In today’s healthcare environment, providing quality care to patients is not enough to succeed. The newer payment models are based on maintaining high quality while lowering costs. These reimbursement changes, along with the need to collect higher deductibles and other challenges, are contributing to shrinking profit margins that have NJ independent medical practices searching for ways to improve the way they operate. In the journey to operational excellence, enhancing patient flow is one strategy, among others, that can positively impact office efficiency, revenue, and patient satisfaction.
Patient flow is the movement of patients from check in to check out. Administrative staff, clinical support staff, healthcare providers, and other personnel all play a role in how smoothly this flow moves. One bottleneck can have a cascading effect that impacts the rest of the business day. Wait times can increase, the physician’s time with the patient is compromised, and the patient experience suffers.
When patient flow is streamlined and coordinated, time management improves to help keep patients satisfied and your office workflow running smooth. More time available could mean more patients seen in a day, too (and more revenue!). Here are four strategies for enhancing patient flow to improve your overall practice performance.
1. Identify bottlenecks
Before you can implement any other strategy, it’s important to know where bottlenecks are occurring. Bottlenecks are obstructions within the workflow that delay patient care and disrupt your daily routine. By correcting inefficiencies that clog up the care process, patients can move more smoothly (and happily) from check in to check out.
: Develop a high level process map with help from your staff listing each step patients take throughout their visit. Walk through several office visits with patients to pinpoint where there are delays and to complete a more comprehensive process map
. Record your observations during each shadow visit, including timing of each step or activity, number of patient hand offs, wait or queue times, activities that don’t add value to the flow, and more. Using this information, eliminate useless tasks/activities and develop procedures (including for the remaining strategies in this article) that correct inefficiencies.
2. Schedule to enhance efficiency
A smooth patient flow starts with a structured scheduling process. When healthcare providers are overbooked or scheduling templates are ineffective, patient care and efficiency suffers. Too many overlapped appointments can hold up providers and exam rooms, leaving patients waiting longer. Successful patient scheduling
not only improves time management within your operations, it promotes productivity and supports quality of care, too.
: Create a scheduling template that supports the efficiency of your practice and patient volume requirements. To plan accordingly, evaluate and average how much time is needed for each type of visit. It’s recommended to categorize time slots in the schedule by 2 or 3 appointment types, such as short visits (returning patients), long visits (new patients and physical exams), and procedures. A patient with several care issues may need more time than a returning patient coming in for a follow up visit, for example. Leave open appointments daily in this schedule in case emergency visits pop up.
3. Plan ahead for each patient visit
One of the most critical and effective strategies, planning ahead of time prepares the physician and care team for each patient visit. A lot of time during the visit could be wasted if service, tests, equipment, etc. aren’t readily available or accessible. Planning ahead eliminates tasks that impede the delivery of care and disrupt time with the patient.
: Review patients scheduled for the next day to ensure the office is prepared for the visit, such as making sure that ordered test results are available. Start each morning by briefly huddling with the care team to go over patient and staffing needs for the day. You and your team can then determine which touch points and rooms are required throughout their visit and make sure relevant forms, equipment/supplies, and educational materials are readily accessible.
4. Simplify patient check-in and check-out processes
Major causes of bottlenecks, the patient check-in and check-out processes influence the efficiency of the patient flow. Before even seeing the physician, patients may arrive late or get held up filling out forms with front office staff. After seeing the physician, patients may need to schedule a follow up visit, diagnostic testing, and/or be referred to another physician for specialty care. Simplifying these processes not only frees up staff time and facilitates necessary care, it enables patients to check in easier and leave quicker.
: When a patient calls to schedule an appointment, verify their insurance information over the phone instead of when they check in to their visit. If possible, use a secure online portal where patients can fill out required forms ahead of time. Keep forms simple and focused to help patients complete them quicker. To make it easier for billing later on, collect co-pays during check in, too.
: Use a different counter to check patients out so they don’t have to wait on patients checking in. When a follow up or referral visit has been recommended, schedule the appointment with the practice’s provider or provide the patient with necessary information for the referral appointment.
While other challenges may need to be addressed to further enhance your patient flow, following these tips will help provide an excellent patient experience and accelerate your journey to operational excellence. As a result, your revenue and overall practice performance can improve, too.
Interested in enhancing your patient flow? Conventus works with independent medical practices in New Jersey to help improve customer service and efficiency throughout patient office visits. Learn about our C.A.R.E. Program for Conventus members >