How Medical Offices Should Communicate to Patients About Viral Outbreaks

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across every populated continent. With widespread outbreaks throughout the US, counties, cities, and states are taking powerful mitigating steps to “flatten the curve.” The aim of the measures, which include “social distancing” and working from home, is to help spread out the impact of the virus to avoid overwhelming our hospital systems.

However, these measures have had a substantial economic impact on businesses across all industries, including medical clinics. Fearful of potential exposure, patients are avoiding seeing their physicians. Others are relying heavily on telemedicine, which has traditionally had stricter reimbursement requirements. The result is fewer patients and less revenue – although the bills continue to arrive as usual.

Here’s what medical practices can do to help keep the lights on until we find ourselves on the other side of the exponential part of the curve.

Continue Taking Telehealth Visits

For many practices, all but the most urgent cases are being shifted to telehealth calls. While these visits usually aren’t billable to the same degree that in-person visits with accompanying lab work and so forth are, this has recently changed, with reimbursement now equalized with in-person visits. This reimbursement measure is backdated to March 7, allowing providers to recoup lost billing costs. Further help is also on the way: the US Department of Health and Health Services has also announced $100m in funding for community health centers, and the recent stimulus package has provision for $100b for medical providers.

Speak to Your Landlord or Loan Servicer

Many landlords and loan servicers are offering loan deferment or forgiveness during these difficult times. The details vary from provider to provider but may involve “pausing” your payments until the crisis subsides, adding on the missed payments to your loan, or asking for the missed months’ payments to be applied in a lump sum when life returns to normal.

The stimulus package will also help here. Aimed at the SBA, the CARES act will direct $377b in small business relief, with funds including loan forgiveness grants, emergency grants of up to $10,000, and subsidization of loan payments for small business loans.

Apply for the Paycheck Protection Program

Another crucial part of the stimulus package’s CARES act is the Paycheck Protection Program. This $350 billion forgivable loan program is designed to save jobs and is available to any business with fewer than 500 employees. Small businesses can borrow up to 250% of their average payroll expenses, up to a total of $10 million. The loan is to be used to cover payroll and debt obligations, with the loan amount to be forgiven at the end of an eight-week period. Businesses can also use the loan money to cover other business expenses, although this portion of the loan won’t be forgiven.

If you’ve already let some employees go, now is the time to re-hire them. Under this loan program, you can still be forgiven for the full amount of your payroll cost so long as you rehire your staff before 30 June.

Be Proactive and Know Your Options

While the coronavirus is reshaping life, business, and healthcare as we know it, significant effort is being made to ensure that healthcare providers are able to keep saving lives. While we are all juggling numerous responsibilities during this challenging time, staying abreast of new policies and provisions designed to help small businesses will ultimately work in your favor.

Download our COVID-19 Relief Resource Guide for links to federal, state, and local websites providing information about the essential relief programs available to you as part of the CARES Act, including the Paycheck Protection Program loan (PPP loan) from the SBA.