Providing quick appointment access to patients boosts practice's value

May 1, 2010

From fast-food restaurants churning out a meal in just minutes to the Internet culling through millions of documents in mere seconds, Americans are used to getting what they want, and getting it now. Have you figured the value of patient access to your practice?

Key Points

Have you figured the value of patient access to your practice?

Dermatologists have focused on several key indicators to gauge the financial health of their practices: collections, receivables and overhead. But in today's environment, keeping tabs on access indicators is essential to monitoring performance.

Indeed, measurements of access may be the most essential indicators of your practice's bottom line: if patients can't get appointments, you won't have any financial issues about which to worry.

To monitor access to your practice, focus on trends in these four key indicators, which you can draw out of your practice management system:

1. Days to next available appointment. Monitor the time to the next available appointment for both new and established patients. Although you can query your appointment system for this periodically, it pays to have a standard weekly report of the data.

Even if you just share these data during provider and staff meetings, you certainly raise awareness of the importance of patient access.

Interestingly, research finds that the waiting time for appointments for a routine skin exam to detect possible carcinomas/melanomas averages 22.1 days nationally. Waits at the extreme ends of that range are as little as 3.4 days to a whopping 104.4 days. Although your community's standards dictate the benchmark for your practice, established patients should be accommodated within a week and new patients within two weeks.

2. New patients as a percent of total. Determine the number of new patients and divide it by the number of total encounters. Use CPT codes 99201 through 99205 to measure new patients. A new dermatologist needs this rate to average 75 percent - or more - for the first year. Depending on the mix of services offered, an established dermatology practice likely averages 10 percent to 15 percent new patients as a percent of total encounters.

Don't focus just on the percentage of new patients; keep your eye on the dips in your rate over time, as this will signal a problem with future growth - and potentially, a negative impact on your cash flow.

3. Missed appointment rate. Calculate your appointment no-show rate by dividing the number of appointment slots that were filled, but went empty, by the total number of appointments available. These missed appointments - no-shows and last-minute cancellations - can quickly erode your bottom line.

Most of your costs are fixed, and a missed appointment results in no reimbursement. Appointment no-shows can't be totally avoided, but striving to keep them to fewer than 5 percent of total appointments assures that no-shows won't devastate you financially.

4. Cancellation conversion rate. Measure the percent of cancellations that are converted to encounters; the rate should be 100 percent. When a patient cancels an appointment and it's not converted, the result is a missed appointment and all of the negative financial implications associated with it.