Improve the efficiency of your practice - 8 steps to a better flow

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. This article suggests eight areas to home in on to improve procedures and reduce waste, including improving the phone and message system and establishing clear procedures for handling referrals and tests. A sidebar offers a few more strategies for greater practice efficiency.

Improve the efficiency of your practice

8 steps to a better flow

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 function well.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

Physician responsibilities

Physicians need to set the right tone to incentivize and maintain an efficient practice.

7. 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.

8. 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.

Focus

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.

Sidebar: 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.

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Physicians