The COVID diaries – building client confidence

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With so much uncertainty around the pandemic, it’s vital to ensure your clients are as well informed and reassured as possible

Therapist Anne-Marie has been busily preparing for her return to work. We find out how she is getting ready and the obstacles she faces in the latest instalment of her lockdown diary.

August 15th

It’s the first day of my holiday but the Risk Assessment is still on my mind – and the fact that I am reopening in just under a month! I spend time making a list of stationery items to order for all the new paperwork, which includes a new lever arch file for filing the following forms in month order: Client COVID & Consent Screening Forms, Therapist Temperature Record, Daily Cleaning Record, Infection Control Certificate, COVID Policy, Session Checklist.

I also order a wipeable clipboard so that I can do the COVID Screening on arrival at the premises, if necessary, and Jan – Dec dividers so I can file these forms in date order.

I am drawn back to the Risk Assessment, and next on the list is the welcome email containing the information to relay to clients upon reopening. This is important; I will have been closed for nearly 6 months by the time I reopen, clients will need reminding of the process and to be informed of the new ways of working safely. I also want to reassure them that I have done everything possible for reopening safely to put both our minds at ease.  

I am looking forward to seeing my clients again, but this will be working very differently than before. I used to offer my clients that are carers, and who care for a family member, a cup of tea and have a chat whilst we did the initial consultation, it was all very laid back. Now that we have to limit the time in the treatment room, the consultation will be done prior to the session, by phone, video call or the forms can be completed and returned by email but it won’t be the same. However, I am just grateful that I can see my clients in whatever capacity is required and I know that they are keen to come back, too  – we just have to adapt and make the most of the situation. It won’t be like this forever, hopefully.

I am finding myself answering questions for other therapists in the Facebook groups that I am following; there are so many questions arising, from whether it is safe to treat a client to PPE queries and all sorts of scenarios that none of us had to deal with pre-COVID. I answer queries that I have some knowledge of, as I have done so much reading around the subject and I feel I am gaining a lot of understanding. Despite the situation constantly changing and evolving, the therapists are grateful for the communication and links to the relevant updates. Sometimes it is hard to find the answers when you are a therapist that works alone, with no-one next to you to run things past, so having a supportive community to ask questions to is great, even if the answers might still need to be checked with your own professional association.

The pandemic has affected everyone on some level, and I feel it is particularly difficult for those of us working in close contact services, having to protect ourselves, our clients and our nearest and dearest. We were one of the first sectors to be closed down and one of the last to reopen so the past few months have been difficult both emotionally and financially. It’s strange to think now I thought this was going to be my best year yet! 

August 16th

I’m really pleased to see this update from the government explaining that The National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) has been awarded £5 million in funding to support people to stay connected and maintain their health and wellbeing following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Today I finished off the Return to Practice newsletter to let my clients know what I have done to reopen my clinic safely and added information about the new session guidelines outlining what they can expect from a session, the forms they will need to complete (a new Medical History Form, a COVID Screening & Consent Form), what to do on entering the clinic, what to bring with them and how the treatment will proceed.

I added in the Government COVID Secure sign and also the certificate I received from my Infection Control Workshop to the newsletter. I have not sent a newsletter yet, as I realise I need to update my online booking system to reflect my availability from September, finalise clinic timings, decide on the new session types, remove longer sessions and write an updated booking confirmation email in case anyone books in immediately after they receive my newsletter. One thing definitely leads to another at the moment.

August 17th

The second Self Employed Income Support Scheme opens today.

August 18th-19th

I’m on holiday this week, but still working on the admin associated with reopening my clinic. I decided to add Session Guidelines to my website so that anyone can see how I work should they wish to visit me for a treatment, and I created a COVID-19 area where I added the certificates that I have obtained plus the FHT COVID Policy.

I updated my online booking system with the new session guidelines, as these will go in the welcome email clients receive on booking, amended my appointment sessions so that clients book a first appointment with the associated Medical History Form and COVID Screening & Consent Form and then subsequent sessions are booked as a returning client, and just have the COVID Screening Form & Consent Form attached, which means less form filling for my clients.

