4 June 2020

Turning the tide of the F2F patient exodus

COVID-19 General Practice KnowCents

Patients are “voting with their feet” by avoiding waiting rooms during COVID-19, but GPs don’t have to wait passively for patient confidence to gradually return, says business adviser David Dahm.

Instead, GPs can take back control of the situation and change the way they operate so  patients feel safer making face-to-face appointments again, Mr Dahm told attendees at a live webinar hosted by The Medical Republic late last month.

“GPs can’t just simply wait in the consulting room and think they’re going to always have the place fully booked. Our business is not just going to come to us just because we’ve been here for a long time. We now have to go and chase that business,” he said.

The GP clinics that were adapting quickly were likely to be the financial winners during COVID-19, he said.

In his presentation, Mr Dahm used Brisbane City Doctors as a case study of a clinic that was rolling out several low-cost interventions to reassure patients the practice was a safe environment.

For starters, the clinic website has a pop-up box telling patients with symptoms of runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, shortness of breath or diarrhoea that they: “MUST BOOK AN ONLINE TELEHEALTH APPOINTMENT”.

When a patient arrived at the clinic, they would see receptionists in masks, hand sanitiser on the counter and clear signage requesting patients wash their hands on arrival and before approaching reception.

The clinic had cling-wrap over the eftpos machine, presumably so the cover could be changed regularly to reduce the spread of infection.

Like many clinics, there was copious signage telling patients to ‘STOP’, go home and call the doctor if they had travelled overseas recently, had contact with a coronavirus case or had cold or flu symptoms.

“The fact that they are using really strong icons there – the ‘STOP’ signs – that is really, really effective,” said Jillian Bowen, a digital marketing strategist and educator who was also a panellist for the webinar.

“People tend to scan so anytime you can use some sort of a prominent, highly identifiable icon, that’s a great place to start.”

Another innovation was the use of restaurant buzzers so that patients didn’t have to linger in the waiting room.

“I don’t think everyone needs to rush out by a restaurant buzzer system,” Ms Bowen said.

“I think you can achieve pretty much the same thing with mobile phones and a quick SMS or something like that, but I love the way they’re thinking. The level of reassurance is fantastic.”

Another clinic used as a case study in the webinar was Maxim Street Family Medical Practice in West Ryde in NSW.

This clinic’s reception area had Perspex shields to protect receptionists and the patients from infection and the car pack had been converted into a drive-through clinic, with social distancing enforced.

Another clinic, NSW’s Dubbo Family Practice, had its waiting room chairs spaced 1.5m apart and a rope cordoning off the reception area.

To watch the full webinar recording on demand, register here: bit.ly/2ZOt0kS.

COVID-19 live update