As the relaxation of stay-at-home orders ramps up across the country, aesthetic practices are doing the painstaking work of revving back up while implementing new safety procedures to keep staff and patients protected.
Resources like ASAPS, the Centers for Disease Control, and local governments and public health departments are great places to turn for guidance on reopening safely, and for getting the latest data about how local circumstances are evolving.
But in addition to implementing safety procedures, how you communicate them in this moment will be key for building and maintaining trust with consumers and patients. As you consult credible sources for medical and operational advice, here’s what you should keep front of mind to inform your patient outreach.
1. Adapt and Communicate Your Cancellation Policy to Accommodate Symptomatic Patients
Cancellation policies are headline news in the time of COVID-19, just ask the airlines.
You almost certainly implemented a cancellation policy in normal times to mitigate the opportunity cost of no-show patients, but it makes sense to adapt that policy if you’re reopening your practice while the virus is still active.
ASAPS recommends a COVID-specific prescreening protocol to decrease the likelihood that sick patients wind up in your office and jeopardize others. Making it clear that your cancellation policy requires symptomatic patients to reschedule—with no penalties—will give them the confidence to answer prescreening questions honestly, and reassure them that they won’t be penalized if they show symptoms, like a fever, as late as the time of their appointment.
Don’t make them read the fine print: make sure your COVID-related cancellation policy is spelled out in clear and simple terms online and in pre-appointment conversations and outreach.
2. Don’t Let Up On Promoting Virtual Consultations
We’ve talked a lot about the utility of virtual consultations at a time when in-office visits were not possible due to COVID-19. RealSelf reimagined the site experience to put virtual consults front and center, and the mixture of consumer interest and easy access to identify and book with doctors who offer virtual consults drove 3x more weekly contacts those doctors.
Reopening your physical location is not an occasion to let up on promoting virtual consultations or drop your plans to start offering them if you haven’t already. Virtual consults are still highly useful for reducing in-office traffic, making physical distancing easier and relaxing the added lift of your office’s day-of prescreening procedures.
Especially during this transitional period, think about which aspects of the patient experience must be completed onsite, and consider using virtual meetings to handle the rest. For interactions where meeting in person is necessary, think about how you might consolidate visits to further lessen contact and in-office traffic. For example, you might consider consolidating the in-person consult and pre-op appointment into a single in-office visit.
Lastly, remember that virtual consults can still confer benefits to both your practice and potential patients even absent the COVID-19 threat. Sixty-six percent of patients told us they’re open to virtual consults, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to operationalize them now, especially at a time when they’re still so critical for operating safely. To get in gear, learn tips and watch real doctor-patient consults in this RealSelf University module.
3. Think About How Your Physical Space Affects Messaging Requirements
Maintaining physical distance continues to be a safety key mandate for businesses that welcome onsite traffic. The amount of space available in your practice, particularly in areas where people congregate, will determine everything from the number of visitors you can have onsite at once to the placement of hand washing and sanitizing stations.
ASAPS provides detailed guidance on how to manage your space to maximize safety, and you’ll factor that into decisions like the number of appointments you’ll make available, the amount of time between appointments, who you’ll allow to bring a companion, and special arrangements like parking lot or curbside intake. All of those protocols will need to be clearly messaged to patients ahead of their visit.
Another messaging consideration is print materials in your office, which you’ll now want to minimize as they can be vectors for transmitting the virus. For example:
- Brochures and other printed marketing materials attract touch. Provide digital versions of leave-behind materials that you can attach to emails post appointment.
- We typically recommend having a staff member walk patients through how to leave reviews on patients’ phones—an effective strategy you’ll need to suspend for now. You should instead follow our updated recommendation for gathering patient reviews to put distance between your staff and patients while keeping reviews flowing in.
4. Maintaining Warmth at a Distance
The effects of evolving into a less tactile culture to combat COVID-19 are far from trivial, and some have even speculated that long-held social customs might take some time to come back. The handshake, for example, has become a social faux pas for many.
Read the reviews on RealSelf, and it’s clear that practice culture is key to patients’ holistic appraisal of the care they received. But keeping patients and staff safe means touch-intensive habits that convey warmth will need to be suspended. Other touchstones of your office culture, like your staff’s attire, might need to change in the name of safety.
Communicate these changes clearly ahead of time so that patients don’t mistake things like distance and safety gear for a culture of coldness. And consider new habits you can introduce to take their place: eye contact with a nod and smile to replace a handshake, or professional-looking and on-brand pins or stickers that staff can don on their safety gear to make it look less clinical.
5. Trust Is Critical. Make New Safety Protocols Unavoidable, Comprehendible & Easy to Heed
Being temporarily habituated to distance, and having an elevated concern for their safety, can introduce a new kind of friction to patient trust. Smooth that friction by communicating clearly and consistently, in all of the places where you’ll interact with patients, about the steps you’re taking to ensure they’re safe.
- Use the RealSelf COVID-19 profile banner to give patients an overview of what to expect and point them to where to find more information.
- Create a script of the key bullet points of your safety procedures so that all staff who interact with patients can report & reiterate the protocols to patients—and reference them so they’re easy to follow themselves.
- Create and update your COVID consent forms and make sure patients and companions (if you allow them) read and sign them ahead of time.
- Make sure your protocols are ready to go so that you can attach them to patient communications, like confirmation emails and texts.
Communication is key. Your patients will be looking to you to have it all figured out in terms of how they can traverse your practice safely in order to get what they’re ultimately coming for: a great procedure result.