Access & Accessibility: Meeting Patient Expectations
Of the many issues facing private practices, patient access—and we speak of course of that discrepancy between a patient’s initial appointment request, and the next available appointment—has become quite a large one. It may seem unjust and unfair for a physician, thinking of all the times a patient had cancelled at the last minute, or simply failed to show up, throwing the entire schedule out of sorts. They don’t get a point deducted for each time they fail to accommodate their doctor. You, however, do feel the sting of patient dissatisfaction when you are labeled “inaccessible.”
Your reputation isn’t the only thing at stake here. If you are unable to schedule and treat your patients at the desired time (which is to say, at their agreed upon time), it can delay a crucial diagnosis, disrupt treatment plans, or even prompt your patients to seek more, we’ll say, “unorthodox” avenues for treatment on their own time. Here we’ll discuss several ways to increase accessibility, avoid a dissatisfied, or self-diagnosing patient base, and ensure that your practice flourishes going forward.
This term sounds awful and frightening, but it entails a set of practical measures that can tell you not only if your practice has a problem, but how to go about fixing it. Have your schedulers examine the daily appointment log over a period of about a month. Tracking the variations in the first few appointments over this time may give insight into certain things, such as the number of cancellations, re-scheduled/bumped appointments, and the most common days on which these occur. Charting these may also reveal the most common “offenders”—those patients who always seem to flake out on appointments, or the others who stubbornly demand a specific time.
Carefully track patient denials. There may be consistencies in the reasons these patients can never seem to be seen. Maybe the fault rests on someone other than them. Are there specific days you, or certain members of your staff like to take off? SNAFUs in scheduling, and therefore accessibility, may result from this as well. Next comes the meeting with your staff. It is very important to include all of them in this, especially the schedulers, and probe them on their findings.
Certain patient demands will be understandable, and unavoidable. Others, after careful examination, will not be. It is important to try your best to keep a flexible scheduling “window” open each morning to accommodate potential emergencies. Beyond this, your staff must be able to educate each patient on just what an “emergency” is. A kind of checklist must be developed to determine this, as well as a tentative “script” to pull from when addressing patients, both over the phone, and in person.
“Are you sure you can’t make it?” How often has this simple question inspired you to reevaluate your decision not to come into work on a Saturday, or to stay in on a Saturday night? When faced with imminent patient cancellations or reschedules, staff members (in this case, those manning the phones) should be armed with the correct verbiage to inquire as to why, and persuade patients to come in at their appointed time.
Embracing digital solutions
Which you should be doing in other areas of your practice, anyway. Your practice has a spiffy, professional website, right?
If your practice is staffed for it, implement an icon on your website that patients can click to speak to a representative. This allows them to contact an actual employee who can answer administrative questions. Provide an online calendar that sends appointment notification pushes to a patient’s e-mail, or smart phone, so they do not miss their visits.
While still new, there are now digital platforms for doctors to communicate with, and check up on patients. “Digital Health” is fast becoming a game-changer in the field. Communicating with patients on these specialized platforms, or through certain social media channels increases a physician’s presence, ensures their accessibility, and can strengthen the doctor-patient relationship. Of course, the responsibility rests on physicians to educate themselves on the evolving standards of professionalism, patient confidentiality, and privacy inherent in this new medium.
Ease of access to care in incredibly important for the success of independent practices going forward. Physicians must not fight the demands of patients seeking care on their terms. Rather, they must flow with them by embracing research, technology, and adaptability.
| HCRC Staffing | Brian@hcrcstaffing.com | www.hcrcstaffing.com
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