Patients typically need to visit the doctor because something is, was, or could be wrong with their health. When it comes to personal health, even if a condition is not life threatening, patients want accurate and immediate answers and cures. When something is wrong, patients can be particularly sensitive to a few key elements of their experience:
- How long will it take to be seen?
- How much attention are they given by the physician and the staff?
- If something does not feel right or remains inconclusive after they are seen, how long does it take to get a resolution?
If a patient feels their current physician is not meeting their expectations in these areas they may quickly look for alternative solutions. In the first piece of this 3 part series we will focus on the first question…
How long will it take to be seen?
This can be a make or break moment for a practice when a patient is calling to schedule an appointment, especially in the case they have been referred by their PCP to see a specialist. In these situations they may have been given a diagnosis and told they need to see another physician to get a proper treatment plan. The patient will want to be seen quickly; if a practice cannot fit them in quickly they will look to see if there are other practitioners who can do so faster.
In order to avoid losing these potential patients, a medical clinic needs to ensure there is adequate access for same week and in an ideal world even same day appointments. Failing to acquire new patients due to access has a compounding effect through the years as two of a physician’s most powerful marketing tools are word of mouth of a happy patient and the confidence of their colleagues that referrals will be seen quickly. If patients are constantly going elsewhere because they cannot be seen, referring physicians will begin directly referring to other practices.
One thing that can help avoid patient leakage and the compounding effect it will have is through creative scheduling methods such as a modified wave scheduling. The theory behind the modified wave is to expect at least some appointments to run late. The reality in medicine is that appointment lengths are guesstimates, patients are not widgets being moved along the factory line, they are people who may be 80% similar but it is that final 20% that a physician needs to pay the most attention to when diagnosing a patient and developing a treatment plan.
Here is what a typical modified wave block (1 hour) looks like if the average appointment length is 15 minutes:
The key to maximizing the schedule is utilizing the last opening where the clinic plans to have a catch up period each hour. However this is a flexible appointment slot, if a patient has an urgent need they can easily be fit in without needing to double book. What if the practice is too busy to open one slot every hour? Then it can alternate modified wave blocks with full blocks to still create those flexible appointment slots through the day, but also ensure the maximum amount of patients are being seen.
This will allow a clinic to schedule up to 4 patients at the last minute without majorly disrupting the schedule with double bookings.
Another way to improve access for patients is to expand or implement the use of Physician Assistants (PAs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs). Depending on the state or country’s regulations, PAs & NPs can diagnose, develop treatment plans, and even bill for the patient’s visit. By strategically adding these types of providers, a practice can immediately see both the dire conditions that require urgency and the patients who regardless of medical opinion, find their condition requires urgent attention. Making sure the roles and responsibilities of each provider in the practice are clear is the most critical aspect in adding to the clinical staff. Some questions that the practice’s leadership must ask when considering the addition of PA/NP providers are:
- Will the PAs & NPs see patients independently or will patients see both the PA/NP and the Physician when they come for a visit?
- Should we hire PAs, NPs, or both?
- Will the PAs/NPs operate as generalists within the practice or specialize in a few areas?
- What is the appropriate staffing level?
- How can we ensure ROI for any additional hires, and how can we maximize the ROI of our existing staff?
By implementing both Modified wave scheduling & PAs/NPs a practice can dramatically expand their access and ensure that patients feel they can be seen quickly. Ensuring that patients are seen quickly is a key contributor to their overall experience.
For any additional questions or to learn more about how Tefen approaches enhancing the patient experience please comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- By Tom Ambrogio, Sr. Consultant Tefen USA