Top 5 Tips to Increase Patient Visits

By: Lea Chatham Patient visits have a direct impact on the success of your independent practice. Here are five tips from the experts to put into action.

Being successful and competitive as an independent medical practice means filling that appointment schedule. Here are tips from practice management experts to do just that.

1. Focus on your schedule.

All too often, practices create barriers in their appointment schedule, with slots reserved for certain purposes, or patients being cancelled and rescheduled willy-nilly, according to author and consultant Elizabeth Woodcock. Your scheduler is your director of new business development; develop a schedule with slots for "short" and "long" appointments, easing the ability for him to appoint patients. If "pre-designated" slots are not filled with the intended patient with 72 hours to go, open the slot up to any patient. Remember, physician time is your practice's most precious asset. Accept same-day appointments; overbook the 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. slots to account for no-shows. Most importantly, don't ever bump patients, or they will bump you.

2. Explore patient-focused websites.

The new wave of patient-focused websites that provide pricing information (and even the opportunity to pre-pay in some cases) represents an opportunity for practices to be seen by new prospective patients who are actively shopping for services. Laurie Morgan, senior partner at Capko & Morgan, said there are many models for these new websites: some are being launched as stand-alone start-ups, others are services offered by health plans, and, in some cases, even banks are getting in on the action. So it's important for practices to do a bit of research to find out which services are reaching patients in their local area. Aside from making sure your practice is listed in all of these places and making sure you're visible to any patient who is shopping, you'll want to verify that these sites are displaying updated information about your practice, including confirmation that they are quoting your fees correctly.

3. Don't forget about marketing.

It is difficult to recruit new patients without marketing today, said Audrey McLaughlin, founder of Physicians Practice Experts. It doesn't have to be big, or sales-y, or scary. Simply putting your practice out there and sharing valuable information with potential patients is enough to generate new patients.

4. Schedule ahead.

Physician and consultant Molly Maloof advised to schedule a patient's next appointment at the end of her current one. Dentists do this best, and physicians should do the same.

5. Create "wow" experiences for existing patients.

By creating moments of "wow" in your office, your current patients are more likely to talk to and tell their friends about you and share their experience on social media (the new word of mouth), said consultant John Lynn. Be creative and focus on the patient. A nice office is fine, but something that is personal to the patient can create a much bigger "wow."

One last tip: Every practice should have a recall, or recare, program. Whether you do this manually or use a practice marketing platform to do it, it is one of the more important tools in increasing visits from existing patients. Many preventive care visits are now covered by insurance with no copay or deductible, but patients forget to schedule annual exams, well child visits, and annual vaccines. One quick reminder by phone, e-mail, or text goes a long way to getting patients in for those annual visits.