Five ways to optimize your patient schedule for efficiency

March 24, 2014

Patient scheduling is one of the most important operational systems in your practice for the delivery of care; for physician, patient, and staff satisfaction; and for practice profitability. Often it does not receive the attention it needs, to the detriment of the practice. Here are five tips to improve your scheduling process.

 

Patient scheduling is one of the most important operational systems in your practice for the delivery of care; for physician, patient, and staff satisfaction; and for practice profitability. Often it does not receive the attention it needs, to the detriment of the practice. Here are five tips to improve your scheduling process.

1. Prioritize complex visits

Each patient visit has different levels of complexity. Assign weight to the different visits and list them for reference by your schedulers. Manage uncomplicated issues outside the office visit by phone, email, and group visits.

While this may not be directly reimbursed, it can provide indirect financial rewards by increasing the complexity of office visits. The average reimbursement per visit should go up, offsetting the loss of simple visits.

Focus on maximizing work relative value units (wRVUs) per visit rather than office visit counts. If your days still overflow, hire other providers to treat the lower levels of acuity.

2. Create organized triage

Providers often get interrupted by schedulers about working in patients. Create a triage chart for the scheduler to use. The chart should rate your top 20 symptoms by a series of criteria. The criteria should include the symptom, appointment urgency, and appointment length. Create codes for urgency and for appointment length.

This results in a grid that will allow you to assign appointments to physicians or midlevels depending on the urgency, complexity, and anticipated length of an appointment.

3. Manage calls

Processing phone calls intrudes on schedule flow. Calls need a system of controls set up by physicians beyond phone message slips or apps. Create a guide for staff on processing calls. Distribute it to nurses, medical assistants, office managers, and billers.

Each has a structure of what calls to put through immediately, which calls will be returned, and when they will be returned.

Next: Work toward open access

 

4. Work toward open access

The goal of open access scheduling is to do today’s work today, and see patients on the day they call when possible.

This is not always possible, and is often impractical outside of urgent care or emergency settings. It can take months to achieve for practices already scheduled weeks ahead.

Gradually reduce the pre-appointed visits to no more than 70% of the day, with even fewer on Mondays and after holidays, when urgent-access visits are in high demand. Maintain a list of patients who want to be seen sooner, and call them to in-fill or “compress” the schedule on the same day.

5. Use quick huddles

Keep patient scheduling on the agenda for monthly office meetings.

A highly effective technique is when the provider arrives and is ready to see patients, have a standup, one-minute huddle with the provider, the scheduler, and the medical assistant to look at the upcoming bloc of patients for a discussion about how to manage it. 

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