Working from home was seen as a luxury that some employees were afforded. With the recent public health pandemic, millions of professionals were thrown into uncharted territory. Needing to quickly learn how to maintain a normal work day, how to connect with co-workers, family and friends remotely, and managing homeschooling for their children.
For Amanda Norton, working from home is nothing new. As a Quality Improvement Consultant, she’s worked with virtual teams countless times before the COVID-19 pandemic. Norton often leads groups of primary care healthcare professionals, designing measurable programs that help them work toward attainable goals. Having used group video conferencing in the past, this particular transition is more familiar to her than it might be for others.
“I’ve conducted training sessions where all participants connect virtually,” Norton explains. “There are many tools available and some offer a recording feature which helps document the discussion for referencing later.”
Since the networks on which this technology functions are sometimes overloaded during this work-from-home period, Norton suggests testing web-conferencing software ahead of time, working out kinks and connectivity issues in advance of scheduled meetings.
Creating a designated workspace and establishing a sense of routine are also key to optimal home-office environments according to Lisa Beach of Northeast Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in Ithaca and Trumansburg, NY. “It’s helpful to keep the same morning regimen and work schedule as I would if I were heading into the office each day,” Beach shares. “I get up, shower and have breakfast as I always do and then ‘go to work’ which means heading over to the desk I set up next to the living room window to start my day.”
Beach is the Referral Coordinator for the practice and devotes much of her time on the phone starting with triage messages and confirming appointments through the patient portal. “I feel beyond grateful to be working from home because I was extremely anxious and on edge about possible exposure to the Corona Virus,” she explained. “I have a 35-year-old son who has a compromised immune system and I did not want to put him at risk.” Since referral appointments have slowed during this time, Beach has also helped reschedule well-visits for patients older than 15-months. For symptomatic patients needing attention sooner, she schedules telemedicine video visits when possible.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended that we limit patient visits in the office to those which are absolutely necessary,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Snedeker, board certified practitioner in Pediatric Medicine and Pediatric Infectious Disease. Snedeker is one of the pediatricians at Northeast Pediatrics who continues to see patients in the office for acute issues while seeing others through virtual telehealth visits. “In some ways, the video health visits have been more efficient while also giving us the opportunity to observe patients in their home setting,” he shared. When not seeing patients, Snedeker has used at-home time for office administrative projects and committee work for the American Board of Pediatrics.
Currently, sixty percent of appointments for the practice are being conducted through video interactions. Nurses handle initial triage and screening by phone. Some of the nurse practitioners and physician assistants are extending video visits into the weekends. The electronic medical records (EMR) system Medent, has had the video feature built into their software for at least a year. It manages documentation and seamlessly integrates with the practice schedule.
Nicole Miller is the Human Resources and Accounts Payable Manager for Northeast Pediatrics and has made a smooth transition to the work-from-home setting. She still goes to the office one or two evenings each week to take care of tasks that can only be completed on site but finds she can manage most of her work from home. “I have the added responsibility of supervising my children’s school work,” she mentioned. “Luckily they are twelve and almost ten years old and therefor pretty understanding of when mom needs to be ‘at work’.” Miller acknowledges that it’s easy to feel “out of the loop” when you’re not together with all of your colleagues in one office setting. In order to help create a sense of community, she set up a private Facebook Group page where staff members can post to help stay in touch with one another. “Most team members are used to seeing each other and now aren’t physically in the same space,” she offered. “We’re lucky to work in a practice that is more like family than a staff of people and we need all the family we can get right now.”