How to Pivot Your Medical Practice to TeleHealth During COVID-19

healthcare digital marketing podcast with dr. ahmad

Healthcare Digital Marketing Podcast

This episode of the Healthcare Digital Marketing Podcast covers the impact that COVID-19 is having on Dr. Ahmad and his interventional pain management practice. We discuss how Dr. Ahmad of Advanced Sports & Spine is communicating with his team and his patients, what changes he has implemented in his practice, and how telehealth is working out for his practice and his patients.

Lamar Hull: Alright, Dr. Ahmad. I appreciate your time. You’re kinda in the same boat as everyone else, but I definitely want to thank you for your services and everything you’re doing during this timeframe for the community. 

So, we’re just going to go through some questions to really help other independent doctors and physicians in the community to see what you’re doing within your operations, with your team, with your marketing, with your mindset, to really just help encourage others. I’m just going to open it up and let you introduce yourself and what you do here in Charlotte. Then we’ll just go through all the questions that we have for this call.

Dr. Ahmad: My name’s Dr. Ahmad. I’m a physiatrist by training. I practice independently here in South Charlotte. I have my own private practice. We primarily focus on interventional pain management here. I’m not necessarily in a hospital setting; it’s a 100% outpatient setting. So, I’m not in the critical care or the front lines. So for us, it’s a different take on this whole pandemic and what we can do. Our part, from what I focus on, is kind of helping the public patients and preventing anybody from even needing to go to the hospital, and to try and take care of this stuff as much as we can on an outpatient basis.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted Your Practice?

Lamar Hull: So for you, how has COVID-19 impacted your practice at this point?

Dr. Ahmad: It’s really multifactorial. From a business standpoint, it’s decreased patient volume. It’s obviously going to decrease revenue for the practice. We’ve had to transition to primarily telemedicine. We’re changing staff hours… lessening staff hours. We’re trying to keep all the employees on. I feel like every day we’re making changes to adapt to the situation. It’s tough to be honest with you.

Lamar Hull: For sure, and I think every other independent doctor is feeling the same, as well. But I think what you’re doing is taking the right measures to keep everyone safe. For your current office, where you have limited hours, how are you keeping things safe? How are you taking those extended measures to keep your practice and your team safe?

Dr. Ahmad: I do a lot of procedures in the office, so we just naturally do a lot of disinfecting in between patients. A lot of the normal things you would see in any medical office: washing hands frequently, sanitizing everything, etc. I think now everything’s just kind of stepped up. We’re pre-screening patients over the phone, making sure that they’ve had no exposure or are not displaying any sort of symptoms. We’re making sure we’re disinfecting the waiting room and all the doors and the high traffic areas at least every hour. We’re minimizing the number of patients that are actually in the office. Like I said, we primarily moved to a telehealth setting.

There are patients that do need to be seen in person because a huge lack in telehealth is you can’t do a physical exam, and physical exams are very important. So, those patients we bring in, we have them spaced out, so we don’t have patients waiting in the waiting room. We just bring them back immediately. We’re limiting it to just one family member. There’s a lot of things where we’re trying to do our best to try to keep that social distancing and limit that exposure risk.

Current Mindset and Leadership

Lamar Hull: This is going to change your practice and everyone that practices in the pain management industry forever, but I think you’re definitely taking the right measures. With what you’re changing in your practice, what’s your current mindset? How do you change your perspective and mindset? And then the second part of that question is: how do you continue to hone that leadership during this uncertain time? 

Dr. Ahmad: I think that there’s two ways that I’ve come about this: one is the way I deal with my patients, and two is how I deal with my staff. In regards to patients, we’ve been very communicative with them. We’ve been sending emails, sending phone calls, making sure everybody has their appointments set up. Making sure everybody knows that we haven’t essentially forgotten about them. We’re doing the best we can to keep in touch, and that whatever needs they have, we’re able well to address them, whether it’s via telehealth or in person.

I’ve been very open and communicative with my staff. Obviously everybody’s scared of their jobs and lack of hours. There’s been a lack of volume. I’m just being open with them, letting them know that I’m gonna do the best I can do: one, as a physician, and two, as their boss. So, I’m even trying as a small business owner to keep them employed so they get paid and can take money home to their family, their kids, etc. It’s tough, man. It’s stressful making sure our staff is safe, our patients are safe, that we have all the appropriate personal equipment. 

