Improve Patient Access to Your Medical Practice

May 21, 2015

You don't need practice advice, software, or seminars to make patients happy and loyal. You just need to be there when they need you. Here's how.

On a recent morning, like pretty much every morning, my e-mail inbox was full of pitches for seminars, webinars, consulting, software, marketing, and handbooks on improving patient engagement, customer service, patient relations, and a host of related treatments for symptoms that can be cured with a smile and a little common sense. Bet yours was, too.

The one thing those digital bromides missed completely is what patients want most - for you to be there when they need you.

Access to care is overwhelmingly the top patient complaint, and desire. If that seems like an impossible wish to fill in your overburdened, rushed, and demanding schedule, you are missing the solution, an opportunity and insurance to preserve your independence.

The old "doc-in-a-box" is now a corporate cookie cutter "NP-in-a-box." The looming threat about how low-cost hospital and chain store mini-clinics will cause everything from patient poaching to relationship dilution to disruption in continuity of care is only seeing a glass as half full without realizing that you own the house that it's in.

You already own the box and you have a built-in advantage: you and your patient base.

Whether or not you decide to put strategies into place to extend your practice's services, at least do these things:

• Always keep a slot or two open each morning and afternoon for patients that need to be seen now; they will be filled or you will run on time, not a bad outcome either way.

• Educate your patients as to what an emergency is, and is not, when you relentlessly promote your new accessibility policy.

• When you say what you will do, do what you say. Virtually every patient is paying out of pocket for your services to one extent or another; most whole dollar. Their expectations have changed accordingly.

Now for the strategies to employ as an extension of your practice:

Strategy 1:"Call Us First!" Whether you use an answering service or forward non-office hour calls to a designee's cell phone, your office should be the first call, e-mail, or text a patient makes (texting is the best option - and a designated phone that is passed on to on-call personnel makes it easy, immediate, and less intrusive).

Strategy 2: Extend office hours. If you are a primary-care provider, you are the most vulnerable, especially if you are in a value-based program. Losing control of downstream dollars is money out of your pocket. Losing patients to other, more convenient providers will be your undoing. It's a new world, and it will be dominated by ease of access to care. Use the first strategy as cover.

Strategy 3: Transform your office into a dual urgent care. Really, this is just an extension of your practice and triage, but you get paid a premium for providing the service, and, your patients will love you.

Obviously, this is just brushing the surface. If you don't know what to do, you can easily find a peer or consultant to help you.

If you don't want to do it, well, you'll be bumping into your patients at the local big-box, pharmacy, or grocery store a lot more frequently. Just look for them at the in-store clinic.

One last thing: promote, promote, promote. The local NP-in-a-box will.