Introducing our Author
We had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth Woodcock, MBA, FACMPE, CPC, a professional in medical practice management. She is also a recent co-author with Deborah Walker Keegan, PhD, FACMPE of the book, Patient Access: Tools and Strategies of the Medical Practice. In this piece they address the critical aspects of patient access and the implications it has on a medical practice. During our conversation with her, we elaborated upon some topics that she felt were especially important for understanding and managing day to day operations.
Fundamentals of Patient Access
For this article we will be referring to patient access exclusively in an ambulatory setting. More specifically, a provider’s office or clinic and the components involved for comprehensive patient care. Woodcock stated there are three main pillars that access revolves around: telephone handling, schedule optimization, and the business operations. At the base of all the complexity is a simple economics concept, supply and demand. We must take the supply of time and availability from the providers and evaluate it against the demand of patients seeking appointments and care. While this principle is at the root of all strategy and prioritization, motives can evolve to focus on different approaches to care. Woodcock provided an example that a clinic she used to work for had little concern for scheduling optimization or some aspects of the business operations. They were strictly there to see patients. In today’s world, there is a large push for enhancing the patient’s experience and giving them power to dictate how they receive care.
First Impressions Really Do Matter
We all know that putting our best foot forward can often leave a lasting impression. One area that is highly influential but not always addressed, over the phone conversations. This can often be the first point of contact from a patient with this clinic or someone that is needing some additional support. While you may think there isn’t as much importance in a phone call versus in-person communication, Woodcock feels differently. She said that patients can feel your demeanor even through the phone. One tip she has given is placing a mirror in front of you when making phone calls. It is an easy reminder to reflect upon yourself and see if you are approaching the conversation in a positive manner. She also advocates for scripting. Having a professional and thorough greeting every time an associate answers the phone can create a sense of comfort for whoever is on the line.
Have you ever been put on hold when calling your provider?
One of the three pillars previously mentioned was telephone handling. A phone call to your provider’s office requires a synchronous communication between you and that office. If any of you have been through a day in the clinic, you know how difficult this can be. With the fluctuations in number of calls it is nearly impossible to predict and allocate adequate resources. A light at the end of the tunnel however, are the increases in technology advocating for more self-care. With patient portals and online scheduling, individuals are able to take some matters into their own hands and in turn reduce call volume. This will not remove the demand for phones, but rather supplement certain areas.
How We Can Apply These Concepts
Woodcock gave some great insight into evaluating and solving for inefficiencies in a clinic. One example was handling callbacks for patients when a clinic is unable to take their call. While it may seem appropriate for a clinic to guarantee a callback within 48 hours, this may not appeal to the patient. In this case they may call back several times before the staff had planned on reaching back out. This creates much more work than merely placing a single callback. In instances like these it is crucial to begin tracking information. Whether it is callbacks or any other issue, something as basic as writing it down is a step in the right direction. By documenting these occurrences, you are actually collecting data. This data can then be analyzed to better understand the needs of the patients. If 30% of the calls coming in are around pre-operative instructions, this may be an opportunity to enhance patient education and actually improve two processes at once. Understanding these experiences from professionals all across healthcare will help to create more efficient practices and ultimately enrich our patient’s access to care.