I constantly make sure, even from the staff end,  that we’re limiting our exposure, because even if a staff member wants to go out to the grocery store or whatever, there’s a risk associated with that. So, even telling our staff on their personal time to limit their exposure, because I can’t have anything brought back to the office for patient safety reasons. There’s a lot of things going on. 

Deciding to Transition into Telehealth

Lamar Hull: You touched on the certainty that you’re building with your mindset and your team, but then also how you’re taking those measures for everyone. I think that’s so important with how we’re addressing this situation with how you practice your business. Especially moving into telehealth, you’re offering a new solution for patients who still need assistance and need your help. 

Is there anything in your business right now where, now that you have a little bit of downtime and you’re not seeing a full house of patients, when you look back in hindsight, that you’re like, now I have the time to make this procedure or this operational process more efficient? Is there that one thing you would encourage other independent physicians to say, this is something that’s been affecting my business. I haven’t had the time to look at it, but it’s a really good time to try to make it more efficient with how we operate?

Dr. Ahmad: The biggest change for us has really been this telehealth, to be honest with you. It’s probably something I would have never even considered or even looked at until this happened, mainly because with my specialty, physical exam is so important. If somebody comes in with knee pain, I have to be able to move that knee around, to check his stability or strength, range of motion, etc. We can’t do that over telehealth.

But, I think the benefit of telehealth is there are patients that have difficulty coming to see me, because maybe they live far, or maybe they’re partly sick, or maybe they’re out of town, or whatever it is. This is a great tool to still be able to have access to a lot more patients. I’ve even had patients that were seeing me in nursing homes, that would have to get transportation set up with a nursing home to come and see me. This is a great option that now they can kind of see me through telehealth.

For example, earlier a patient of mine was worried that next month she won’t be able to follow up with me because she’s going to Kentucky to visit her brother, who actually has end stage cancer on hospice care. And I told her we have this option of telehealth; we can still keep in touch through this. So, I think this is something definitely new that I wouldn’t have done.

Outside of this, I think I’m looking at my marketing all over again. The stuff that I’ve been doing with you guys: the digital marketing, my website, checking those things out that maybe I don’t have time to sit down and look over yet. I think that things are different. Volume is low; revenue is especially low, but we’re not at a standstill. I feel like there’s still ways that I can improve the business and make things more efficient. Even just from a physical standpoint within the office, we’re making things within the office a little bit more efficient.

Lamar Hull: For sure, and I think it’s key that you are, because a lot of doctors right now can’t offer telehealth or they maybe can, but their mindset is just to close the doors completely and wait it out. And I think you’re taking the next best step for your practice, not just for now, but for the future, because that means there’s opportunities for you to touch people not just around Charlotte, but nationwide as well. And it’s a great transitioning into your marketing game plan. 

Getting Telehealth Set Up

Lamar Hull: So, you talked about how telehealth has helped you really try and position or think differently about how you would market your business. I know what we’re doing from a Med Rank Interactive side of things is we’re helping you guys with a lot of new content, especially for regenerative medicine, PRP, and STEM cell, because those are big treatment procedures for you. From a telehealth standpoint, was it hard in your mindset to set that all up? Because I’m sure there’s other doctors who were like, “maybe I should do that”, but they don’t, maybe the thing is too complex. What’s your thought process on getting that set up and adding value to the community with virtual consultations? 

Dr. Ahmad: I think that initially it is kind of intimidating because you’re not really sure how easy it will be for the patients to set things up. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how simple it really was. There’s a lot of software out there; we’re using one specific software that’s called, which is HIPAA compliant. It’s secure, so those are the things that are important from a patient standpoint. It’s very easy; they can just click on a link and they’re up seeing us.

Lamar Hull: I think for a lot of independent physicians who are in the same boat, there’s obviously fear. There’s a lot of uncertainty with the pandemic and COVID-19 spreading rapidly, but I think there’s opportunities from a digital standpoint to be able to showcase what you can offer to the community, even if you can’t see them directly. So, it’s always a good idea to think ahead of what you should be doing now, because you have downtime. Go ahead with your thoughts on running telehealth and how you were able to set that up.

Dr. Ahmad: I think the process of it was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. How we ended up doing it was we contacted all of our patients beforehand via phone, making sure that they had a device that was compatible to do our telehealth: a laptop, an iPad, iPhone, whatever type of phone. Then we did a test run. My staff would do a test run with them the day before their appointment to make sure everything was up and running and they were comfortable doing it. And the day of the appointment, everything went good. I mean, everything’s going great, to be honest with you.

