Put Patients First When Designing Your Practice

January 10, 2018

When it comes to designing your practice, be sure to design with the patient, and then the doctor, in mind.

I thought it a good idea at the beginning of the year to reflect on office operations – from the perspective of the patient! Yes, we exist because there are patients in need of our services. The leading question – have you looked at your office flow from the perspective of what works for the doctor or how can you better meet the needs of the patient?

Let's start with the new patient who is told to come in 20 to 30 minutes early to complete (or verify if entered online) new patient information. This set of documents asks the same question on three or four of the forms, redundant and frustrating. I complete my paperwork and my appointed time arrives, it is another 20 to 30 minute wait until I am called back to the exam room. Two points here – look at your intake packet and look at your patient cycle to make it more efficient.

Along that line, the doctor who says I will start at 9am but NEVER gets to the office until 9:20 and is upset if all three exam rooms are not fully occupied with triaged patients. That makes the clinic session run behind putting pressure on the team and upsetting patients unnecessarily. Focus on customer service.

How about shutting down the phone system from noon to 1pm so staff can have lunch? Possible new patients are at lunch at the same time, getting a message or answering service does not make me want to set up that appointment

How about the patient that calls with their perspective of an emergency need to see the doctor that day and is told no one is available until tomorrow morning? Sending patients to the emergency room is a black mark in today's value-based world. Understandable if you are a solo practice, but if you're more than one provider, there must be a way to either screen the patient to determine if it is an emergency, if not offer advice and relieve their apprehensions.

These may or may not be good examples, but the key point is for you to challenge yourself and your team. What were the good and bad things about your last visit to your doctor? What didyour doctor do better than you? What do you do better than them?

· Is your scheduling schema set up for the doctor or for the patient? Hospital rounds, etc. do have a place but so does the demand for patients. When do you get the most requests for appointment time from patients? Are you tracking that? Or, forcing them to come when it's convenient for you?

· Does the medical assistant have to ask the same questions that the provider asks? Can there be a more efficient, thorough, and trusting (between MA and provider) relationship to eliminate redundancy?

· Back to new patient intake, why have the patient complete data and then ask the same questions in person? One way or the other will work better. I understand that some patients may change their story or forget to mention something, but there has to be a better way.

· Do you communicate with the patients who are waiting to let them know something has happened to delay the provider? Some practices are now posting wait times in the reception area to let everyone know if running on time or behind schedule.

· How do you inform the patient of your office procedures from collection at time of visit to refills to what happens if running late? Paper or electronic – communicate with me as a patient so I know and can better understand what is happening with regard to my care.

Today's patient can be very demanding. A good training program for staff on engagement and establishing parameters on how to respond would be a plus to meet this type of situation.

I could go on and on with other examples and bet that you would agree or disagree with any statements made. Hopefully what you have gotten out of reading this is to recognize that the real need is to design your office around the patient rather than around the doctor! What better time to do this than NOW?