From check-in to check-out, private healthcare practices have traditionally faced a mountain of daily administrative work. The front desk team is charged with managing the office and the patients, with a task list that can feel a mile long.
Consider the following: Calling patients to remind them of tomorrow’s appointment. Answering phone calls about everything from schedule changes to billing issues. Inputting patient registration data. Sending faxes to other providers, reviewing and attaching lab results…
Managing these tasks manually can hurt any practice. Missed information can jeopardize patient safety, and rote work can lead to burnout, making it difficult to satisfy and retain staff. The application of technology to practice management not only eases the pressure, but can actually drive productivity.
Using digital tools to execute particular tasks reduces risk and often centralizes information in one accessible place. Using digital tools that automate those tasks is even better, freeing up your team to focus on other work or, more important, focus on their interactions with patients.
Here are three areas where automating practice management tasks can improve your practice workflow, your staff’s day, and your business performance.
1. Scheduling patient appointments
At most practices, this is a manual process of looking for the right slot with the right healthcare provider (while the patient is on the phone), and entering the appointment into an EMR or practice management (PM) system. If you send a confirmation to the patient (via email, for instance), that’s managed separately after the phone call.
A better process moves the effort away from your staff and onto the patient. The first step toward accomplishing this is implementing online scheduling functionality for your practice. This delivers a few benefits:
- Cuts down on incoming phone calls
- Allows staff to manage online appointment requests on their time
- Improves opportunities at booking new patients who find your practice online
Online scheduling also satisfies a clear patient demand. In a 2019 report, 68 percent of patients said they’re more likely to choose a healthcare provider who offers the opportunity to book and change appointments online.
When you introduce automation into the online scheduling process, the advantages are even greater. This occurs when the online scheduling functionality integrates seamlessly with your existing PM or scheduling system, or when it’s already built in.
In those instances, the patient’s online request or booking appears in your scheduling system automatically. The work usually undertaken by the front desk to locate an appropriate appointment slot now moves over to the patient; he or she reviews and selects from the appointment times your practice makes available.
Each morning, or perhaps multiple times a day depending on your patient volume, staff can check appointment requests made online. If your workflow process asks the patient to respond with a confirmation, a good online scheduling system can accommodate that with just a click or two.
2. Sending appointment reminders to patients
One of the most frustrating threats to a practice’s bottom line is the patient no-show. In 2017, the loss of revenue to practices from missed appointments was estimated at $150 billion a year. Let’s make that more tangible by putting it in terms of a single small practice.
If a primary care or specialty practice experiences a no-show rate of 10 percent (some can run as high as 20-30 percent), with two physicians seeing 20 patients a day each, at an average visit rate of $120, that practice is missing out on $2,400 every week.
In one year, accounting for four weeks of time off for each physician, the practice leaves more than $115,000 on the table.
Sending appointment reminders is an imperative to cutting that no-show rate and getting that missed revenue number as low as possible. Unfortunately, the conventional method of a manual phone list is a time-consuming slog for staff. Calls end up in patients’ voicemail, with no return response to the practice and no visibility into scheduling issues and opportunities.
Automated patient appointment reminders create the dual benefit of eliminating work for your staff and getting more patients in the door for their scheduled visits.
One automation option is phone service, with calls automatically going out to each patient in the days leading up to their appointment. This saves time for staff — but the dark void of voicemail is still not addressed.
When you send automated appointment reminders via text message or email instead, you avoid voicemail and give patients the opportunity to confirm their appointment. It’s likely that they will, too: in our 2020 survey research, 67 percent of patients said they prefer text messages when receiving appointment reminders.
Even if patients do not respond to multiple reminders, or respond with a cancellation, you gain an added layer of insight into your scheduling. Staff can plan for a potential no-show or reschedule another patient to fill a known gap.
3. Requesting patient feedback
Unfortunately, most practices don’t have a process in place to request patient feedback — or don’t ask at all. In PatientPop 2019 survey research, only 46 percent of patients said any of their healthcare providers asks about their experiences.
Encouraging your patients to share their thoughts is more than just good customer service. Practices that regularly ask patients about their experience position themselves to earn more online patient reviews, the cornerstone to patient acquisition.
In that 2019 patient survey report, patients who were asked for feedback were 50.5 percent more likely to post an online review of the practice. A solid portfolio of online reviews can make all the difference for prospective patients: When choosing a healthcare provider, 73 percent of patients consider positive reviews to be very or extremely important.
How do you collect patient feedback? It’s as simple as asking your patients. But the only method to ask effectively and efficiently — and receive replies — is to deploy automated patient satisfaction surveys following each visit.
Ideally, the patient receives a short survey from you via text message or email, sent automatically. This capitalizes on the period of time at which their most recent patient experience is fresh in their minds.
This process has a multitude of benefits for your staff and practice:
- Addresses each patient with no extra work for practice staff
- Provides insight into improvements at your practice that could positively affect patient satisfaction
- Avoids the need to ask for feedback in person, an inconsistent (and awkward) approach
- Strengthens the provider-patient connection — lets patients know you’re interested and listening
There are other technologies, with varying degrees of automation, that can save hours for staff while catering to patients and reinforcing your brand. From online patient registration to digital fax (with notifications when new faxes arrive), practice management tech tools and software can eliminate inefficiencies, help satisfy patients, and contribute in significant ways to overall practice business performance.