusing on my practice marketing. I took the time to rewrite the main pages of my website. I created a weekly video to upload to YouTube and my website. I sent weekly blast emails to my patients. We also stayed active on social media. I did this to stay connected to our patients. Even though they were not coming into the office, it was a way to nurture the connections we already had.
I also started new video series based on particular conditions. I then had them transcribed and created ebooks to be available on my website. It’s another way to connect with potential patients who are looking for information about their condition. When it’s time for them to take action, you’ll be top of mind.
You may wonder, “Why focus on marketing when we have so few clinic hours?”. To me, that’s the perfect time to work on marketing. We knew things would pick up again, even though we didn’t know when exactly. We also were in the unique position to have the time to devote to marketing. It’s rare to have the time without patient care getting in the way.
I also listened to a lot of online courses and podcasts. One suggestion I found helpful: write a thank you note to COVID-19 dated 5 years in the future. It gave me an opportunity to see the positive of the pandemic while there was still so much focus on the negative. For me, it was incredible to have extra time with my family. My oldest son, who was abroad, came home for 5 months, which was also a bonus. We rescued a dog, like so many did.
More than anything, that thank you note was a way to rewire my thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic. It was not without its challenges. There were lessons learned, both personally and professionally, that will have an ongoing positive impact.
Andrew Schneider, DPM, is Medical Director at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, Texas. He also serves as Vice President of the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management.
For over 50 years, the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management has had a positive impact in the lives of practitioners and their staff by integrating improved patient care with proven practice management strategies. To learn more, visit: aappm.org