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Optimizing exam room and provider time


How you can balance the clinical capacity created by the interplay of room, provider, and patient.

doctor's office illustration

How efficiently is your practice using its exam room space?

A new study shows that most practices answer that question with, “We’re not exactly sure.” In fact, nearly two-thirds of survey respondents lack visibility into exam room utilization and lose significant revenue as a result, according to a recent study by Porter Research.

The findings may not surprise practice managers responsible for maximizing patient throughput and provider schedules. Yet during the COVID-19 pandemic, the practical effects of insufficient insight into room utilization have become increasingly evident. As patient capacity ebbs and flows, we’ve seen how both patient care and practice viability rely on the ability to maximize patient access using existing staff and space.

A 3-piece puzzle: Rooms, providers, patients

When it comes to room management, the problem is not that practices lack visibility completely. Numerous spreadsheets attest to ongoing efforts to track and optimize available space. However, this current method is time-consuming, which forces practice managers to prioritize menial tasks above practicing top-of-license. Further,.the issue is that current room management methods reveal only a limited picture—and it’s a view seen in isolation.

You may know that you have two patients in the building and one exam room equipped with a portable X-ray machine, for example. But how efficient is it to have the patient who doesn’t need an X-ray occupy the room with the machine, while the patient with a suspected fracture waits in the lobby?

The key to effective utilization is to place patients into rooms provisioned with the right equipment to care for them, just when their providers are available to see them. It doesn’t matter whether a practice owns its space or uses space owned by a hospital or health system. Practices require an integrated view that brings together all three fundamental pieces of the optimization puzzle: room attributes and availability, provider schedules, and patient needs.

The first piece necessary to pull the whole picture together is not information about the space itself. Although it may seem counterintuitive, it’s actually the provider schedule that sets the initial framework for the puzzle to take shape. After all, it’s peoplewe put into each room, and cloud-based provider scheduling platforms offer the best and most proactive accounting of where people should be within a clinic, as well as what they should be doing.

For example, let’s say Dr. Smith cancels appointments due to a family emergency. The first system to know that Dr. Smith will be gone is the scheduling system. With room management layered onto a multi-user scheduling platform, the entire practice can then see the impact of Dr. Smith’s absence on exam room availability in real-time, and proactively flow other providers into those spaces. Likewise, as providers add time to their schedules, systems that instantly cross-reference each other can be used to pull wait-listed patients into open appointment spaces faster.

A platform that “tags” room attributes—such as identifying which rooms are open on Wednesdays, for instance, or which ones are equipped with specific tools—offers additional intelligence that ensures providers and patients can access to the proper equipment at the right time. Furthermore, insights about room proximity and provisioning can be used to help level providers’ daily patient loads and minimize their sprints between patients located at opposite ends of the building, making for happier and more satisfied staff.

Patients also see the benefit of room utilization in the form of more valuable time with their provider. The average length of a physician’s visit is about 17 minutes. With more visibility and organization around room management, providers can shift from patient to patient more effectively—ultimately improving patient care and their experience.

Just as important are the strategic benefits practices obtain from analyzing the data and information these scheduling systems produce. With deeper insights and the flexibility to re-configure room management in multiple ways, practices can solve the three-piece puzzle and improve practice functionality through better resource deployment.

The benefits of interconnected insight

Most practices today handle exam room utilization as an independent function, which results in the lack of visibility noted in the Porter Research study. The simple truth is that practice space cannot be managed efficiently in isolation. At the end of the day, what practices really must control is the clinical capacity created by the interplay of room, provider, and patient.

Clinical capacity management is all about striking a happy balance between empty exam rooms that drain potential revenue and overcrowded spaces that frazzle providers and patients. Practices that synchronize provider schedules with exam room availability gain the visibility they require to ensure their spaces generate revenue, their providers feel supported, and their patients get faster access to the care they need. 

About the Author

Rich Miller is the Chief Strategy Officer at QGenda.

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