The holiday season is here and with that means a few things: food, friends, and family. You encourage your patients to enjoy the holidays and relax, but it is just as important that you relax and enjoy as well. Everyone needs a recharge! However, when you're building a new practice or you run a solo practice, it is very hard to step away out of fear that you will upset your patients and they will then leave you. Or worse, you will attend to their every need and not get any of the food, family, or friends for yourself! You must educate and remind your patients before the holidays what your availability is and what the expectations are.
1. Set expectations early
Start before the holidays! Make sure your patients understand what your availability is and under what circumstances it would be appropriate for them to message you. Make sure these expectations are clear, concise, and align with what you want. If you want to travel out of state for a week, then don't tell your patients you can be available in the office with 24-hour notice. Dr. Jack Forbush of Osteopathic Center for Family Medicine strongly encourages pre-holiday education that "their physician [will be] available, but it's also important for them to know that their physician has a life."
Use emails and print-outs to help reinforce to your patients what the availability and expectations are. One contact is not enough. If you tell a patient in person, it is very likely they will forget the specifics or all together what you said. If you send an email 1 time, it is likely to be deleted and forgotten. If you give 1 handout, it is likely to be thrown away (or at least hopefully recycled). Do all three of these steps and the patient will likely remember and keep one of them around.
2. Empathize with your patients
While it is extremely important to take care of yourself and set aside time to rest and relax, it is also important to empathize with your patients' worries about getting sick, especially with the cold weather and so many family members around. Dr. Jennifer Allen of New Freedom Family Medicine recommends that patients, "...will want or need to be seen- so plan ahead for when you want to be closed and notify patients- to minimize disappointment". Also, educate patients on the other healthcare options they can use while you are unavailable. It is okay to say you are unavailable and that patients will need to see another doctor if they have an urgent issue. Encourage your patients to use resources such as urgent care, which can be a great choice for one-off issues during holidays.
3. Plan in advance
While you may be planning for your in-person clinic and virtual visits to be shut down during the holidays, your patients are still getting their monthly medications and not thinking about the fact that they need you to refill the prescription for them. Check a few weeks before the holidays and ensure that your patients all have enough medications to get through the holidays so they are not urgently messaging you that they just used their last pill and you are already out of town. Patients will appreciate your pro-activeness and knowing they won't have an issue during the holidays.
The holidays should be exciting and a time to de-stress! Even if you're just starting your practice, you can still take time off. If you set expectations early and empathize with your patients, they will understand and want you to have time to rest as well.