Patient scheduling can be the bane of a medical group’s existence. If scheduling templates are inconsistent and vary by provider, the opportunity to leverage the electronic health record (EHR) technology is minimized, as there tends to be too many variables to ensure that scheduling is efficient and effective.
Previously at SHC, all providers had their own scheduling guidelines and the ability to block their schedules at will. Provider clinic hours varied based on individual preferences, and there were more than 60 different visit types.
Through a provider engagement retreat, providers and staff made a “Same Day Access Pledge” that resulted in the following changes: standardized guidelines per specialty, fewer than 15 visit types, and access to schedule blocks was restricted to the clinical manager and dyad physician site lead.
Aligning the focus around the patient allowed the providers to open their schedule and allow double booking of patients if necessary to meet patient demand. Through this process, we learned providers were open to seeing each other’s patients. We saw increased patient satisfaction and streamlined scheduling. It was a win-win for everyone.
5. Concierge line
Sometimes, leadership assumes that hospital and health system medical groups must have a centralized scheduling system to create the best patient experience. At SHC, we recognized that creating standardization does not necessarily mean centralization, as demonstrated by the creation of a concierge line.
We drafted a “Rings of Defense” detailing how to best address the patient’s request. In the past, if a patient called a clinic but the schedule was full, the patient had to wait. Under this the new model, if the clinic was full, the staff could provide a warm transfer of the patient to a central location where staff, who had other functions, could work with the patient to secure an appointment at another location.
This process required providers to recognize that if the patient couldn’t be seen today, he/she would go to the emergency room, urgent care, or another provider outside of our medical foundation. Instead, by transferring them to the concierge line, we had staff use the EHR to help the patient be seen by another provider in another location. While the service only handled an average of two patients per day, it gave patients the confidence that we could provide them alternative options to be seen quickly.
This level of creativity and innovation has allowed us to achieve our intended outcomes—improved patient access—without spending a lot of money or resources.
In summary, these five actions allowed SHC to recognize that:
- Tracking metrics consistently lead to successful outcomes.
- A team-based care initiative between providers and medical assistants resulted in a highly efficient patient access program.
- A call center with clinical triaging reduced the number of steps and time needed to schedule an appointment.
- Standardized scheduling guidelines decreased scheduling errors and improved patient satisfaction.
- A concierge line provides staff with an extra level of support to ensure that patients’ needs are met.
Michael O’Connell, MHA, FACMPE, FACHE is senior vice president of operations at Stanford Health Care’s University HealthCare Alliance. Previously, Michael worked as a consultant with The Advisory Board Company in Washington, D.C., and in leadership roles for health systems, hospitals, and medical groups throughout the Midwest. He serves as chair of the Medical Group Management Association’s (MGMA) Certification Commission.