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Taking Time Off

When you spend all of your time looking after the health of others, it can sometimes be difficult to take time to look after yourself. There always seems to be one more patient to help, one more report to write, one more bit of paperwork to file before you can step out of the office and into home life.

In this, health professionals are not alone. A recent report by Simply Business revealed that 20% of the UK’s small business owners say they can’t afford to take a single day off work this summer whilst a further 30% plan to holiday near home to keep an eye on their business.

In fact, this problem of work-life balance is seen in many countries. A recent report by German researchers revealed that working outside of core hours on tasks such as checking emails can limit the ability to feel detached from work, leading to higher levels of the stress hormone allied to a feeling of increased tiredness.

Whether working as a sole trader or in a small business it can sometimes be hard to see where you can turn to reduce the workload. The last thing you want to do is to reduce your client base as that will reduce income so instead it is tempting to save up all those administrative tasks for the evenings and weekends. Of course, there is the option of taking on a part-time member of staff to help with the workload, but this can be a tricky balancing act.

Obviously, if you have a regular volume of extra administrative tasks to complete then a new member of staff may well be the answer. However, when the workload is irregular then you may not be able to justify adding to your team on a permanent basis and temporary members of staff will always be around to answer the telephone when it is ringing and you are with a patient.

But there is another way. Virtual assistant services can help to reduce the workload by taking on tasks such as telephone answering, appointment booking and records and diary management. Better still, by using a virtual assistant service you gain the flexibility which you require. For example, you can switch telephones over to the virtual service when you are with clients or on holiday, switching them back when you are free to answer calls.

Tasks such as phone answering and appointment booking can easily intrude on daily business life and create a pressure point which can add to stress levels. Not having to answer the telephone when you are treating patients or meeting with clients, being able to access client notes online rather than spending time in preparing for meetings, even having someone to screen out unwanted sales calls can all make a difference to the working day and to peace of mind.

Of course, at the end of the day virtual assistant services can only go so far in helping to improve the work-life balance. The bottom line is that as a business owner you owe it to yourself, to your family and to your clients to take the time off that you need to refresh the mental and physical batteries. If you don’t, your work will suffer and that helps no-one.

Bank Holiday Toil

Don’t hold your breath but it seems as though we may be in for some spells of sunshine this bank holiday weekend.  Of course it is nearly the end of May so we are due some sun time but the forecast does open up additional possibilities for bank holiday activities.

Whilst some of us will be heading towards the beach or the park, others may have a full sporting calendar, either taking part or cheering on our favourite team.  Those with children who are taking GCSE or A ‘level exams this year may be facing a more sedentary time as the final chance for revision looms large over the household.

But  for many, this bank holiday weekend is traditionally a time for DIY or for gardening, for clearing out and tidying up, for moving plants and revamping flowerbeds in a bid to get our homes and gardens in top shape for the summer.   This is the weekend when despite our best intentions we do just that bit too much and our bodies let us know in no uncertain terms.  In fact in 2006 some 87,000 people were treated in hospital in the UK as a direct result of gardening accidents with lawn mowers and flower pots topping the list of causes.

Whilst trips and falls may require urgent attention, back and other muscle strains can take a few days to come through but when they do they can require ongoing therapy.  So much so that the Physiotherapy website comments that at this time of year physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors all see an upswing in demand due to gardening injuries.  That site offers a list of eleven handy hints to reduce the occurrence of problems including warming up, using good lifting techniques and taking planned breaks

With the best will in the world even if everyone followed the suggestions there would still be an increase in demand as muscles and ligaments creak under the strain of unaccustomed exercise. This in turn places an increased demand on health professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths; all of whom may well see a significant increase in demand for their services in the period after bank holidays. So what can health professionals do in turn to reduce the strain on their own resources.  Our handy hints would include:

  • Offer an online booking facility.
  • Opt for secure card processing.
  • Manage your diary online.

…and of course, call in a virtual assistant service to answer routine calls when you are busy. These measures will all help to cut down on the volume of calls to the practice, thus freeing up time which can be spent in treating those bank holiday injuries. Online booking and diary management allied to a virtual assistant service enable prospective patients to book appointments quickly and easily without impinging on ongoing treatments. Adding secure card processing to the mix not only helps to speed up payment collection times and reduce paperwork, prospective patients who hand over card details at the time of booking are less likely to miss their appointments.

