Is Your Office Ready for Flu Season?
When influenza strikes, it can hit your practice with a flood of patients — and at the same time, threaten you and your staff. But with some advanced planning, you can help minimize the impact of influenza on your practice.
Stay apprised of the flu outbreaks in your area and get the information you need to help your staff prepare for the flu.
Office preparation steps
These tips can help you protect your practice this flu season. Don't forget to use the FluTracker to know when the flu is in your area.
- Start preparing by preventing.
You and your staff should be vaccinated before the influenza season. Other target groups for influenza vaccination include the elderly; residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities; adults and children with chronic underlying illnesses (such as asthma); and women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the influenza season.2
- Refresh diagnostic skills.
Promote influenza awareness in your practice, and aid your staff in recognizing the signs and symptoms of flu. Effective management with antiviral therapy relies upon prompt initiation of treatment, so rapid recognition of influenza is essential.10, 21 The onset of influenza is sudden: people describe feeling like they've "been hit by a truck." Fever, muscle aches and pains, and chills are common influenza clues and help differentiate influenza from other common respiratory viral infections, such as a cold.3 If there are reports of influenza in your area and a patient has these classic influenza symptoms, chances are increased that it is influenza.4
- Make time for telephone triage.
Developing your own practice protocol for telephone triage will enable you and your triage nurse to:
- Prioritize visits for patients by severity of illness.
- Identify patients who are candidates for a prompt visit by asking questions regarding:
- Recent (less than 2 days) onset of influenza.
- Presence of classic influenza symptoms such as fever, aches, and myalgia.
- Assess if patients are taking over-the-counter medications for symptomatic relief.
During busy influenza seasons, you may want to assign one healthcare professional to field patient calls and schedule visits.
- Don't be caught short-staffed.
Schedule to minimize staff absences during the influenza season. As the end of the year approaches, it's natural for people to try to take their vacation days — especially with all of the November and December holidays. A few staff members may also miss work due to the flu. Planning ahead can help to ensure coverage, reduce staff conflict, and make sure everyone gets their well-deserved time off while still providing quality care for your patients.
- Schedule office visits realistically.
Take into account the influenza season, and Monday mornings. Don't overload your appointment book with regularly scheduled patients when experience tells you to expect a number of walk-in or call-in patients who must be seen that day. Try to avoid scheduling less urgent appointments, such as routine physicals, during influenza outbreaks.
- Schedule office hours conveniently.
Know your patient demographics (or those of the patients you hope to attract to your practice) and schedule hours to accommodate them. Retirees may be able to visit any time during the day; however, employed people who are seeing you for nonemergency care are often unable to schedule visits during normal working hours. Similarly, parents must juggle not only their own schedules, but the needs of their children. In a primary care practice, accommodating these patients may mean extended morning or evening hours.
- Plan for prompt initiation of treatment.
When a patient calls in, use the opportunity to identify if he or she meets your established protocols, and if he or she may be an appropriate candidate for antiviral treatment. Since early initiation is essential for treating influenza with antivirals, it is important to see the patient as soon as possible.10, 21