Get more out of your practice's technologies.
More than one-third of physicians run behind schedule several times per week, according to a recent Medscape Practice Workflow Report, and fully 25 percent fall behind on a daily basis. The statistics are not surprising considering that most of the physicians surveyed were seeing somewhere in the range of 11 to 30 patients per day. However, the inefficiency is taking a toll.
Certainly, we know patients are frustrated, with 26 percent of patients surveyed reporting that they had changed doctors as a result of long wait times. Physicians are overwhelmed, too. Excessive bureaucratic tasks and long hours are the top two contributors to physician burnout, according to the Medscape national report on burnout and depression.
The practice, as a whole, suffers as well. About a decade ago, a study published in Family Practice Management revealed that overhead expenses in an efficiently run medical practice could actually be almost half of those incurred by a typical medical practice. Wise use of technology and improved workflow were the keys to improving efficiency, the researchers noted.
Ten years ago, however, they likely couldn’t have dreamed of the technology that would now be available to assist medical practices in boosting their efficiency. Simple to implement and intuitive to use, tech tools are automating some of the more laborious tasks of running a medical practice. Used judiciously, they are far from impersonal—they free clinicians and staff to focus more time on patient interaction in the areas that count.
Here are just a few of the tools that are streamlining day-to-day medical practice operations.
There’s much more to a patient portal than access to medical records. Patient portals can be leveraged to provide all sorts of basic information and facilitate tasks that are both essential for patients and otherwise time-consuming for the staff. Some examples:
Intake forms and medical histories can be completed online, in the stress-free comfort of the patient’s home.
FAQs and educational handouts can be uploaded to the portal so patients can access them from home without needing to phone the office.
Detailed pre- and post-operative instructions can be made available for easy reference so patients can review them again. Studies have shown that only about a quarter of adults are clear about their discharge instructions when they leave the hospital.
Account management functions are often included with patient portals, such as bill-paying and scheduling.
It’s not only the clinicians and staff who appreciate being freed up to spend more time on critical patient care. The patients themselves actually prefer opportunities for self-service, according to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).
“For better or worse, we now live in a digital age where consumers expect convenience from every business they patronize,” noted an MGMA consulting principal in an article for RevCycle Intelligence. “Medical practices are no different.”
Automated Appointment Reminders
It probably won’t surprise any member of a medical practice to learn that no-shows and last-minute cancellations can result in a loss of 14 percent of anticipated daily revenue.
No-shows also wreak havoc on the daily schedule, adding unpredictability that affects the entire office. Managing appointment flow, then, can have a profound impact on practice efficiency.
Automated appointment reminders are currently one of the most efficient and effective ways of reducing no-shows, with several studies demonstrating significant reduction in missed appointments through the use of text messaging technology. In one study, texted appointment reminders reduced no-shows at a pediatric clinic by 14%, from 38.1% to 23.5%. And, because they’re automated, they add virtually no work for the front-office staff.
Realistic Appointment Scheduling
As every clinician and practice manager knows, some patients are going to need more time than others. New patients, for example, will need longer visits to get to know the physician and provide sufficient medical history. Likewise, a patient with psychiatric issues may require more discussion with the physician to uncover challenges and collaborate on next steps. If every patient runs over by just 10 minutes, the office will be hours behind schedule by the end of each day.
Scheduling software can be leveraged to help ensure that patients are scheduled for appropriate windows of time. With questions built into the intake forms, the software can assist in ensuring that each patient is booked for the right type of appointment, which can help keep the whole office on track.
A study in Family Practice Management zeroed in on patient phone calls as major contributors to inefficiency in primary care. Practices in the study reported receiving as many as 20 patient calls per provider each day. With the front-desk staff tasked with answering the calls while also performing other critical duties—patient check-in, insurance verification, etc.—high call volume derailed staff efficiency while also frustrating patients with long hold times and sometimes even unreturned calls.
Secure text message platforms solve this communication problem by giving staff some much-needed leeway with responses, while at the same time providing patients visibility into message delivery. With “sent” and “read” time stamps, patients can be assured that their messages have been received, so there’s no need to contact the office a second or third time. Staff members can then respond as quickly as possible without interrupting other tasks.
Just as in our personal lives, text messaging in the medical office setting enables more efficient communication of simple information, such as basic instructions and refill requests. Nurses and staff can facilitate these patient interactions and address them without requiring time-consuming phone calls or interrupting a physician during an encounter with another patient.