Follow these tips to keep your practice on track

September 1, 2011

Dermatology practices are busy places where even a small delay in the morning can throw physicians off schedule for the remainder of the day. The result isn't just more stress; it can include unhappy patients and perhaps even staff overtime costs. None of those outcomes is good for you, your patients or your staff.

Key Points

Good time management relies on an efficient appointment schedule - one that reflects the realities of your tempo, the patients' needs and the workflow processes that move patients and their information through the office visit.

Your time - and that of other billable providers - is your dermatology practice's most precious asset. Here are some steps to start making the most of that asset.

Leave enough time (normally 15 minutes) for the patient to be processed through the front office and roomed. Allow more time (20 to 30 minutes) for new patients. If you don't, you're inherently 15 to 30 minutes behind schedule from the very moment you open the doors.

Don't fool yourself that telling patients to come in 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork is effective; this technique only leaves two times in the patient's mind, and certainly, patients aren't rushing through breakfast to get to your office early to fill out some forms. If you want to start clinic at 8:30 a.m., schedulers should tell patients their arrival time is 8:15 a.m. That simple statement of a single, accurate time sets the realistic expectation that the patient should present at 8:15, and you'll be with them - on time - a little later.

End interrogations - and keep it simple. Fine-tuning the scheduling process should not produce a complex web of internal rules and regulations. When that happens, schedulers spend precious time recording minute details of each patient's chief complaint in order to schedule "correctly."

Considering that patients often alter their complaints by the time they present, those interrogations can add up to a lot of staff resources wasted. You need to know the patient's chief complaint, if it's a new or established patient and certain other information as desired. But the scheduling process should not resemble a complex algorithm.

Most dermatology appointments can fit into five-, 10- or 15-minute blocks. You might need to block out two or three intervals for new patients, established patients with complex complaints or those needing certain procedures. Even better is to reduce your appointment types to just two: short and long. Establish clear and concise guidelines to help staff get scheduling correct, but be sure to avoid the trap of setting a different appointment type for each type of patient. Keep it simple, or your scheduler (and you) will be tearing your hair out trying to choose the right type.

Set realistic intervals. The best appointment schedule - one that will keep things running on time on most days - is a direct reflection of your work style and tempo. If one dermatologist can handle most exams in 10 minutes but another one takes 50 percent longer on average, then make use of a "short" and "long" appointment scheme.

Give "short" (10-minute) appointments to the first physician's patients and "long" (15-minute) appointments to those seeing the second physician. Think of the intervals as a dam - if you put more water behind the dam than it can hold, the dam will overflow. You want patients (the "water") to be just what the physician can handle, because wait times only get longer and patients more frustrated once the dam overflows.