Efficient practices generally have one primary focus: making sure their chief revenue-producing source— the physician—sees as many patients as his/her professional style allows. To facilitate this, all practice processes and systems need to be as efficient as possible and always viewed relative to how they contribute to making the best use of physician time and abilities.
Ahead are commonly suggested tips by consultants when helping practices increase efficiency so it's possible to see more patients on a daily basis. Each suggestion focuses on optimizing physician time and boosting practice productivity by improving efficiency in processes related to the patient visit.
Restructure schedule. Practices often have difficulty adhering to standard schedules that utilize 15- or 20-minute time slots for all appointments. It's easy to see why when one considers that some appointments take five minutes and others take 30. Restructuring schedule templates to reflect appointment-time slots of differing time lengths can help. Evaluate all visit types and assign each to one of three appointment categories linked to a specific amount of time (e.g., brief—five minutes; intermediate—15 minutes; and long—30 minutes). The categories can be interspersed over each hour.
If your practice has accurately estimated the time required for each appointment type, you will find that the efficiency gained allows the practice to stick to a schedule and also see more patients per day. The accompanying table (below) illustrates how practices might classify some of their appointments to work within this schedule model.
Utilize all providers. An efficient practice trains and utilizes its nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants (PAs), and nurses to assist with procedures that do not require a physician's attendance. This allows valuable physician time to be dedicated to patients who require a doctor's care. Try employing a parallel nursing schedule in order to support this practice model. Appointments typically seen on a nursing schedule include suture removals, topical numbing cream applications, and routine follow-up visits. A nursing schedule helps extend the physician's availability to other patients and increases overall efficiency and productivity.
Feed ancillary revenue streams. A recent aesthetics benchmark shows an increasing trend toward diversifying practice revenue streams via utilizing ancillary revenue-generators like aestheticians and cosmetic providers. Introduce staff members filling one or both of these roles to patients who want to discuss cosmetic concerns outside of the reason for their original appointment. This not only ensures that the physician stays on schedule, but it also helps in cross-promoting ancillary services and retail products.
Minimize no-shows. Industry standards suggest that a practice no-show rate should not exceed 5-10 percent. When patients fail to keep appointments, the practice's patient flow and productivity is negatively affected. No-show problems can often be remedied by rewriting protocols that dictate reminder calls be made the night prior to appointments. A confirmation call placed two nights prior to a patient's appointment is far more effective because the patient has more time to prepare for or reschedule the visit.
Also, forgetful patients who are unable to make their appointments often are too embarrassed to admit they aren't coming when they are called the day before. When making confirmation calls, tell the staff to politely remind the patient of the importance of keeping the appointment and being on time.
Have a waitlist. Waitlists are beneficial for busy practices with limited appointment slots. To be more productive and efficient, use a waitlist to fill empty schedule slots resulting from patient cancellations. The appointment scheduler in the practice should manage the waitlist.
Schedule follow-ups at checkout. Follow-up appointments are best scheduled at checkout immediately after patients are seen. This is especially wise for those with ongoing treatment regimens. Explain to patients that making an appointment at checkout eliminates an unnecessary scheduling call later and provides them with the consistency and timeliness required to ensure the highest quality of care and best possible outcome. Practices that find it increasingly difficult to book return patients in a timely manner can train patients to schedule their next treatment before they leave.
Promote and mine data. Run promotions during slower times of the year. It does not make sense to run a promotion during a month when the practice is completely booked. Utilize practice management software and a loyalty program database to run targeting reports. These reports will indicate the practice's best opportunities to contact lapsed patients and offer them a personalized invitation for services.
MEET TODAY'S CHALLENGES
As the primary revenue-producing source within a practice, physicians must work efficiently for a practice to thrive in today's dynamic healthcare environment. Taking the time—and applying the requisite resources—to fine-tune processes in an effort to maximize efficiency and boost productivity will help meet today's challenges and take advantage of tomorrow's opportunities.
Beatriz Bailey is a management consultant with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group of Allergan, Inc., a specialty pharmaceuti- cal company based in Irvine, California. Mrs. Bailey consults with dermatology and plastic surgery practices in the areas of financial analysis, practice valuations, human resource issues, internal and external marketing, leadership training and team building, sales training, compensation, and cosmetic practice develop- ment. She has more than 10 years of consulting, sales, and training experience in the research, automotive, and health care industries. Prior to joining the Allergan Practice Consulting Group, Mrs. Bailey served in a variety of business development roles. She acted as a senior busi- ness development manager in Allergan's Facial Aesthetics Division for four years, where she worked closely with customers to grow their practices