The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has impacted families, lives and workforces around the world. Few industries are being hit like the healthcare industry, which faces an enormous pressure to help the massive influx of patients in need, as well as stop more people from getting infected.

Just last week, one of Transform9’s team members spoke with an orthopedist about how elective procedures were already getting cancelled. On Wednesday, March 18, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that the U.S. is urging hospitals to limit “non-essential” elective medical procedures to prioritize essential resources and free up hospital beds needed to help patients with the coronavirus. Hospitals in Seattle, a hard-hit area, have already suspended elective procedures, like knee replacements, for the next 30 days.

Orthopedic surgeons are unlikely to get beds as elective procedures are reprioritized. COVID-19 is going to start a ripple that will affect appointments on an ongoing basis for the foreseeable future. Consider all of the patients who have elective procedures that are now in flux.

Their procedures may be rescheduled for a time in the near future, but as the number of infected people grows and the need for hospital beds and resources continues to increase, those elective procedures may be pushed again. And again.

Patients will call to reschedule, and then reschedule again, and then again. This process could go on for months, and it’s impossible to know how many iterations of rescheduling may need to take place. Someone will be forced to handle all of those changes.

The administrative burden of scheduling and rescheduling procedures will be pushed onto workers in call centers, which could very easily become the most at-risk department in the company for getting sick. Representatives often work in low cubicles with small square footage adjacent to one another, and usually stay in the office all day, unless they leave for lunch or breaks. Most call centers don’t even have 6 feet between cubes, limiting the ability for representatives to maintain the recommended space for social distancing.

Orthopedic practices may have the option to send call center representatives to work from their homes if they have the necessary infrastructure, including portable equipment and people who can work from home. Working from home is a great alternative in theory, but can come with more challenges than expected for a call-based support role. Beyond just kids talking in the background or dogs barking, which are unprofessional, internet providers are oversubscribed on data and can’t deliver the marketed throughput because of all of the people in homes trying to use the internet. Also, reps rarely take as many calls in a home setting as they do in an office setting.

It’s inevitable that the strain the healthcare industry is feeling as a whole will trickle down to call centers and lead to increasing administrative burdens.

A virtual assistant is immune to COVID-19 and other viruses. Transform9’s Orthobot can alleviate some of the pressure placed on representatives. Orthobot, an automated, always-on voice bot virtual assistant, is available 24/7 to handle patient needs, including scheduling and rescheduling appointments.

It’s impossible to know how long COVID-19 will affect our lives, but you can equip your practice to continue to give patients the quality service they deserve.

Interested in learning more? See how Orthobot works. 

Alan L. Creighton

Author Alan L. Creighton

Alan is the Founder & CEO of Transform9, currently building the first specialty-specific, automated, conversational voicebot virtual assistant for physician practices that lets patients communicate how and when they want.

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