No longer can healthcare practices rely on the single appointment and waiting room process. Managers of healthcare practices of all sizes and types increasingly recognize that effective patient flow is key to increasing revenue and improving efficiency for the practice and providing a positive experience for the patient. As the business manager of a fast-growing orthopedics group explained, “We have to get this right.”
In our increasingly busy lives, the experience of going to the doctor or treatment center is no longer simply making an appointment, and waiting to see a provider. Attention needs to be paid to how patients can move seamlessly from check-in to clinical practice areas to check-out, so that providers can operate efficiently and maximize time with patients.
When patients are treated in facilities and practices that minimize undue waiting, make destinations apparent and transitions comfortable, they feel respected and cared for. The result is happy, well-treated patients and enhanced practice revenue.
Here are five guidelines, developed from our experience, for ensuring good patient flow:
1) Clearly define patient destinations
Signage is the key. It may be as simple as lobby or parking lot signs directing patients to the correct floor or door. It may be signs within a practice clearly distinguishing check-in from check-out, or segregating patients by type of service needed.
A suburban specialty practice group with four locations found that its patients prefer visiting their doctor at an older, smaller facility rather than the central office. According to one of the senior physicians it is because “they know just where to go. It is less stressful.”
2) Avoid bottlenecks
The most common bottleneck is at the traditional check-in counter. Operational and architectural changes can solve this.
Know your providers’ capacities and schedule accordingly. No matter what technology or floor plan you adopt, if your practice overschedules providers, patients will sit in a waiting area and fume.
Consider the strategic use of exam rooms. Know how many exam rooms a provider can typically handle at the same time. For many, it is two or three. Plan accordingly, then consider “swing” exam rooms—extra rooms allocated among several practitioners to absorb patients at times of high demand. These may be used to enable a patient to see a doctor on schedule, when another patient with a complex visit would otherwise cause a back-up in the schedule.
Be careful not to over-use extra rooms. Parking patients in an exam room and making them wait does not enhance flow.
As the healthcare industry gets increasingly more complicated, it seems the people suffering the most are the patients. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, there are a few simple ways to not only improve the patient experience, but your practice’s bottom line as well.
Everyone’s time is valuable. According to a Consumer Reports survey, the leading complaint of patients when visiting their doctor was that they spent too much time in the waiting room. This common complaint starts the patient experience off on the wrong foot.
Between ringing phones, scheduling appointments, sharing test results, checking insurance eligibility and billing payers, it’s no wonder your staff struggles to give patients in the waiting room the attention they deserve.
Working efficiently as a team is essential for practices to run smoothly and on schedule. However, late patients, cancelations, walk-ins and unforeseen issues can scramble the best-laid plans. These problems cost practices time and money, but can be minimized to improve profits and efficiency with these tips.
Make Scheduling Simple
Who spends the most time on the phone in your office?
Whether you, the receptionist or someone else spends most of their day on the phone scheduling appointments, that’s less time spent checking in patients, answering their questions or working on other important duties to keep the practice running smoothly.
The most efficient practices are automating this arduous process. Instead of just setting an answering machine and calling back later – which can be frustrating for patients and staff – try letting your patients schedule their own appointments.
A web-based practice management system can allow patients to easily schedule or cancel their own appointments online. Modern scheduling systems can also use automated email or text confirmations and reminders, so your staff is free to focus on the patients in the office.
Your patients will be happy to take control of this process — eliminating waiting on hold, call backs and multiple messages — while your staff will have more time to focus on other important tasks. It’s a win-win.
Less Paperwork, More Face Time
Asking your patients to get to their appointment 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork sounds reasonable, but how many of them actually do it? No matter the reason, they fill out paperwork when they should be heading into the exam room and everyone falls behind.
You can email or fax patients their forms beforehand to cut down on intake time. You can also upgrade to a web-based practice management system that allows patients to fill out forms online to eliminate the very real possibility they fill out forms at home and then forget to bring them to their appointment.
With the paperwork taken care of before the patient arrives, you’re not waiting on them, they’re not waiting on you, and they get the benefit of filling out forms in the comfort of their own home.
Improve Patient Collaboration
Creating an environment for collaboration is the next generation of patient care. Patients can participate in managing their own health care, which will engage them more in the process and reduce the amount of work for you and your team.
Medicine has evolved greatly over the past 20 years, but most practice management has not. Practices need to use all the technologies available to them to improve patient relations, instead of relying on outdated systems and strategies that only cause delays and frustration.
Moving your practice to a cloud-based system will allow patients to schedule appointments, view results and fill out paperwork online. With technology that is easy to use, everyone can be involved in improving how the healthcare industry operates – providing a better patient and provider experience.
When you’re not spending all your time scheduling appointments, filling out paperwork and returning calls, you’ll be able to focus on providing better patient care.
Giving patients the tools to control their own experience will empower them and get them invested in the process.
Better collaboration will lead to less time in the waiting room and better experience for patients, while reducing staffing and time requirements for providers. Staffing costs will decrease, appointment counts will increase and patient satisfaction will improve.
Improving the patient experience starts with handing some of the control over to your patients.
Do you think your patients would be willing to take on some of the responsibility in managing their experience? Tell us why or why not.