Ten surefire ways to improve patient flow and get more "touch time" with your patients.
Now I've heard everything: A practice manager recently told me about a patient who ordered a pizza for delivery to his exam room. The patient was waiting for such a long time for the doctor to see him that he ordered, received, and ate the pizza before the physician walked in the door. We laughed about it, but the patient assuredly was not equally amused.
The story highlighted the need for this physician's office to improve its operations.
Even if they're not ordering pizza, the old adage, "I love my doctor, but I hate his office," may roll off many of your patients' tongues.
Indeed, your office may be one of many in need of help in reducing the lengthy waits and delays that frustrate patients and plague office efficiency. These delays contrast with the "touch time" patients want and need with their care team. It's this time with patients that probably attracted you to medicine in the first place, and it's this time that is compensated by our reimbursement system, creating a merging of goals for all parties involved.
Few would argue that there is plenty of room for improvement. Your office can take steps to ensure that your patients have a positive experience.
Consultant Deborah Walker Keegan, PhD, advises starting with your patients. "The key to success is to design your patient flow process around the patient - not the physician or the nurse," she says. "The patient flow process should be patient-centered and physician-led in order to reduce cycle time and meet or exceed patient expectations."
When applied to a physician office, "cycle time," an engineering term, refers to the time from when the patient enters the office until her exit. Although many office visits can be accomplished in 60 minutes or less, beating this cycle time - or some other specific time benchmark - should not be considered the goal of a cycle time performance improvement initiative. The goal is to make sure that the percentage of time valued by the patient - the touch time - is the highest it can be.
10 Steps to More Touching
To maximize touch time, follow these 10 steps:
If you find yourself walking around apologizing for the wait all day long - or find some empty pizza boxes in your exam rooms - it's time to focus on improving your cycle time. You and your patients will certainly be better for it.
Elizabeth Woodcock, MBA, FACMPE, CPC, is a professional speaker and consultant specializing in practice management, with more than 13 years' experience. She is a Fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives and a Certified Professional Coder. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Physicians Practice.