Adjusting Your Wellness Practice During COVID-19: Tips From a Registered Nurse
Are you busy handling calls from clients inquiring about your reopening dates or session availability? Many clients are anxious to get back on track, leaving wellness practitioners asking, “Should I restart in-person therapy sessions?” Navigating your next steps are tricky. Fortunately, many organizations developed guidelines for private practitioners transitioning back to in-person sessions.
To help you figure out your next move, I spoke with Elaine Cabrera, a former special education teacher, and current Registered Nurse (RN). During the pandemic, she’s shifted to work almost exclusively on infection control for a local organization that facilitates care in congregate living settings. Along with answers to frequently asked questions, Cabrera provided custom tips for adjusting your wellness practice during COVID-19.
Explore the Safety Aspects of Reopening
To safely reopen, it’s vital to review local virus transmission data and follow industry-specific guidelines. Cabrera recommends starting with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) checklist of reopening strategies. But, turning guidance into action poses a challenge for wellness practitioners. Before resuming face-to-face visits, she suggests:
- Only opening when you’re fully prepared to implement and maintain rigorous safety guidelines
- Being ready to cancel appointments if positivity rates in your area increase
- Continuing with online therapy sessions whenever possible to limit in-person visits
“Even with a low positivity rate, it’s essential to make it easy for clients to cancel at any sign of illness, and take preventative measures like temperature checks upon arrival.” However, Cabrera recognizes that some clients don’t do well with virtual visits, which is why regular routines, proper mask-wearing, and better habits help you balance risks. Other practices that can enhance your safety include thorough hand washing, and properly handling your mask.
Advice for safe mask-handling
Cabrera offers five tips for proper mask handling. Get into a good habit, so you automatically take these steps before, during, and after face-to-face sessions.
- Never touch the front of your mask.
- Use the ear loops to take it off.
- If you take off the cover between clients, eat lunch, or take a break, have a paper lunch bag handy.
- Place your mask in the paper bag until the next time you need it.
- Again, handle by the ear loops and wash your hands after every time you handle the mask.
Frequently asked questions for reopening a private practice
For small business owners, reopening is a daunting task. You want to take every safety precaution, yet provide comfort for your clients. Cabrera gives her professional opinion on how private practitioners can put CDC guidance in place.
Should practitioners decontaminate the carpet after sessions?
You can clean and vacuum carpets in the usual way. To disinfect, I would use a product that you can spray on and let dry. Do this at the end of the day to avoid aggravating allergies or breathing issues for your clients. In general, transmission from soft surfaces is not a primary mode of transmission. Always follow the directions on the product’s label.
Will opening a window or using a ceiling fan help?
Opening windows and running a ceiling fan are great ideas. Airflow, in general, helps disperse viruses. Smaller amounts of virus spread out over a bigger area means less risk of infection. I would be cautious when it comes to running air conditioners or heaters, especially if it is a wall unit. There is no conclusive data yet on what role cooling and heating systems play in transmission. Work with your landlord and talk to the maintenance providers. Ask about the particular style of the filter and airflow used in your building. The goal is to bring in air from the outside, so open as many windows as possible.
Can I safely clean pens our clients use, or should I throw them away?
There are a few ways you can clean objects that clients handle. Check the label, as it should state that it’s effective against human coronavirus. You could use disinfecting wipes, disinfecting sprays, or alcohol wipes. I have even squirted hand sanitizer on to a paper towel to create a disinfectant wipe. Make sure the sanitizing product is allowed to dry for the number of minutes listed on the label, and you should be good to go.
Should practitioners cover chairs with a clean sheet?
I don’t think covering with a new sheet is necessary. However, it may make people more comfortable, so consider having the option available. For seating, I would make sure to disinfect any hard surfaces, like the armrests, if they are present. In between clients, take time to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.
Do practitioners need to hire a professional service after potential COVID-19 exposure?
I would say yes for a couple of reasons. First, depending on the type of surface, human coronavirus may remain present for up to 7 days. Second, a business that does close for “deep cleaning and sanitizing,” is likely due to a positive COVID-19 test. Bringing in professionals who have access to appropriate personal protective equipment and effective products is the best way to make sure you and your employees and clients stay safe. Finally, I’m sure the decision to close for even a few days is difficult for small businesses to make. However, I think it reflects that the business owners take the pandemic threat seriously, which is good for business in the long run.
Can I still hand out appointment cards?
Sure! Just ask first and keep the interaction brief. And make sure to wear your mask.
Help Clients Adjust to Changes
Even with online sessions, your clients may feel lost without regular in-person consultations. Others may face budget issues or a loss of insurance leading them to abruptly end wellness visits. With compassionate care and a therapeutic alliance, you can help clients cope with unexpected changes.
Cabrera says, “It’s a good idea to check in with current and former clients via email, messaging, or a phone call. You can gauge their circumstances and identify any problems by sending a survey or asking questions during a call. But, it’s also important to adjust your messaging on other channels as well. People form habits around visits, so you need to guide them towards safe practices with vocal or visual reminders while on the phone, around the office, and online. When possible, connect with your client before the visit to go over any changes, answer questions, and provide reassurance. Another idea is to change your cancellation policy temporarily and make it easier to cancel. For people who struggle with finishing tasks or making phone calls, making a judgment call to cancel an appointment can be triggering. Maybe offer alternative methods through your website, email, or messaging. And remind clients that they won’t get a cancellation fee for calling in sick.”
Optimize and promote virtual wellness services
Most health agencies recommend using online wellness sessions as much as possible during COVID-19. Improve your services by addressing pain points and making the process as easy as possible. Get feedback from your clients to reduce friction during scheduling, application setup, or remote meetings. To address challenges, consider:
- Switching to a simpler and more intuitive telehealth tool
- Exploring custom telemedicine platforms for counselors
- Creating a how-to video to walk clients through setting up before their scheduled session
- Sharing a brochure or online PDF of setup tips or answers to frequently asked questions
Along with improving your virtual services, it’s vital to adjust your messaging and promotions. Focus your marketing activities on campaigns that showcase your remote sessions and benefits. Keep your message patient-focused, value-driven, and easy to understand.
Final tips for your wellness practice
As community spread continues, it’s crucial to stay alert and monitor the situation. Wellness visits often last close to an hour, which is plenty of time for virus transmission. According to Cabrera, “More than 15 minutes of time spent closer than six feet is considered “exposure,” even if both parties are wearing masks. Of course, in that scenario, one of you is positive and doesn’t know it.” Best practices for in-person sessions include:
- Have hand sanitizer available for your clients.
- Offer to meet outdoors.
- Implement both mask-wearing and the six feet of distance any time you are in a room together.
- Consider using a health questionnaire at the entrance.
- Put up signs asking patrons to reschedule their visit if they feel unwell.
Plan Your Next Steps
As a wellness practitioner, your clients’ physical and emotional well-being is important regardless of what goes on. But, a global pandemic certainly doesn’t make your in-person visits less stressful. By relying on data and making informed decisions, you can adjust your private practice to fit the circumstances. Each step earns your client’s trust while essential sanitation habits benefit you and your clients long after the pandemic ends.