Let’s hope that the forecasters have got it right this weekend and that we can all enjoy some time in the sun without paying too dear a price afterwards in terms of painful joints or in too great a call on our services.

‘Snow Joke if You’re Injured’

At the time of writing this article, a stunning photo has hit the headlines showing a skier making the most of the snow in the peak district. Taken under a clear blue sky and with the benefit of once in 20 year snow conditions; the picturesque scene could easily rival that at any ski resort abroad.

Elsewhere across the country it is a mixed picture. Whilst some are having fun building snowmen and throwing snowballs, others are simply faced with cold winds and ice. But whatever the weather, there is no doubt that winter, long postponed, has arrived at last bringing with it the usual mix of delight and disaster.

Whilst snow and ice may be fun for some, it can be no joke for those who fall prey to its deadly embrace. As cars slide on treacherous roads and pedestrians slip on pavements the list of sprains, strains and fractures can add to the usual winter woes packing out our casualty departments. Some may be quickly bandaged up and sent on their way but for others a long slow road to rehabilitation awaits.

It is a sad fact that the older we get, the longer our bodies take to heal and injuries such as a strain or pulled muscle which we mostly ignored when young can be devastating now.  And the longer we take to heal, the more other joints and muscles in our bodies seize up; bringing problems further along the line. For the elderly this can mean that even minor falls lead on to life limiting conditions. For example, slip over and hurt your ankle and by the time that it is well on the way to healing, the forced period of inactivity may well have led to knee, hip and back problems. Whatever the age, one of the solutions is to stay as active as possible and that means enlisting the help of a physiotherapist or other health or sports professional.

The trouble is that with winter slip and fall injuries adding to a list of winter sports injuries, whether from playing rugby or hitting the slopes, health professionals such as physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors find that winter is a very busy time. With only a set number of hours in the day, in order to try and meet winter demands health professionals are turning to the internet and digital devices to help them to reduce administration time and maximise treatment times.

Working smarter not harder may be a cliche but it is one which has a basis in truth. Online appointment booking, automated SMS text reminders and electronic patient records all help to free up time which can then be devoted to patient treatment.  For those who prefer to retain a personal touch, switching telephone calls to a virtual assistant service means that patient calls can be answered in a professional manner without interrupting ongoing consultations; with the virtual assistant service making bookings via an online system.

Even something as simple as taking card payment details at the time of booking can help to cut down on missed appointments whilst simultaneously making it easier for client payments to be collected. These are all small changes but taken together they can make a measurable difference to the working day.

Snow may be beautiful to look at but when we fall prey to its embraces it is good to know that our physiotherapy and health services are on hand to help us to quickly heal.

Learning to Walk

The tale of the man who is learning to walk again thanks to an implant of regenerative nasal cells has hit the headlines in a big way. Remarkable in itself, the successful treatment carried out by a team of British and Polish doctors holds out hope for the millions of people across the world who have been paralysed by a form of spinal injury.

Of course, as with any medical breakthrough the story comes with a caveat. The man’s injuries were caused by a clean stab wound, helping the possibility of regeneration and just as one swallow doesn’t a summer make, one success story doesn’t automatically lead to universal success.

But stories of this type do show the way in which pioneering work is continually going on under the radar, with dedicated teams working across the world to create lasting solutions for problems which affect millions of us. In fact, a Thomson Reuters white paper earlier this year predicted that 10 inventions which would change the world by 2025 included:

  • Greater understanding of the human genome leading to improved detection and prevention rates for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s
  • Advances in RNA-guided genome engineering which would lead to the eradication of conditions such as Type 1 Diabetes
  • Advances in antibody production and targeting which will make cancer treatments more individual and less toxic
  • Improved management of disease thanks to DNA mapping at birth

Whilst important work of this nature continues, for the health profession generally there is a continuing drive to do more with less. Every breakthrough comes at a cost and with an aging population the strain on resources is ever upward. So when hip and knee joint degeneration means that the patient is unable to walk properly; the strain on the rest of the body can lead to multiple complications. For example a lack of exercise, and even something as simple as a regular walk can apply here,  can lead to cardiovascular disease, poor circulation, and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

An increasingly elderly population combined with the demand from the population at large to come up with solutions puts ongoing pressure on health services. Health practices including physiotherapists, osteopaths and podiatrists are not only looking for medical breakthroughs but are also taking advantage of the way in which technology can help to provide greater efficiency on a daily basis.  Areas such as the use of virtual assistants, electronic filing of records, on-line appointment and diary management and electronic payments are all under scrutiny in a drive to do more with less. And the more that the routine is automated, the greater the time available for research and patient care.

