Bad weather? Don't leave staff or patients in the dark

When you're a kid, there's little excitement comparable to watching for the name of your school crawl across the list of school closings at the bottom of the TV screen. Despite the technology we have today to pause and rewind live television, it seems it's an unwritten rule that you have to wait for the network to scroll through the entire alphabet again. After all, your town could have been added to the list sometime during the past 30 seconds!

For us adults with work to do, emotions involving inclement weather are more mixed, with a slight chance of dread.

As employees, we toss and turn at night wondering what the roads might be like in the morning. If school is called off, what to do with the kids if the office is open? What if everything is open in the morning and conditions worsen throughout the day? What if I call in sick or take a personal day--will my boss or coworkers be angry with me when I return? The list goes on.

For a medical office treating mostly non-urgent patients, you have some flexibility in what expectations you set with staff and patients regarding bad weather.

A recent article from Inc. provides a useful overview of how to set a clear inclement-weather policy with employees, including answers to common questions about paying employees in various circumstances.

On the patient side, although it's a tough decision to sacrifice business, as a recent post from Physicians Practice points out, sometimes you have to give up fighting Mother Nature and instruct everyone to stay home safe. The sooner you inform patients and staff of any changes to your regular operations, the better.

There are a multitude of ways in which to disseminate this timely information:

  • Phone tree
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Website update
  • Weather hotline
  • Outgoing phone message
  • Signage on your front door (when possible)

And because people might have different access levels and preferences, some combination of these communications is best. Hopefully, you've already trained your employees and patients as to where to look first.

I had a recent experience with a specialist's office, however, that unfortunately demonstrated everything not to do. My appointment was on a Friday at 2 p.m., in an office that happened to be about an hour from home (that part is my fault for still not finding new doctors since moving). Snow was in the forecast, but I got an automated phone call the night before confirming my appointment.

The next day, school was called off in my town; but the sun came out and the roads were in pretty good shape by 10 a.m. According to friends in the area I'd be driving to, the situation was similar there. Around 11 a.m., I checked the office's Website and Facebook page for any news of closings, just to be safe. Neither looked like they'd been updated in some time.

Around 11:30, I placed a call to the office just to double-check, and got the following recording: "Thank you for calling ABC Medical. Our office is now closed. To cancel or reschedule an appointment, press 1 to leave a message." Since it was kind of close to lunch time, I was unsure whether the message meant the office was closed for the day or just for an hour or so. I proceeded to call four of their satellite offices, all of which had the same outgoing recorded message.

Finally, imagining the idea of packing up the kids, dropping them off, and driving another hour for nothing, I called back and left a message that I'd need to reschedule--making note of the fact that the phone message was ambiguous and there was no information to be found online.

It turns out I'd made the right call. The office never returned my message to reschedule the appointment, but when I called back I was able to get a new appointment within a week. Obviously, my doctors don't Google me, or they might make an effort to manage their offices a little better. To make matters worse, this was an orthopedist's office, with a high elderly clientele. The fact that these patients might not be online is moot here, but many also probably have to arrange transportation with family or shuttle services. For me, I was frustrated by the lack of clarity regarding the closure. For patients with even more logistical hurdles, I can only imagine the disruption of their day. 

The lesson here is that you shouldn't worry about the business you might lose from closing your office for a day. It's the repeat business and recommendations you'll lose forever due to bad communication that will really cost you.  Deb (@PracticeMgt)