One of my employees recently visited another physician office as a patient and remarked “Oh, Dr. Palm, their office was nothing like ours. I realize how lucky our patients are.” She recounted her experience including an extended wait in the reception area, her lack of pre-visit counseling, a mountain of paperwork, and the brusque and cursory manner of the office staff.
Overall, not an ideal office visit — but unfortunately, it is probably considered by most patients as the average, and mildly frustrating, visit to a doctor’s office.
My employee’s experience highlights many of the salient areas relating to office inefficiency that deeply affect the overall patient experience. A well-run office with highly efficient operating systems nurtures a pleasant work culture for staff, the physician(s) and patients. A poorly run office leads to increasing stress levels, loss of income and unhappy patients.
Clear mission and vision
So where does office efficiency start? According to Linda Lewis, Allergan senior practice consultant, a clear mission and vision for the practice is the foundation of a strongly run practice.
“Setting clear employee expectations and protocols are ultimately important to consistent patient flow and practice efficiency,” she says.
Staff training is arguably the most important factor in maximizing patient flow. This begins with pre-visit interactions such as initial phone and email touch points. Having the front reception staff determine the precise reason for his/her visit, counseling on expectations and preparation for procedures, and stressing completion of pre-visit paperwork all ensure a patient visit goes smoothly and keeps clinic running on time.
Michelle Hoover, Galderma key account manager, stresses the importance that all staff receive full training on electronic health record (EHR) systems to avoid inaccurate data entry that in turn leads to delays in patient processing. Online registration forms can pre-populate portions of the patient history, making the most of an EHR system. Electronic welcome packets, instruction sheets and even videos can provide appropriate practice information and counseling for patients prior to them stepping past the office threshold.
Back office staff plays an equally important role in an efficiently run practice. Well-trained staff is the key to maximizing the use of medical assistants (MA) and clinical staff. Vicki Guin, an Allergan practice consultant, recommends that an MA accompany a physician at all times to anticipate physician needs. I have always stressed to my clinical staff that my role is to treat the patient. I rely heavily on my staff for assistance in scribing, photography, set-up of procedures, patient positioning and preparation, and post-procedural counseling to maximize the quality and time of my patient interactions.
Time is of the essence in relating to a well-run office. Set the example and arrive on time. Nothing sets a worse example for staff than a physician being tardy for the start of a workday.
Realistically evaluating the time of a patient visit or procedure is critical to running an efficient clinic. If you are chronically running an hour behind schedule, something is awry in terms of office efficiency. This stresses the patient, your staff and, ultimately, you. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Respect your patient’s time as much as your own. Work with your staff to develop appropriate time blocks for new and follow-up patient visits as well as for specific procedures. If your practice management system allows it, book procedures into specific rooms so that back-to-back procedures utilizing the same device are avoided and multi-physician practices negotiate room use appropriately.
An eye on reception
Finally, take a look at your reception and check-out area. This is often where “bottlenecks” occur in the office. According to Ms. Hoover, compartmentalizing the role of front office staffs avoids delays in patient check-in and movement into exam rooms. Ideally, patients spend little to no time in the reception area but are quickly ushered to rooms for evaluation and treatment.
Consider using an automated patient scheduling reminder system. Text and email reminders are well-received by patients, reduce no-shows, and allow you to keep a full schedule without unexpected, vacant slots.
An efficient practice is in all likelihood a good place to work. A well-run office begins with physician leadership and ends with a satisfying patient visit. Take a critical look at staff training, physician timing, patient scheduling and preparation to ensure you get the best out of each clinic day. Your patients and staff will literally thank you for it!