Overcome Obstacles to Increased Efficiency

Photo of patients in waiting room at a healthcare office. Woman holding a baby.

To improve your medical practice’s efficiency, you first have to identify its most problematic areas. Here’s a look at some common inefficiencies found within medical practices. They fall under three broad areas: front office, back office and physician care.

  1. Front office

Loosely speaking, many inefficiencies in the front office are related to procedures that take place before the patient visit. For example, to ensure appointments are met and schedules are maintained, you’ll need to focus in advance on decreasing instances of patients showing up late — or not at all — for appointments. One study published by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that reminder phone calls decreased no-shows by 30%. Many practices that used postcards for years are now adding email and text reminders to their approach, with excellent results.

In addition, a high volume of patient phone calls often causes long on-hold times for patients or front-desk staff — who are spending much of their time dealing with calls. In response to this issue, some practices use call centers — whether on- or off-site. Phone-trees or patient portals also can minimize the number of phone calls a practice receives regarding scheduling issues.

Verifying insurance eligibility can be both complex and time consuming. Many practices have a staff member designated to handle this task before a patient visit. Having a copy of the patient’s insurance card on file and verifying that it hasn’t changed when the patient makes an appointment can significantly streamline the process.

  1. Back office

For the purposes of this article, “back office” refers to nursing and care staff. We’ll discuss physician issues in a separate category.

One important back office issue is practice layout and workflow — the entire process of how patients and staff move from check-in, waiting room, examining room, front desk and out the door. To improve the flow, it’s a good idea to check for and eliminate bottlenecks, develop a single path for patients to flow through the clinic, and streamline patient flow for the patient care teams. Standardize exam rooms so staff members don’t have to hunt for supplies.

It’s also necessary to prioritize clear communication, both electronically, via an electronic health record (EHR), and on paper. Staff should be trained in updating and maintaining medical records and have access to them as needed.

Your practice needs an appropriate mix of front office, back office and ancillary staff to handle patient flow and be able to cover for staff members who are sick or on vacation. Rule of thumb for staffing is 3.5 to 4 staff members for each physician, combined in both the front and back offices. Divide tasks appropriately so that no one person has a heavier workload than others.

  1. Physician care

There are plenty of good reasons for a physician to run late throughout the day, including emergencies and unexpected problems. But sometimes physicians run late for preventable reasons.

For instance, some physicians get bogged down in administrative tasks because they fail to delegate duties. Doctors need to delegate responsibilities where they can so that they can focus on the things only they can do — including direct patient treatment. It’s important to do everything you can to show up for appointments on time.

While it’s true that each patient is unique and requires that care be tailored specifically for him or her, there may be similarities among patient cases. This may warrant developing written protocols and scripts that can be used to handle routine, recurrent issues, thus increasing physician efficiency. This doesn’t mean your treatment approach should be rote — it merely means you’ve thought about your processes and how you want your practice to run.

A hard look

Many other areas of inefficiencies can exist in any medical practice, but these are the most common ones. Take a hard look at your practice to see if any of these areas can be improved. When in doubt, hire a practice management consultant to give you feedback.

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