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    Office work flow improvements benefit patients, staff, physicians

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    Elizabeth Woodcock
    Even with the latest technology and the best-trained and experienced staff, efficiency isn't a given — you have to work at ensuring well-oiled work flows in your dermatology practice.

    Using your time wisely is important to your practice's revenue because, unlike those supplies on the shelf, your time can't be stored. Once time is spent, the only way to recover is to stay later.

    Like most dermatologists, your day is probably jam-packed and there doesn't seem any way to squeeze in another minute. Try these proven time-management techniques to optimize your time — each and every day.

    Examine your schedule. Your schedule defines your time, which is your practice's most precious asset. Even the most well-intentioned staff can't support an efficient work flow if the schedule isn't an accurate reflection of the best use of your time.

    In other words, you can't schedule 15 patients an hour if you can only see five — inefficiency results, as your staff is diverted to manage patients who are experiencing waits and delays.

    Of course, you may need to schedule a patient or two more each hour than your capacity actually allows. Review your historical data to determine your ratio of booked (scheduled)-to-arrived (those who show up) patients, and structure your appointment slots accordingly.

    Scrutinize opportunities at the start of the day. Efficiency comes in small packages, and seemingly minor ideas can have major impact. The start of the day is a great example.

    What does an 8 a.m. appointment with you mean? Will the patient really be ready to see you at 8 a.m.? Likely not. If you're ready to start at 8 a.m., then schedule arrival times at 7:45 a.m., so that check-in and other previsit activities are handled before the appointment's starting time.

    Avoid scheduling new patients at the top of the morning and beginning of the afternoon clinics. Not only do new patients take longer to check in, they also are more likely to show up late as they find their way to your address and navigate your parking lot and building entrances for the first time.

    Get ready for the day. Develop a checklist — or several checklists — for various office processes. It may help to construct separate checklists around the roles of each type of staff: nurse, medical assistant, receptionist, etc.

    Because the checklist leaves nothing to chance, if it is followed it should make sure that every time you walk into an exam room, the room will be clean, supplies stocked, computers turned on and so on.

    Reduce the messages. Handling messages can be quite time-consuming, so it pays to require your staff to ask each patient who calls, "Is there anything that I can do to help you?" Strive for "first-call resolution," which means taking care of the patient's needs right away. If your staff (or you) are in the habit of "screening" patients before scheduling, recognize that it takes time and that there is no CPT code for deflecting demand — only for accepting it. Boost revenue and patient satisfaction by adding this simple question to your staff's standard telephone script before taking a patient's message: "Would you like to be seen by one of our physicians?"

    Pull in the work. Responding to patient messages is a fact of life in every medical practice. So is managing test results, prescription renewal requests and paperwork requiring your signature.

    Stop letting all those tasks pile up during the day; it only leads to rework, as patients will call (again and again) to check on the status of their requests. Don't let an hour go by without managing at least a chunk of the stack of messages, renewals and other administrative-type work awaiting you.

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