… services, but in the beginning of the pandemic, we weren’t sure what we were going to be paid for those visits if we were paid at all,” she says. “However, as family physicians we knew it was the right thing to do to ensure our patients received the care they needed, and then worry about the financial aspects as more updates came in.’
Beyond virtual health offerings, the practice altered its in-person visits by offering appointments for healthy patients in the morning, and ill patients in the afternoon. It also assigned designated rooms for well and sick patients in order to reduce potential contaminations and set up a parking lot lobby to reduce interactions from patient to patient.
She’s also done more home visits, though the volume hasn’t made an impact financially.
“When you account for the time to drive out to a home visit and come back, I could see three patients via telemedicine during that time. But that’s not what it’s about,” Oller says. “There are things you do to help your practice financially, and there are things you do because it’s what’s best for your patient. This is one of those things that I do because it’s the best care for my patients."
Resources for Financial Help
Fortunately, financial support has sprung up on multiple fronts for practices, including CMS’s Advance Payment Program, the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund through HHS, FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, and SBA’s Payment Protection Program, among others.
“These programs are incredibly beneficial. However, we have to realize that many of these are still loans that the practices still need to recoup revenue to pay off, and others have arduous and complex application processes,” Fong says. “This is challenging as the practices, particularly primary care practices, operate at the limits of the amount of time each physician has in a day.”
Regis notes his was one of the first practices to be approved for CARES Act Provider Relief Fund payments and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He’s also exploring applying for COVID-19 disaster relief funds from New Jersey.
“I encourage practices to seek out and use every loan or grant program available to them,”
he says. “I recognize a lot of smaller practices don’t have staff to jump through all the hoops, but if they have some time right now while seeing fewer patients, I would urge them to explore those programs because it’s worth it.”
Oller’s practice benefitted from the PPP that was part of the CARES act.
“As soon that plan was announced, my husband and I contacted our bank to ensure we took all the
proper steps so we could put in an application on Day 1 and quickly receive funds which allowed us to exhale for the first time since the pandemic started,” Oller says. “However, PPP is a onetime infusion of money when we will likely continue to see a decline in patient visits throughout the summer