IT-related savings may not have the headline grabbing glamour of advancements in cancer care or mobility but nevertheless efficiency savings are the backbone of a drive to improve patient care. For not only do they save time and money, they also free up valuable clinical time, helping to increase the time which health professionals are actually spending with patients and that can only help everyone in the long run.

Staying active, boosting health

The adage that sitting at a desk for hours on end can be counter-productive has been given a further boost by a study carried out in America. It has long been claimed that being active, even simply by taking a break and walking around can help to reduce incidents of a range of health problems including diabetes and some forms of cancer.

This fresh study looked at the effects that sitting for long periods had on the femoral artery. The study observed that the way in which the femoral artery widened in response to blood flow deteriorated through long periods of sitting but that light walking breaks every hour significantly improved recovery of the artery.

This study, although limited in size, adds further weight to the argument for regular amounts of light exercise as opposed to sitting still all day and then hitting the gym. Whether the ‘standing desks’ which are growing in popularity are the answer is a debate for another time but from an employer, as well as a health practitioner point of view, the growing body of evidence would suggest that a sedentary work and home lifestyle is not a sensible course of action.

Of course, for the majority of health practitioners the opposite is true. The NHS Choices 10,000 steps a day challenge is scarcely a problem when someone is on their feet providing physiotherapy, osteopathy or other health treatments to patients. For them finding five minutes to sit down is the challenge and generally those five minutes are taken up in a rush to complete paperwork before the next patient knocks at the door.

If a sedentary lifestyle is not good for health, neither is one which is so packed with tasks that there is no time to rest. There is being active and being Active and if all of our activity is packed into continuous rushing around in response to must do tasks then being active can be counter productive. We all need time just to ‘stop and stare’, to rest our minds and bodies, to shake off what has gone before and prepare ourselves for the next activity. If we don’t give ourselves time then, rather like a student kitchen, the dirty cups of life pile up until it is difficult to see any clear way forward.

And when health practitioners naturally priorities patient treatment time, it is almost inevitable that administration creeps into leisure time. Taking simple steps to reduce the administrative burden can make a difference to stress levels. Tasks such as electronic filing of patient notes or sending out appointment reminders can easily be devolved to a virtual assistant service, as can dealing with routine phone calls and diary management.

Utilising the services of a virtual assistant not only removes the routine leaving the health practitioner free to concentrate on patient treatments, it also reduces the stress levels which can rise when a day is overfilled. Perhaps health practitioners need not worry about whether they are benefiting from regular exercise but in the interests of a balanced lifestyle, they also need some time to ‘sit and stare’.

Everything in moderation

Saturated fats, salt, alcohol, exercise, diet; the list of potential causes and prevention methods for cancer, heart problems and other life-threatening conditions changes on a daily basis. For every report which boldly proclaims that x is bad for you, another is sure to follow with a counter argument.

Even the idea of healthy exercise is under threat as a recent report reveals that working out at the gym may not help us to lose weight. With all of this contradictory advice it’s hardly surprising that some choose to ignore it completely whilst others present themselves at the osteopath or chiropractor with injuries from having jumped from one fad into another.

Calmer minds accept that the solution is to adopt the mantra ‘everything in moderation.’ Ignoring the fads and balancing a healthy diet with moderate exercise is arguably the best advice which anyone can have. Similarly, when it comes to a busy lifestyle, rather than flying from one extreme solution to another, the best advice is to take a good look at the schedule and find ways to reduce the overall workload.

When we encounter overload in our daily lives it is tempting to cut out some elements entirely. For example, a busy physiotherapy practice may take the decision to stop taking on new patients. Of course the danger in this is that we lurch from one crisis to another, cresting more problems with every ‘solution’ until we fall into some kind of stasis: just about managing but unable to grow or enjoy our work.

But one of the benefits of the internet age is that there are other options available which can take the strain without needing to resort to drastic measures.  Services such as diary management, phone answering and even electronic filing of patient records can all be handled by a virtual assistant service. And with today’s telephony systems enabling callers to be pre-announced, a virtual assistant service can answer calls in the name of the health practice even if they are looking after a number of practices at the same time.