I removed lots of appointments from my online booking system, including those that were longer than 50 minutes, as guidelines state to reduce session time, so for now I will shorten the session time and reassess in a few months. I also decided that 30 minute appointments are temporarily on hold, as the amount of preparation for shorter sessions (paperwork, admin before and after, plus the cleaning) make it difficult.  

I then amended my opening hours on my website as guidelines suggest limiting how many clients we see a day, so I will start with offering two sessions, plus I don’t know how I am going to feel when I return back to work under the new working restrictions, so starting slowly feels better!

This is feeling quite overwhelming – the amount of changes, the new ways of working and the amount of paperwork that I will now have to do to see a client. However, I am looking forward to seeing my clients returning and I miss them, so once this preparation is done I can relax and look forward to actually being a therapist, rather than doing admin towards reopening.

August 21st

After a final check of my website, new session guidelines and booking system, I sent out the newsletter to my clients, reminding them of my return to work from September and what I have done to return to ensure that the clinic opens safely. Now, I will wait and see what happens! 

August 25th

Just a couple of weeks now until I start seeing my clients! My online booking system is live, having been paused for nearly 6 months, so it’s all systems go. Clients now have the option to either book online or call me to book. The clients that had placeholders as sessions have now received their official booking confirmations, welcoming them back to my clinic, and details on what to expect on their return.

I posted on social media that I am open from 7th September and am actively taking bookings. Next on my list is to send another newsletter, letting my clients know that I am excited to be back open again and officially taking bookings for both massage and reflexology, including offering shorter 30 minute sessions again. I also wanted to reassure clients that if they are anxious about booking, they will still enjoy their treatment as much as before and I am taking extra precautions regarding health and safety. I also let my clients know that I am happy to talk through what to expect via phone or email.

August 26th

I go for a long run to clear my head and think about what else I need to do towards reopening. Further marketing of my business would be good at this point and establishing a regular presence on social media. I have been closed for months now, and although I have been posting regularly on social media (Facebook and Twitter), I need to really do more at this point.

August 28th

Although I have sent a newsletter I decided to also email my regular clients who I had had to cancel in March/April and send them a personal message, asking them how they are doing. I also reassured them that if they didn’t feel ready to come back yet then that is fine, I understand, and will be ready to see them when they feel comfortable returning, as some of my clients are in the vulnerable group or carers.

Next on the list – laundry bins! My professional association state “Towels or textiles used to cover the couch or protect the client’s modesty should be changed between each client. These should be stored in a plastic, resealable bag, that can be disposed of after use, or a plastic/wipeable wash bin, with a lid, that can be disinfected after use.” 

Who knew that finding a suitable laundry bin could be so time consuming?! It would be easier if I was out shopping to actually find one rather than try to find something online. A quick internet search shows all sorts of laundry bins ranging from £10 up to £150+ and most of the ones that look great are either fabric or woven material, which would not be at all suitable as they can’t easily be cleaned.

The search continues for lidded plastic containers – one for clients’ belongings, one for the bathroom which will contain paper towels and hand soap, floor cleaning cloths and antibacterial spray, one for clients clothing and belongings in the treatment room and a further container to keep all the cleaning products in one place in the treatment room. 

August 29th

It’s the first day of the bank holiday, so I go out for a walk and happen to pass a local shop that sold exactly what I needed – a huge range of plastic containers, a laundry bin with a flip open foot pedal operated lid (perfect, as no touch), a wipeable clipboard and a frame for the COVID Secure Certificate.

This afternoon I  receive replies to the emails I sent to my regular clients and some would prefer to wait a month and some vulnerable clients will reassess next year.  I did expect this to happen, and feel sad that the pandemic has affected my business in such a way that my regular clients are worried about returning. However, the situation is changing constantly and next year will be different.

As we follow Anne-Marie’s journey over the coming weeks, we would love to hear your stories, too. Can you relate to Anne-Marie’s experience? Have you felt overwhelmed by the information available? What have you struggled with/? Please share in the comments and please sign up to become a member of PPH to receive industry news and updates.

We would like to stress that all information given in our COVID series is not exhaustive and while we have tried to ensure that the information provided in this document is accurate, PPH cannot be held liable for any errors or omissions. The COVID situation is constantly evolving and the information is changing on a daily basis. We urge you to closely follow your government, professional association and insurance company’s latest guidelines and updates, taking precedence over any recommendations communicated by PPH.