Let’s face it — most business
and medical practices don’t have the problem of being too efficient in their operations. On the contrary, many medical
practices suffer from a range of bottlenecks and redundancies that waste time
and energy. These broadly fall into several practice areas, including the front
office, the back office and the physicians. Here are eight areas to home in on
to improve procedures and reduce waste.
Front office issues
The phone system, reception
area and other “front office” functions provide patients with their first
interaction with your practice, so it’s important to ensure these areas
- Phone system. Inefficiency here can
irritate patients and become a major cause of productivity issues with your
staff. How many incoming lines do you have and how many staffers are
responsible for answering them? Having more than two lines per person may cause
difficulties. Many practices use a phone tree. Grab the mindset of a patient
and call your office. Listen to the options to make sure the list is manageable
and presented in an order that makes sense to callers.
- Messages. How are phone messages and
other communications, such as texts and emails, handled? Some practices
customize messages by color. (For example, pink indicates a sick patient and
blue indicates a pharmacy calling about a refill.) Computerized message systems
can be fine, as long as procedures are in place to handle communications.
- Paperwork. Many practices use paper
intake forms. Some send them to patients prior to appointments. Some practices
even allow for intake forms to be filled out on laptops or tablets. Computerize
when you can and implement efficient procedures for data transfer and storage
of paper files when you can’t.
- Appointment confirmation.Obviously, calling patients for
confirmation is a good way to reduce no-shows. You can choose from multiple
ways to do this now, including automated phone calls, texts, emails or all of
the above. Most patients still like the personal touch, but texts and emails
are a great adjunct, especially if phone calls only reach voicemail. Several
studies have found that a phone call the day before is too late, but three days
ahead of the schedule is about right.
Back office problems
Keeping your back office
running smoothly protects patient records and facilitates referrals.
- Charting.Electronic health records (EHR) and programs that allow the physicians
to write into tablets and use pull-down menus can solve many charting problems.
But staffers still need to make sure that test results and referral reports
have been appropriately recorded in the chart before patients come in. They should
also check charts for refills, screenings or preventive activities that may be
on the patient’s schedule.
- Tests and referrals.Practices need clear procedures for
handling referrals and tests. Designate someone to complete the paperwork when
a test is needed. If specific tests are ordered regularly, perhaps it’s a good
idea to preprint order sheets. A timeline often is helpful: When does the test
or consult need to be conducted? If a test doesn’t need to be performed for
several weeks, staffers need to know so that they can set up schedules accordingly.
Physicians need to set the right
tone to incentivize and maintain an efficient practice.
- Start time.Many consultants suggest doctors should arrive at least 15 minutes
before the first scheduled patient to prepare for the visit, evaluate the
paperwork, and review lab tests and patient history.
- Standardization.Physicians need to standardize how they perform duties and activities.
Unpredictably changing how you do things from day to day (or minute to minute)
can be enormously disruptive to the medical practice.
A focus on increasing the
practice’s efficiency can help physicians improve patient care and enhance
practice profitability. This, in turn, will bolster both patient and staff
satisfaction over the long term.
Tips for improving efficiency
Here are a few more strategies
for greater practice efficiency:
Capitalize on your nurses’
abilities. It’s safe to say that an efficient physician starts with an
efficient nurse — and with efficient staff in general. Develop protocols that
allow you to enter the examination room already ahead of the game, aware of
what procedures and tests are likely to be needed.
Make scheduling patient-friendly.
You can improve patient accessibility with a nuanced scheduling strategy that
works for your practice and benefits patients. Having a variety of weekend and
evening options goes a long way toward a more profitable practice.
Use technology the smart way.Electronic health records (EHRs) and
practice management software can help a lot — if you learn to use them
properly. Many EHRs and PM programs offer significantly more options than most
people want. But learning about them and selecting the ones that work best for
you and your practice can be beneficial.
Implement clear payment
guidelines. Make sure staffers have verified patient insurance
information before visits and sent the patient your payment guidelines. If
previous payments haven’t been made or approved, knowing this at the time the
appointment is confirmed can solve issues down the road.