Patient Flow Increases Revenues

No longer can healthcare practices rely on the single appointment and waiting room process. Managers of healthcare practices of all types and sizes increasingly recognize that effective patient flow is key to increasing revenue and improving efficiency for the practice as well as providing a positive experience for the patient.

As the business manager of a fast-growing orthopedics group explained, “We have to get this right.

In most person’s increasingly busy lives, the experience of going to the doctor or treatment center isn’t simply making an appointment and waiting to see a provider anymore. Attention needs to be paid to how patients can move seamlessly from check-in to clinical practice areas to check-out, so that providers can operate efficiently and maximize time with patients.

Before proceeding, let’s all agree on the definition of patient flow.

Patient flow represents every touch point during the patient visit experience, from arrival to departure. It encompasses everything from patients arriving at the facility to checking out at the reception desk. When patient flow strategies work, patients move from check-in to check-out in a way that maintains the quality of care, improves patient experience and enhances medical practice revenue.

Here are some guidelines which outline good patient flow

  1. Clearly define patient destinations
    Patients should never need to think about where they are supposed to be. Signage is the key. It may be as simple as lobby or parking lot signs directing patients to the correct floor or door. It may be signs within a practice clearly distinguishing check-in from check-out, or segregating patients by type of service needed. One great way to figure out if you’ve got any confusing spots is to ask a few friends (preferably those who may have trouble – the elderly, families with lots of kids, etc.) who have never been to your practice to give it a try. If they have trouble navigating, you know where you may need some more signage. Make sure to record what happens during the visit and any observations and impressions along the way.
  2. Keep the patient informed
    When patients are left alone in a waiting room for an extended period, they are sure to get restless and build up frustration. Keep your receptionist up to date on your schedule so they will be able to relay information to patients. If your schedule gets backed up early in the day, inform afternoon patients by text or phone that their appointment will be delayed. If someone is able to leave work 15 minutes later because they know their appointment will be delayed by that amount of time, your waiting room will not be as crowded, and the patient is much less likely to become frustrated.
  3. Plan visits
    One effective planning approach is for medical providers and support staff to review their schedules in order to identify how to make the day run more smoothly. Too often, staff will realize that they are missing crucial test results or required documentation after a patient has already arrived. To prevent cancelling the appointment during the visit, determine if all the necessary information is available in patient charts the day before and reschedule if necessary. An electronic health record (HRE) can help by providing real time updates of lab and imaging results.
  4. Improve practice layout
    The layout of your medical practice can have an enormous effect on patient flow. Whether you’re starting a new medical practice (from scratch) or considering a remodel, make a patient-friendly layout a priority. For example, consider the strategic user of exam rooms. Know how many exam rooms are needed. For many, it’s two or three. Plan accordingly, then consider “swing” exam rooms – extra rooms allocated among several practitioners to absorb patients at times of high demand. These may be used to enable a patient to see a doctor on schedule, when another patient with a complex visit would otherwise cause a back-up in the schedule.
    From the exam room patients should be able to head directly to a separate exit when finished.
  5. Invest in mobile technology
    Consider incorporating tablets into your patient experience. Rather than having patients fill out paperwork at reception, hand them a tablet where they can review their medical history and make changes. Most of your patient population is likely to be speedier on a tablet than a person with a pen and paper. You can also equip nurses and physicians with tablets for note taking and other tasks.
  6. Parking is part of patient flow
    Yes, parking is part of patient flow and can dramatically affect both patient satisfaction and revenue. One primary care practice took the extraordinary step of borrowing money to build a parking garage. In their small town, street parking was limited, and their parking lot could not accommodate all the traffic. Because patients could not find parking spaces, many were late for their appointments. Others gave up and became no-shows. Both practice revenue and patient satisfaction suffered. In many suburban locations, the problem is not as severe, but still chronic. Patients cannot find spaces or must squeeze into overly small parking spaces. Another parking issue is an appropriate drop-off area. Can a family member pull into a covered space to drop off an elderly family member or patient on crutches? If so, you have enhanced patient flow and experience. Whenever you’re considering a new facility or improvement to an existing one, consider parking carefully. You can be sure your patients do.
  7. Don’t forget your supply path
    What about movement of supplies? Your medical supplies should contribute to a smooth flow of patients and doctors. There are a variety of options that would work for your supply flow. You can use a single, central storage area. Or you could put supplies in each individual room or even use carts that move from location to another. It doesn’t matter what you choose, the key is to make sure that supplies never slow down the flow and efficiency or your office.
  8. Reduce missed appointments
    No-shows and late cancels can cost your practice thousands of dollars. And the truth is – there’s only so much you can do when patients need to take time off work, find a babysitter or drive through traffic to get to their appointment. While little things like adding a cancellation policy with a fee can help, offering patients a way to do virtual visits from their home can be really effective. If patients don’t need to brave traffic or take time off to see you, they’re much less likely to skip an appointment.

Patient Flow — Conclusion

If your medical practice takes time to execute the strategies discussed, in addition to others not mentioned here, you’ll be responsive to patients’ expectations, while remaining current with the changing dynamics of the healthcare market.

By putting the patient first and anticipating their overall needs, practices can create a solid stream of new and returning patients which can lead to increased practice revenue.


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