Add in an on-line booking service allied to secure card processing and at a stroke the day to day administration workload of a busy health practice can be switched from overload to manageable. Not only that, by taking card details at the time of booking, clients are far more likely to attend appointments; helping to maximise treatment times and ensuring that the physiotherapist or other health practitioner is spending their time productively rather than chasing no-shows.

With administration time cut, the health practitioner is freer to concentrate on what they do best; helping those who are in need of some form of therapeutic intervention. Best of all, the virtual assistant service is flexible and can be switched on and off as required. So if ‘pinch points’ only occur at certain times of the day, week or month, the virtual assistant can step in then, leaving practices free to self-manage at other times.

Everything in moderation? With a virtual receptionist service on standby, health practices can smooth out some of life’s pressure points and that can only be good for the health practitioners and for their patients.

Mustn’t Grumble

In a survey to mark Dementia Awareness Week (18-24 May) the Alzheimer’s Society revealed that 54% of people had waited for six months or more before seeking professional help  for signs of dementia.  The time delay appears to be fairly similar in respect of all health conditions with a separate YouGov poll reporting that 57% of adults who had had a health problem in the past year had put off asking for help.

Reasons given for the delay include a reluctance to make a fuss (47%), the fear of having a serious health problem (23%) and embarrassment (22%).  Delays in reporting in particular relate to dementia, heart and digestive problems.

Commenting on the survey, Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive, Jeremy Hughes acknowledged the difficulty which people have when confronting diseases such as dementia but went on to say that “the sooner you know what you are dealing with, the sooner you can feel in control again and get on with your life.”  But the delay factor doesn’t just affect those with potentially serious illness.  For every patient who seems to live in the surgery, another will hold off reporting even persistent complaints.

This can lead to minor strains or injuries being exacerbated up to the point at which they become debilitating.  When patients do finally pick up the phone, if they don’t receive an instant answer, they may drop the idea of further help.  This means that prompt telephone answering is not just vital for health professionals such as doctors and dentists; other professionals such as chiropractors, podiatrists and physiotherapists all have a responsibility to ensure phones are answered as swiftly as possible.

For smaller practices this isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  Curtailing a treatment to answer the phone is not only unprofessional, it can in some cases result in further damage occurring.  And whilst some patients may be prepared to leave their details on an answerphone, many will be reluctant to do so. This is particularly the case when someone has delayed asking for help; the unanswered call acting as a trigger to retreat away from the decision to seek help and back towards trying to manage the condition without outside intervention.

The solution is to link up with a virtual receptionist service.  Virtual receptionists can answer the phone and make appointments on behalf of the health practice, leaving the practitioner free to concentrate on what they do best, helping people to recover from illness or injury. Not only does this help to ensure that treatment plans are carried out smoothly and without interruption, it can also free up vital time which can be used in treating additional patients.

One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia and it’s a fair bet that almost 100% of people within the same age bracket will develop strains, foot problems or other similar treatable problems at some time or other.  Taking steps now to help them to contact a health professional easily and swiftly may just help to prolong their overall health in times to come.

Tackling Late Payments

The economy may be improving but late payment of invoices is still a problem for small business.  So say the Forum of Private Business (FPB) whose latest survey revealed some worrying statistics in respect of late payers.

According to the survey 23% of respondents say that they have seen an increase in the number of late payments whilst 29% report that the number of days payments have been delayed beyond the deadline have also increased.  In the light of this, respondents have called for better publicity in respect of late payment issues as well as a range of sanctions for late payers to include barring persistent offenders from government contracts.

Responding to the survey’s findings, FPB Chief Executive, Phil Orford MBE said “upwards of £30 billion remains tied up in late payments, costing a typical small business 130 hours a year to chase and meaning that a third are forced to seek external finance to cover the gaps in cash.”  Tackling late payments is a challenge which potentially affects every business and even those within the health sector are not immune.  In fact, businesses such as physiotherapy and osteopathy which rely on patients paying for treatments not only have to cope with potential late payers but also with a loss of income from those who fail to turn up for appointments.

Alongside diary management and appointment reminder solutions which aim to cut down on missed appointments, health practices may also wish to turn to secure card processing as a means of ensuring swift payment for treatments.  With booked appointments backed up by a pre-authorised card payment the health practitioner knows that they will receive prompt payment following the appointment.  And if the patient fails to turn up, a card payment can still be taken in accordance with the practice’s cancellation policy.

