It will come as no surprise to learn that 35 percent of patients say the most negative impact on their experience is a long waiting time.
And even though you try to stay on schedule and on time, you can get delayed with tasks like returning calls to patients and authorizing refills.
Patient appointments can run overtime, a staff member can call in sick, or a new person could be in training. There are countless reasons why you might fall behind and, once that happens, it’s hard to get back on track.
But there are some simple strategies that can help you avoid bottlenecks and turn things around when your practice starts to run slow.
Avoid interrupting providers
Have guidelines for staff about not interrupting the chiropractor (or other providers) with calls or questions between appointments unless it’s an emergency. Work with providers to establish a process for managing tasks.
For example: Have them check messages and tasks first thing each morning, at midday, and at the end of the day. They can take care of refills or return calls during those appointed times. Using a patient portal can also help eliminate some of these calls altogether because most EHRs now have an integrated portal. Just be sure you educate patients about the portal and have staff reroute patients to the portal if their query can be addressed there.
Help staff prioritize their workload
Make sure your staff knows what their top priorities are so they can be confident about what to let go of if they get too busy. Sometimes people are trying to do too much when they should just focus on moving patients swiftly through their appointments.
This is a good time to analyze your staffing. If tasks are often dropped, incomplete, or behind schedule, then you may be understaffed. One option is to add more staff, but another is to look at outsourcing tasks like billing, eligibility and pre-authorizations, or inbound and outbound calls. You can now outsource most tasks and doing so can be more cost-efficient than adding more full-time staff, while allowing you to focus more on patient care.
Evaluate your practice day from start to finish
Is your schedule truly efficient? Maybe the problem is that your patient visits are at the wrong time of day and long appointments are causing backups. If your scheduling software allows for stating the reasons for appointments, make sure you are using this function, and analyze the time allocation associated with those reasons.
For example: If you have an appointment set up for a 15-minute time block, but it really should be a 30-minute time block, these errors in time allocation can be a source of delays. Many practice management and EHR systems also provide the ability to track patients through their visit. Using these tools allows you to assess where your problem areas are. So if you identify the time after lunch as being the biggest issue, then you can change the type of appointments or staff more people at that time of day.
It is always good to have backup staffing options. If someone calls in sick or you find you need an extra person at key times of the day, it’s good to have staff who are cross-trained. So train your biller or chiropractic assistant to check in patients and schedule appointments. That way you always have someone to help in a jam and be able to respond to staffing disruptions in an effective way.
While cross-training is important, finding proper balance in pulling other staff is also essential. If you are using a biller or assistant too often (or for too long), other functions may suffer. So don’t use this as a solution in place of setting proper staffing levels.
Although there are things you can do to evaluate your processes and improve task management, it ultimately comes down to people and balance. So ensure that all employees know exactly what their roles are and that the top priority is staying on schedule.
Tracy Bowers has over 30 years of experience in medical billing and practice management. She has worked for both payers and providers and as the head of her own successful billing company. She sold her billing company in 2014 to Kareo, where she now leads a team as a revenue cycle manager. Tracy is a certified professional coder through AAPC and a certified professional practice manager.