A phrase we’re hearing a lot through this crisis and pandemic is “new normal”. As in, there’s a new normal out there that involves social distancing, wearing masks, working from home, restaurants and non-essential businesses closed or working limited hours, and on and on and on. Every person has had some aspect of their life changed in sometimes small, sometimes profound ways. Of course, this applies to medical equipment providers as much as anyone else.
As we navigate these new ways of doing business, it’s important to remember that some of the new processes, procedures, policies, laws, and regulations will likely return to normal when this crisis is over. However, there are certainly going to be some changes in the way we do business that are changed permanently. Understanding and even embracing this “new normal” will be crucial to our survival.
So, let’s look at some of the changes that are likely to be with us in one form or another going forward.
- SOCIAL DISTANCING: In our storefronts and retail areas, it will be important to allow for enough room for people to browse without crowding each other. Certainly, those “X’s” painting on the floor in grocery store check-out lines will eventually disappear. But we will still need to allow enough room that people aren’t crowding each other. If you have a showroom, you may want to re-design it to allow wider aisles and larger areas. Office space and cubicles may also need to allow for more space accommodation.
- PPE & HAND SANITIZER: Staff will go through more gloves and more masks and more hand sanitizer than ever before. It remains to be seen what the conventional wisdom and best practices will suggest –if not mandate—regarding staff wearing masks. It is certainly conceivable that your respiratory therapists will wear masks for all CPAP set ups and customer interactions, at least in the short term. You may also need (or choose) to provide masks to customers. Certainly, more offices and retail stores will have bottles of hand sanitizer out.
- “NEW NORMAL” DELIVERY PROCESS: How have you been doing your deliveries? Has that changed in the wake of Covid19? What is your plan for returning to normal? Many organizations tightened delivery processes the last few months. Where they offered free unconditional deliveries, there might be minimum charges to justify a delivery. While it is essential to offer delivery for some DMEPOS, the way you deliver may change. For instance, many organizations have begun to utilize more and more FEDEX, US mail, and UPS services and rely less on their own delivery. Routings that are more efficient were always a good idea, now they are an absolute necessity.
- STAFF EDUCATION REGARDING INFECTION CONTROL/PPE: Yearly in-service programs regarding an organization’s infection control policies, along with the mandated bloodborne pathogens training have taken on a whole new meaning. The education will have to be modified to include training regarding all these new policies & procedures related to treating patients in a post Covid19 world.
- HR POLICIES & NEW LABOR LAWS: Look for additional rules regarding staff and their rights in terms of labor laws. Unemployment law in many states has been changed to adapt to Covid19. It is too soon to tell if or when these laws will go back to where they were before the crisis. Competencies that specifically address staff understanding and implementation of infection control procedures may need altered and take on a whole new level of importance post Covid19. Realize you will need to monitor your states’ guidelines regarding quarantine procedures. Do you expect your staff member to come back to work immediately after traveling to an area in the world that is considered a hot spot? How about the employee who has a spouse or family member with Covid19? When should they come back to work? All these questions need answers and guidance. And answers and guidance will be different state to state or even community to community.
- PATIENT RECORDS: Where on the plan of care is it documented if the patient has Covid19? This has far reaching implications in terms of public health, infection tracking, and possibly even billing & reimbursement. For now, it is advisable to note this on the plan of care as you would any other infection.
- MARKETING AND CALLING ON DOCTORS: Physician offices are going to be swamped as we return to normal. Physicians and their staff will have even less time for marketing calls, filling out Certificates of Medical Necessity, and answering calls from DME organizations who need information to process claims or even provide equipment and services to the patient/customers. One DME owner I spoke to during the crisis told me his billing staff was having difficulty getting the information they needed across the board from all their referring physicians.
How long this continues is anybody’s guess. For my money, I’d bet some of the changes will gradually return to normal over the next six or eight months. But I think many of the new changes, the so-called “new normal” are just that. Here to stay. Deal with it. The good news is that learning to roll with the changes and adapt is something our industry has always faced and is generally pretty good at.
Stay focused on providing excellent patient care as you return to normal. Be open to new processes, new efficiencies, new ways of doing business. Good luck and of course, stay healthy!