Guest post by Peter Mansfield, director of marketing, QLess.
Healthcare is one of the primary economic engines of America’s cities and a sector where technology innovation remains a high priority. However, recent findings from a ClickSoftware study conducted by Harris Poll, revealed that Americans feel healthcare is one of the country’s most frustrating industries — because of the amount of time spent waiting to be served. So, where’s the disconnect?
It’s no secret, there are a few worse places to wait in line than the doctor’s office or urgent care, surrounded by coughers and sneezers. To this end, healthcare facilities must take a step back and ask themselves the question: How efficient are you?
For most healthcare professionals that’s a tough question. The truth is, it’s well worth giving serious consideration to the operational aspects of your healthcare practice or clinic. After all, inefficiency directly impacts your bottom line in a multitude of ways. Worst of all, a poorly run area of your business can foster a negative influence that permeates other aspects of your practice. One poorly focused or lackadaisical area will frustrate not only your patients but also your team and the employees who really want to push a practice forward.
Where to start? From hospitals to urgent care centers, healthcare businesses usually require the coordination of many different moving parts. That includes your team, systems, payers, and of course, patients. It’s worth thinking through the life cycle of a typical patient visit to identify critical points that help define and assess the overall experience your facility provides.
From an efficiency standpoint, the life cycle starts when a patient is referred to your practice or finds you through another source. Either way, you need to schedule them in for an appointment. That includes walk-ins. This is your first chance to show your patient that they will be treated with a sense of prioritization and respect. The fact is, no one wants to feel second-class, particularly when it comes to the provision of healthcare.
To successfully accomplish the first step of the process, make sure that your appointment setting practices are consistent, fair and understood by your entire team. That usually means implementing a digital appointment-setting system that leverages the use of mobile technology—not an old school calendar and pencil—to help you or your staff fill and optimize all available slots. Today’s effective mobile wait solutions, like QLess, allow patients to join lines virtually by using their mobile device, the web or an on-site kiosk and are alerted via text message when the doctor is ready to see them. This allows patients to go on with their day instead of wasting time in the waiting room. We are in the digital age and scheduling appointments no longer needs to be a headache. There’s excellent technology options, including mobile scheduling solutions, that nearly do everything for you.
Ideally, your appointment and wait management solution will make it easy for patients to provide you with an alert on any delays from their end. You should also be able to dynamically reassign times so that your physician’s time is optimized.
The respect factor is also felt acutely in your waiting room. Patients hate to wait. In fact, research on queuing has shown that people overestimate how long they’ve waited for service by 36 percent. Too many practices subject new and existing patients to excruciating wait times that lead to bad will and harassed office staff. All of this is easily avoidable by using mobile wait solutions.
The positive impact of handling patient scheduling efficiently can be transformative for healthcare providers. Linda Ratner, executive director at Impact Urgent Care, recently integrated a mobile wait solution and shared the following: “Patients dread the waiting room experience. Before we implemented a mobile scheduling solution, patients often had to wait two hours to see a doctor at our facilities and we were committed to find a way for them to be more comfortable while they waited. The new solution provides patients with the opportunity to stay home until they need to get to our clinic, and as such, we’ve eliminated the wait altogether. Thanks to digital technologies that streamline processes, patients are happier and our practice is running a lot more smoothly.”
Once your patient is happily assigned a slot and is ready for their appointment, it’s time to prepare for the follow up activities. This includes having the right digital files and paperwork ready for your physician, and then post-appointment, lining up the resources to schedule follow up appointments if necessary and payment information for insurers and your own records. Remember that patients are unlikely to be at their peak of efficiency, so you need to take control and make the process easier for them wherever possible.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has some simple to implement suggestions that can also bolster efficiency at your practice:
- Efficient processes are important because they require less time, effort and resources to produce better outcomes
- A flow map can be a powerful tool in identifying where your current process is breaking down
- Tools such as daily employee huddles can improve communication among staff and help you anticipate challenges in your workday
In the article “Making Every Minute Count: Tools to Improve Office Efficiency,” the AAFP also includes some simple flow charts that map out resolutions to patient complaints that originate from inefficiencies or poorly handled issues. You’ll also find “10 Rules for an Efficient Process,” which are well worth reading and circulating to your team.
Efficient healthcare practices require a smart blend of pragmatic processes, motivated and well-trained office staff, all supported by technology that is tailored to demanding healthcare environments. It’s well worth the investment. Effective practices are more enjoyable to visit and work in, more patient-centric, and ultimately much more profitable.