Q&A Expert insights on maximizing office efficiency and flow
A well-run dermatology practice maximizes the efficiency of staff and physician time and streamlines patient passage through the clinic. Many factors contribute to office efficiency. Perhaps some of the most important are running on time, properly allocating time blocks for patient visits and procedures, preparing the patient for the visit, and proper training of office staff.
Below, we have asked some of the industry experts for tips relating to patient flow and improving practice efficiency.
Michelle Hoover, Galderma practice consultant
Linda Lewis, Allergan senior practice consultant
1. What are the three most common mistakes you see made in terms of inefficiency in patient flow?
Hoover: A. Poor communication regarding patient status at each visit “touch point” – have they been prepped for an examination or procedure or are they ready for after care instruction or prescription counseling or is charting complete so check out may go smoothly? B. Challenges with patient flow where there is a full reception area and empty exam rooms. C. Patients left in “limbo” while waiting for the health care professional in the exam room.
Lewis: 1. Certainly running on time is the biggest issue in terms of practice efficiency. This can be a combination of many items such as staff and providers coming to the office on time prior to patients being scheduled, or patients being advised on how important it is for them to be on time, to phantom patients and “oh, by the way” patients. 2. Not setting proper schedules is a second issue. Measuring and knowing how long a specific treatment or consultation actually takes, in terms of the provider’s time, and scheduling the MDs time based on actual time is critical for proper patient flow. 3. Lastly, I believe having a solid practice foundation in terms of mission and vision for the practice and clear employee expectation and protocols are ultimately important to consistent patient flow and practice efficiency.
2. Where is the most common “bottleneck” in the office?
Lewis: Similar answer to the previous question. Staff and providers timeliness/starting on time, as well as patients arriving on time and being appropriately scheduled for procedures being performed. An example of this is scheduling of botulinum toxin patients. An existing patient should be scheduled differently than a new botulinum toxin patient.
Hoover: Check-in is often the most common area for bottlenecks. For example, if front office staff is answering incoming calls and scheduling appointments in addition to checking patients in. This can delay patient check in and subsequent movement into exam rooms.
3. How has technology improved or slowed down practice efficiency in the office?
Hoover: If EMR and HER systems are in place it is important that all staff receive full training in order to avoid inaccurate data entry that in turn will cause delays in patient flow and processing.
Lewis: In some ways technology can really improve patient flow and practice efficiency. Programs that email or text the patient reminders for their appointments and convey the need to be on time can assist with patient flow. Internal chat and messaging systems can definitely improve communication and practice efficiency if used well. Certainly easy to use practice management systems can assist with practice efficiency as well as patient flow with easy queries into patient data and past services. However, I often see many of these items added at practices without proper education and training for the staff. So systems become cumbersome and inefficiency because the staff uses the system incorrectly or not completely resulting in the "garbage in and garbage out" scenarios.
4. Any final pearls or tips?
Lewis: As with any initiative in any business or practice, Physician owner leadership is a critical component to success. Setting clear expectations, modeling what good looks like and providing proper training is crucial. Certainly taking time in hiring the right team that are capable to learn and follow through, as well as grow with your practice. Lastly, creating an efficient and happy work place will also create happy, satisfied patients.
Hoover: Spend time training staff regarding the importance of the patient touch points is important in regards to patient flow and practice efficiency. Additionally, counseling staff on why it is important to clearly communicate to the patient “where they are” in the process of their visit can lead to improved practice outcomes.