When Beth G. Hodges, MD, and her husband started a primary care practice in North Carolina, they were some of the only doctors in an underserved area, so retaining patients was easy. But as competition heated up, they began using monthly staff meetings to ferret out what they could do to make the practice more efficient and improve the patient experience. They soon came up with six action items that led to significant improvements:
1. Capitalize on nurses’ capabilities. The practice nurses were enlisted to help patients prioritize their lists of concerns to keep appointments within the scheduled timeframe. They also began performing some pre-exam tests and looking over the daily schedule first thing in the morning to see if they could identify potential bottlenecks and modify them.
2. Improve phone service. The nurses started keeping a daily log of patient calls to identify which had been sufficiently addressed and which needed further follow-up.
3. Offer patient-friendly scheduling. The practice moved to a modified “wave schedule” format that set chronic care appointments well in advance but left room for acute care visits. It also started offering some evening appointments.
4. Stay on top of patient information. The practice staff members found that their electronic health records (EHR) system could help with clinical care by doing things such as generating recall letters and making lists of patients who take certain medications so they know who to contact if those meds are recalled. They also began tracking test orders and results more systematically.
5. Implement clear payment guidelines. To minimize lost revenue, the practice assigned staff members to verify insurance eligibility, copays, and deductibles online prior to patient visits. It also began attaching a sheet to patients’ encounter forms to prompt them to address outstanding balances at check-in.
6. Be responsive to patients’ needs. The practice recruited bilingual nurses and office staff to draw in the area’s Spanish-speaking patients and also updated the business’ website with features like physician bios and downloadable forms for new patients.
Read the full FPM article: "Six Tips for Improving Practice Efficiency and Patient Satisfaction.”
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