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Preparing your practice for the flu season

December 7, 2010

No matter the lengths a medical practice manager or a physician takes in preventing the spread of the seasonal influenza virus, the illness will still impact their practice and staff. Every fall, flu season begins and eventually reaches it’s peak around January or February. It’s influence is inevitable.

But there are many proactive steps practices can take to lessen the impact of the 2010-2011 flu season, says the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity commonly peaks in the United States in January or February and can occur as late as May. It is impossible to know exactly how each year’s flu season will be, but the CDC says that it is likely that the 2009 H1N1, or swine flu, viruses will continue to spread in 2010 and 2011 along with other seasonal viruses throughout the season.

To prepare for 20 to 40 percent of their employees not being able to come to work, the AAAAI suggests that medical managers cross train as early as possible, particularly in any new healthcare records software or other essential practice functions. Identify the individuals who can perform the practice’s necessary tasks and then plan who can be trained to carry out those functions short-term.

Implementing electronic health records can help a medical practice keep up-to-date record of the frequency of flu in their patients. Last year, some practices adapted their electronic health records software to keep track of influenza trends, according to Health Data Management. For example, if 10 percent of a practice’s patients were coming in with the flu, the clinic would automatically activate its emergency plan, which included triaging patients before they entered the facility and opening emergency satellite offices.

The Health Care Practice and Risk Management publication, In Focus, reminds practice managers to not allow their healthcare personnel who develop influenza-like symptoms to come into work while ill. It is best for employees to stay home until they have been symptom-free for at least 24 hours. To prevent initial infection, practices should provide influenza vaccines to all staff members, says In Focus.

A medical practice’s phone system, such as PhoneTree, can help spread awareness instead of flu viruses, writes the AAAAI. Setting up a message that will play for all incoming callers to teach them about when to seek medical care from that facility, when to seek emergency care, and where to go for information about caring for a person with the flu can help educate patients and keep flu-infected people out of a practice if possible.

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