When we hear patient complaints about long wait times to see their doctors, and we usually envision them sitting in the reception area, thumbing through magazines, repeatedly checking their watches, and looking hopefully toward the door to the back office area each time it opens hoping that it might be their turn. Solving wait time problems, however, requires focusing attention not on the reception area, but rather on the back office where the bottlenecks that cause delays occur. Becoming more efficient by reducing exam room turnover time has the potential to dramatically reduce wait times in your practice, which will lead to higher rates of patient satisfaction, not to mention increased profitability. Here are questions to consider on this topic.
Do you have enough staff?
Moving patients in and out of rooms and tidying and cleaning rooms between patients requires people power. Every practice wants to keep their overhead under control, and it’s well known that staffing is a major budget line item, but adding just one additional medical assistant whose primary focus is room turnover could turn out to be the best investment your practice will make this year.
Do you have enough exam rooms?
The worst possible scenario in a practice aiming for profitability is having doctors and other providers standing around waiting to enter their next exam room. If you would benefit from an additional exam room and it’s not feasible to equip one in your existing space or move to a larger office suite, consider setting up a private area where medical assistants could, at minimum, weigh patients and take vital signs before they’re escorted into the prime real estate that is an exam room.
Are your exam rooms efficient?
Each of your exam rooms should be arranged and organized in exactly the same way. In an ideal world, doctors and other healthcare providers in your practice should be not able to tell without looking at the number on the outside of the door which room they’re in. If they’re using valuable face-to-face patient encounter time looking for commonly used supplies and equipment in a particular room, that’s a problem. Just one minute wasted during each office visit, assuming you have a doctor seeing twenty patients a day, equals 20 minutes which is enough time to see one additional patient each day.
Are your exam rooms marked for traffic control?
Proper signage in hallways and on exam room doors, coupled with a flag or light system so that everyone knows what needs to happen in each room next (patient ready for doctor, nurse needed to give discharge instructions, etc.) will help keep traffic in the back office flowing smoothly. Doctors and support staff should be able to tell at a glance where they’re needed next, and patients should be able to easily find their way to exam rooms and then back out to the front office area without a personal escort during each and every visit.
Do you have an interruption policy?
One very costly use of exam room time is having a patient sitting around waiting for a doctor who has been interrupted for a phone call to return to finish an office visit. Ask each of your doctors and other providers to come up with a short (preferably very short) list of people they’re willing to be interrupted for during direct patient care time, and then stick to that list.
If your answer is “no” to one or more of these questions, you have opportunities to improve your office efficiency, profitability, and patient satisfaction. If your answer is “yes” to every question, then congratulations, because you are already using your most valuable space wisely.
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