In today’s public arena, knowing that a disgruntled patient can have access to an instant audience of thousands via Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, and other social media, the sensitivity level to patient satisfaction has increased. Not that patient satisfaction has not always been a main concern among physicians but with today’s social media outcries, when a patient leaves the office dissatisfied, chances are lots of people are going to hear about it. However, if a patient leaves with a pleasant experience, the outcome could be positive for your practice.
In an April 2013 study, researchers at Vanguard Communications analyzed 3617 online reviews and noted that 35.3% were about poor customer service. According to a nationally representative survey by ConsumerReports asking over 1,000 patients “What frustrated you most about your doctor?”, among the highest rated complaints were: “Hard to get quick appointments when sick” and “Long wait for doctor in exam or waiting room.” This makes appointment availability top on the list if you are going to continue with a successful ophthalmology practice.
What Can Be Done In Your Practice?
Patient volume drives a favorable practice and personal net income. Therefore, keeping schedules full and patients showing up are two key contributing factors to your successful practice. Finding the balance between an office packed with patients and excellent patient satisfaction can only be accomplished in one way — with effective and efficient practice processes! It all begins with both great scheduling procedures and effective communications which affects patient access to appointments.
Patients experiencing long frustrating waits, physicians frequently running behind schedule and staff overtime are all signs that the existing scheduling system needs re-evaluation. The most efficient way to accomplish this is to solicit the experts from an outside source to come in for evaluation, analysis, and implementation of necessary changes.
Revise and/or Adjust Your Scheduling Templates
The average benchmark for ophthalmology is that at least 20% of your patient load be new patients and 80% be established ones. The benchmark for average days for patient appointments for “best performing ophthalmology” is 5-7 working days for new patients and 10-15 working days for established patients. If it is taking weeks to schedule a new patient appointment or one from a referring physician, you need to quickly consider making some scheduling adjustments. Here are some possible reasons that may be causing your scheduling issues:
- Many practices fail to have a designated person to handle the provider’s patient templates.
- Too many staff members have security privileges to change or block the templates. There are no controls in place to prevent blocking or overbooking the schedules. Providers are able to go to any staff member to implement changes to their schedule.
- Patient schedules are only open a few months into the future, preventing patients from making their return appointments at check-out or future appointment via phone.
- Schedules do not allow for referral patients and emergencies without overbooking the schedules. This increases the patient waiting time with resulting negative customer satisfaction. It also creates poor relationships with referral providers.
- Patient schedules are not consistently monitored to assess provider access – how far out are the providers fully booked? Providers are not kept informed of the waiting time for a patient to obtain an appointment with them.
- Appointment availability benchmarks are not established for the practice and/or not monitored and revised as needed.
Depending on the size of your practice, one very easy and very important solution to all these issues is to appoint an assigned employee or employees to administer the patient templates along with one or two fully trained back-up staff. The responsibilities would be to create and manage the templates, make changes, block schedules, handle emergency and add-on patients. No other staff within the practice should share this responsibility and security level. Hold designated staff accountable for working together when managing the provider schedules – if potential scheduling conflicts occur, the provider should be consulted.
How Full Should Your Future Schedules Be?
- 0-30 days: 99% full with appointments, excluding blocked schedule
- 31-60 days: 90% full
- 61-90 days: 80% full
- 3-6 months: 75% full
- 6-9 months: 60% full
- 9-12 months: 60% full
How do you ensure and maintain a capacity schedule without double booking the appointment slots and still allow access to new patients from a referral source? First, the templates should be open for a minimum of two years. Second, schedule ALL return appointments at checkout. This will fill future schedules in a controlled manner. Third, ensure all staff members of the entire practice are made aware of provider scheduling changes.
Build a Supportive Culture
All the benchmarking and analysis in the world cannot achieve your goals without the entire staff being on-board. There must be a willingness to embrace change, communicate, self-evaluate, and spread mutual respect and trust among one another in order to build a supportive culture in the office. If this is accomplished, then you are more likely to see an increase in efficiencies, improve patient wait times, provide excellent quality of care and see a favorable bottom line.