Lamar Hull: That’s that’s really good to hear and I think it’s also encouraging to others who have thought about it or are going through the process right now. I’m glad to hear that you have it up and running.

Marketing Results Rundown

Lamar Hull: So, real quick transition to the next question. I just kind of want to show some marketing results based on our March report. There’s still a lot of good insights here and a lot of your metrics are trending in the right direction. Obviously I’m not going to go through the whole report, but what I like to see is the trend is still going in the right direction. Obviously there’s going to be a slight dip based on what our current situation is, but the traffic is still trending in the right direction. Actually phone calls are going up more because people have more time to search online.

What was interesting too is a lot of other physiatrists or your competitors may stop their marketing completely. So, your mindset right now is how can I capture that market while everyone else is at a standstill in saying, “Hey, we’re going to pause our future investment”. I think your mindset right now is, “Hey, how can I capture this market and be competitive?”

When I looked at this, some of the keywords are still moving up and also we’re running Google ads for telehealth as well. What we’re going to see with Google ads is a lot of the costs per click is going to go down drastically because there’s not going to be a lot of competition. That’ll be a huge opportunity. And then from a SEO standpoint where people are trying to rank in Google for their targeted keywords for lead acquisition, I think there’s a lot of opportunity to capture higher rankings much faster with Google’s algorithm. It was just cool to see, because even in this graph here – we’ve been working together for about two years now – and all this trend says is that you had a brand new website when you transitioned and zero keywords ranking in Google, now you have over 500. It’s just awesome to see that your growth mindset is consistent. I think when this is all said and done, you’ll come out on the right side of that process and the strategies that we’re helping you execute. 

What Are You Excited For Post-COVID?

Lamar Hull: One final question for you is what is exciting to you? Even though this isn’t a certain time and it is scary, and a lot of people have a lot of fear and they’re afraid of what may happen or what is currently happening, but what can you say that currently you’re excited about coming out of COVID-19 after everything is resolved?

Dr. Ahmad: I think just as a society in general we’ve faced other major issues. Things like 9/11 and other major instances that happened, and I think one great thing as Americans is we always tend to come together. I see that now, even with my patients and my staff. Everybody understands the situation we’re in with this social distancing, and everybody’s taking that consideration. But the first thing they’re asking everybody is, “Hey, how are you? How’s your family doing? How’s the wife? How are the kids?” And I think it’s reciprocal. I think that in so many instances, it’s brought out the best in a lot of people: donating items, donating their time, donating food, whatever it is. 

I’m excited for things to get back to normal, hopefully sooner rather than later. And I think it will. I was very excited in the growth trajectory that the practice was taking. And I really do feel like this is just a little hiccup on that growth, and things will go back normally and we will be able to get back there. I think that’s what I’m excited about and what my staff is excited about. I mentioned telehealth a lot. It’s a great tool. It has been very helpful for us in this time, but there’s a totally different feeling when you’re taking care of somebody face-to-face, when you’re meeting people face-to-face in the office. And I think that’s another thing that I’m kind of excited for is to just get back to normal.

Lamar Hull: And I feel, again, it’s a timeframe where we’re at a standstill, so to speak, and businesses may get slow. But I think after this, it’s a great opportunity to capture a lot of those patients or potential opportunities that you may not have been in front of by continually staying still, or having the right mindset like you have with the leadership that you’re showcasing with your team, but also continually evolving with telehealth, because three or four months ago were you thinking about telehealth? 

Dr. Ahmad: No, not at all.

Lamar Hull: Right. Well, I appreciate your time, Dr. Ahmad. Do you have any final words of encouragement or thoughts before we end?

Dr. Ahmad: I think that, from a business standpoint, just stay the course. Everything will go back to normal. We’ve gotten through other things in the past; we’ll get through this. And just know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Lamar Hull: I appreciate those thoughts and I think this is going to be so valuable to the Charlotte community and also to peers and colleagues. I appreciate the time and thanks again, Dr. Ahmad, with Advanced Sports & Spine, and again, I’m Lamar Hull with Med Rank. Have a good day, Dr. Ahmad.

To hear our chat with Dr. Ahmad of Advanced Sports & Spine, check out our podcast. For additional information or help with online healthcare marketing for your medical or dental practice, contact our experienced, professional team at Med Rank Interactive. Schedule a FREE consultation and let us help grow your business.