To improve your medical practice's efficiency, you first have to identify its most problematic areas. Here is a look at some common inefficiencies found within medical practices. They fall under three broad areas: front office, back office and physician care.
Generally, many inefficiencies in the front office are related to procedures that take place before the patient visit. For example, many practices struggle with appointment cancellations and accurate scheduling. To effectively manage this, you should focus, in advance, on decreasing the volume of patients showing up late – or not at all – for appointments. Historically, practices relied on postcard reminders mailed to patients a few weeks out from their appointment. However, in today's world, we have the benefit of technology to rely on, which will help to save on both time and resources. One study published by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that reminder phone calls decreased no-shows by 30%. In addition to phone call reminders to patients, text and email reminders have the ability to be automated and sent according to pre-determined schedule (e.g., one week in advance of the appointment).
Another benefit to utilizing technology is the growing number of practices implementing patient portals. A patient portal is dynamic and instantaneous with its ability to be updated in real time. A physician can, for example, schedule appointments, obtain insurance information and inform a patient of test results via patient portal in lieu of spending significant amounts of time on the phone.
On the topic of insurance verification, this process can be both complex and time-consuming. Many practices have a designated staff person to handle this task. The importance of verifying a patient's insurance card is on file and has not changed prior to an appointment cannot be stressed enough. It will undoubtedly eliminate headaches for both the physician and patient if obtained in advance.
For the purposes of this article, "back office" refers to nursing and care staff.
One important back office issue is practice layout and workflow — the entire process of how patients and staff move between check-in, waiting room, examining room, front desk and out the door. To improve the flow, it is 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 and maintain organized supply rooms so staff members do not have to hunt for supplies.
It is 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. Remember to divide tasks appropriately so that no one person has a heavier workload than others. Employee morale is another key to running a successful practice.
There are plenty of good reasons for a physician to run late throughout the day, including emergencies and unexpected problems. However, 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 (i.e. direct patient treatment).
While it is 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, recurring issues, thus increasing physician efficiency. This does not mean your treatment approach should be rote — it merely means you have 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 on. When in doubt, consider hiring a practice management consultant to give your practice direct feedback and sensible solutions.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.