Take Your Patient Scheduling Template to the Next Level
Wednesday, September 18, 2019 9:00 AM
Customization and a Process Improvement Mindset is Key
When practices experience flow and efficiency issues, I often ask the person in charge of the scheduling template, “How did you develop the template?" More and more frequently, practice personnel give some version of the same response: “I started with the scheduling template in the computer system and made a few tweaks.” This answer represents the love-hate relationship I have with the automation currently at our fingertips. While it’s wonderful to have a starting point, I challenge practices to go beyond tweaking an existing template and create one that is unique to them and meets the needs of their patients, techs, and doctors.
Steps Toward Improvement
At the heart of any practice improvement initiative is a desire to facilitate a better patient experience. When aiming to elevate your processes like scheduling, a stepwise approach is often required. While you do not need to become a Six Sigma Black Belt to improve your scheduling template, you do need to adhere to some basic tenants of process improvement.
Put the customer (patient) first. As financial responsibility shifts more toward patients —whether through high deductibles or selection of non-covered/cash pay services — they are becoming more discerning and demanding better service. It’s best to meet patient expectations, which involves seeing them at their appointed time.
Involve staff. Since staff are the ones hearing patient input and doing the work, involve them by asking for their feedback and USE their ideas.
Rely on objective data to guide decisions. To work on setting a more effective scheduling template, gather and study the following information:
- Number of appointment types required for each provider (based on need);
- Demand for appointments (where is staff most frequently overriding the current template?);
- No show rates;
- Diagnostic testing required for the most common appointments for each provider; and
- Time study results, including: How much time does each element of the exam take? How long does it take to process patients at the check-in desk? How long are diagnostic tests?
Do it right the first time. Aim to make your processes as efficient as possible. Many people do not realize how much time and man-hours are wasted fixing errors. Doing things right the first time improves efficiency, which is especially important in health care because of declining reimbursement, meaning we must do more to make the same revenue. Meanwhile, aging demographics are increasing the demand for services, leading to fuller schedules. Simultaneously, the number of ophthalmologists is stagnant, meaning there aren’t enough doctors to meet the increasing service demand without improving the delivery of services.
Measure and monitor against your goals. As you make changes, track your results. This will allow you to see the impact of your new processes and reveal if you’re meeting or approaching your goals. If not, it’s an indication that additional or alternate changes are needed.
Develop a long-term plan with incremental steps. The scheduling project team needs to take several steps before seeing its efforts take form. This may include reviewing current templates and scheduling policies, studying patient wait times, testing a new schedule, conducting analysis, and so on. To aid this process and keep it moving, I suggest developing a long-term plan that outlines all necessary steps to reach your goals.
Communicate and celebrate successes. Improving processes takes time. Be patient with the development and communicate regularly to staff of the successes being achieved so they know progress is being made. This also keeps their interest and, hopefully, engagement in the process.
In a practice, there are a plethora of things that can go wrong. Knowing this, isn’t it imperative that you at least start with a scheduling template designed to work well? Once your template is created, it should not be set in stone. Rather, your practice should continually review and update the template, especially when adding a new piece of diagnostic equipment or service line. Conduct time studies regularly. Also, ask patients for their feedback through regular online surveys or other means. All this will help you adjust your scheduling template when and where needed, and ultimately, keep your practice running efficiently.