From the reception desk to the exam room, an efficient patient flow yields higher profits and a better patient experience.
We all look for ways to improve efficiency and patient flow to maximize our time. These can be simple manual processes or automated systems. Here’s what has worked in our office to facilitate smoother patient flow.
BEFORE THE EXAM
Prior to the patient’s visit, we pull insurance authorizations and get up-to-date deductible balances. This saves significant time and also enables us to collect fees for unpaid deductibles, which prevents costly delays in cash flow and billing costs.
Technicians and doctors review the day’s schedule in advance to assure that no one was scheduled incorrectly and to pre-plan specialty tests that we know will be required. This way, our techs can perform the tests if time permits, prior to the doctor seeing the patient.
A routing slip continues to be an asset, despite embracing EMR for all documentation. With it, we can track exam time, dilation time, optical time, where the patient needs to go next, as well as the testing needed. If tests are ordered, the routing slip will dictate where the patient is to go after the test. We also know what kind of follow-up is needed after the exam.
DURING THE EXAM
Each appointment has a designated visit type (an annual comprehensive exam, medical dilation, contact lens progress check, OSD exam, etc.), and each visit type has a protocol for pre-testing. Our encounter forms will differ based on the exam type and the pre-test protocol will be specific for that exam. For an OSD eval, for example, the techs will place the diagnostic dye strips and meibomian gland expressor on the exam desk so it is ready for the doctor to use.
A manual color-coded flag system is used to monitor who is in what room at any time and which patients are waiting to be seen next. Our techs use the flags to reserve rooms when multiple doctors are working so that no one is using too many rooms, which can result in another doctor’s patient having to wait.
We employ a silent paging system to alert our techs when they are needed in the exam rooms. Each room has a panel with buttons that are pre-programmed to send a specific message to all of our techs, and includes the room number and reason for the page. Whichever tech is available will come to the room.
We assign a specific tech for specialty testing only. That tech stays in our pre-test room and does not perform in-room procedures such as history, acuity, etc. That tech only performs OCT, TVF, VEP/ERG, Dark Adapt, Spec Mic, and retinal photography/FAF. This recent change in our clinical assistant duties has dramatically improved efficiency as we try to perform most needed tests on the same day, rather than rescheduling for testing only. The cost to a practice to schedule, remind a patient, deal with possible rescheduling, check-in/check-out, etc. is eliminated and patients appreciate the “same day” service. Also, you can review the test results immediately with the patient or, if time doesn’t allow, follow up with a phone call.
We have a separate tech schedule for visits requiring only tech testing which allows for the doctor’s schedule to be filled with encounters that require their time only.
Ultimately, the doctors and techs must function as a cohesive team with the goal of providing optimum patient care in an efficient manner. I employ excellent techs who care about our practice and the patient care experience. What’s more, they routinely suggest changes in our protocols to make us better.
Glenn S. Corbin is partner/President of Wyomissing Optometric Center in Reading, PA.