The Private Practice Guide to Reopening (After Over a Year of Only Teletherapy)
As COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out across the country, many therapists are beginning to consider returning to the office and in-person therapy sessions. But even after most businesses reopen, it’s doubtful the way we work will ever be the same.
Telehealth is here to stay, at least in some capacity, but many therapists are now finding themselves wondering, “Should I reopen my practice?” and “How can I safely reopen?”
In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of safely reopening your therapy practice as the coronavirus pandemic wanes.
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Comply with Governmental Guidance
It’s important to operate based on the most up-to-date information about reopening from federal and state authorities. Regularly check in with credible sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) to stay informed of any significant updates. Be sure to remain updated on your state’s guidelines and requirements in the following weeks/months.
Make Your Decision
Deciding to reopen your practice for in-office therapy sessions should not be taken lightly. There are many factors to consider; the APA has an article, which they’re keeping updated, that explores many of these factors: COVID-19: When is it OK to provide more in-person services?
There’s also a list of tasks you’ll need to complete to ensure that all proper precautions are taken. Be attentive to the latest updates from federal and local authorities to ensure that your list is complete.
Carefully Plan Your Reopening
Develop your own set of guidelines and safety measures to ensure the safety of your clients, your employees, and yourself.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- In the beginning, it may be wise to reopen incrementally and work on a modified schedule for a period of time. Starting slowly with just a few in-office sessions a day will make it much easier to identify and address any unforeseen problems.
- Limit (or eliminate) any non-client visitors from entering the office. If you do this, be sure you’ve informed your clients of this before their appointment. It’s also a good idea to post this on the outside of your office door.
- Consider bringing your office employees back in alternating shifts. By scheduling them on alternating days of the week – or mornings versus afternoons – you will reduce contact between employees and significantly lower the chances of cross-contamination.
- Once you’ve started seeing clients in-office again, make sure you’re routinely cleaning all frequently touched surfaces throughout the day, including desks, chairs, keyboards, mice, tabletops, and doorknobs. If you have clients sign in or complete paperwork in-office, include clean/dirty pen bins and clipboard protocols in your new process.
- Make sure your staff knows how they’re expected to help keep things clean. Clearly map out expectations and share them with your team.
If you have any employees, your reopening plan must include thoughtful measures for keeping them safe as well as your clients. OSHA has provided a set of recommendations for Protecting Workers, which can help.
Clean, Clean, and Clean Some More
Before reopening your doors to the public, or even your own staff, it is highly recommended that you hire a professional cleaning service to do a full deep-clean of your entire office.
If you don’t want to spend money on professional cleaners, you could also do this yourself. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on it, and don’t forget to factor in the cost of all those cleaning supplies.
After seeing the great lengths essential businesses, restaurants, and stores have taken over the last year to stay clean and safe, people now expect this level of care and attention from any business that reopens as well. The CDC has created guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19:
- Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools and Homes
- Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility
Stock & Prep Every Room
For most therapists, your clients are already experiencing heightened anxiety when they arrive at your office. This is generally due to the nature of their visit – the stressful event(s) that brought them to you originally – but there’s certainly no reason to add to that anxiety by making them wonder if their health is at risk as well. Take the following steps to set their minds at ease – and keep everyone safe.
- Adjust the furniture placement in your therapy room(s) so that your client is sitting at least 6 feet away from where you will be sitting. Even when everyone in the room is masked and/or vaccinated, social distancing is advised. You can learn more about CDC recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals at Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.
- If you have a large waiting area, place markings on the ground 6 feet apart where clients may form a line, such as at the reception desk.
- Alternatively, you could close your waiting room altogether until further notice. Instead, have clients text you when they arrive and wait in their vehicles or outside until you reply that it’s time to enter. If you’re planning a slow reopen, it may be best not to utilize your waiting area at all for the time being.
- Make sure these items are readily available in every room:
- Facial tissues
- Hand sanitizer
- Disinfecting wipes & air spray
- No-touch trash cans
- Hand soap & disposable towels (at all sinks)
- If you’d like, you can install temporary plex-glass shields at your front desk or even in front of your own therapy desk.
- Finally, whether you require their use in your office or not, have face masks available for both clients and employees. If you require the use of face masks, make sure this is posted on your front door and throughout your office.
Let Your Clients Know
Once you’ve cleaned and disinfected every nook and cranny of your offices and prepped every room to promote everyone’s health and well-being, it’s time to get the word out about your reopening!
Whether you post it to your website’s blog, send out an email newsletter, or share it on social media, it’s time to let your clients know when you’re going to reopen. Personally, we’d recommend doing all three :).
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It’s crucial to set the proper expectations in these communications. Let clients know the date you’ll be reopening, and what your new operating hours will be, explain the measures you’ve taken to ensure the safety of your office, and outline any new rules you plan to implement from here on out.
If you still plan to offer Telehealth sessions, go ahead and let clients know about this in the same announcement. Many people have become comfortable with this form of therapy now that they’ve experienced it firsthand, and they may be reluctant to give it up.
The choice to reopen your private practice and begin seeing clients in person again is immensely personal and should not be done without weighing the associated health risks it could pose to you and those around you. Many clinicians are opting to continue seeing clients entirely online from here on out, and we encourage you to consider this as well.
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