Pre-authorising a card at the time of booking doesn’t commit the patient to using that card following their appointment.  If they choose to pay by cheque or cash or to use another card then the pre-authorised amount can simply be cancelled.  This means the patient retains payment flexibility whilst at the same time the practice receives prompt payment; helping to smooth over cash flow issues.  The simple fact that a payment has been pre-authorised also helps to act as a spur to patients to keep their appointments, helping to reduce the number of gaps in a practice diary and ensuring that those who need treatment receive it promptly.

Healthy advice

Stories of sandbags and dredging may have captured the headlines but lurking beneath the disasters is a danger which if left unchecked could cause even more misery for thousands.  That danger is the health implications of excessive rainfall.

On a day to day basis we don’t pay much attention to our waste.  Yes, we wash our hands but in general we don’t stop to consider where our waste goes.  We just assume that it is dealt with.  But with flood waters pouring into drains and septic tanks, our waste is suddenly a lot closer than we’d like to believe and that can cause long term health problems for the unwary.

In recognition of this Public Health England (PHE) has issued some guidance on “the potential health impacts before, during and after a flood as well as advice and support on the response and recovery.”  In addition to warnings about the dangers of sharp objects hiding beneath flood waters and advice on packing an emergency bag in case of evacuation the PHE advice also covers areas such as sanitation and food safety.  The PHE advice also brings to the fore the psychological impacts of flooding which can cause symptoms such as tiredness, distress, anxiety and sleeping problems.

Whilst the NHS is generally the first port of call for those whose health and wellbeing has been affected by the floods, in the longer term other health professionals will be drawn in to the mix.  Those such as counsellors and psychotherapists may be required to treat psychological traumas whilst physiotherapists, osteopaths and others look after people who have been injured whilst coping with the floodwaters.  Even the simple advice to move precious objects upstairs is going to result in a fair amount of back and other strains for those who are unused to such exercise.

With so many affected, in some areas already overburdened health professionals are going to be put under further pressure.  Finding ways to defer some of the day to day tasks such as telephone answering, diary management and the maintenance of patient records could help to deflect some of this pressure as well as maximising the time available for treatments.  Whilst at least the flood waters bring with them warmer weather which reduces ice slips and strains this is cold comfort to those who require treatment from weather related ills.  With the Government warning that things may get worse before they get better this is one story which sadly may run and run.

A ‘Wellcome’ cure

The Wellcome Library has opened up its archives of historical memorabilia for general use.  According to the library the collection encompasses ‘manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements’ and amounts to some 100,000 images.

Releasing the images under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence means that they can be used free of charge by anyone for personal or commercial purposes, provided that the image is accompanied by an acknowledgement as to source.  So whether you are treating your patients for gout or for sprained limbs, for persistent pain or for an aching tooth there may well be a suitable image which you can use to amuse or to inform your patients.

In opening up the archive the Head of the Wellcome Library, Simon Chaplin, said “Together the collection amounts to a dizzying visual record of centuries of human culture, and our attempts to understand our bodies, minds and health through art and observation. As a strong supporter of open access, we want to make sure these images can be used and enjoyed by anyone without restriction.”  The earliest image in the collection is a fragment of an Egyptian herbal, inscribed on papyrus.  From that early beginning the collection encompasses medieval manuscripts, Victorian cartoons and some early photographs exploring the movement of the human body.

Providing effective patient treatments can be challenging at times and those working in the health profession know that keeping the tone light and adding touches of humour can help to alleviate patient anxiety.  Access to an archive such as this can help to make the difference; although whether some of the images such as the Gilray cartoons portraying gout sufferers drinking port will teach us anything is a matter for debate.

But to be truly effective light heartedness needs to be tempered with professionalism and this is not always easy to achieve in a busy health practice.  Answering the phone, finding or filing patient notes, sending out invoices and other administration tasks can all disrupt patient treatments.  Outsourcing some of this work to a virtual assistant service can help to smooth over the working day and maximise time taken on treating patients.  Virtual Assistant services can be taken on a permanent or ‘as required’ basis.  This means that health practitioners can concentrate on what they do best, treating and reassuring patients, whilst being reassured themselves that behind the scenes day to day administration tasks such as phone answering, appointment reminders and invoicing are not being neglected.

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