Bringing Southern Hospitality to Your Physician Practice: Building the Right Schedule

I love the holidays, because we get to see distant family that we don’t see that often.  But it never fails, being in healthcare I get to hear all the good and the bad from family about their doctor.

2015 holidays were no different. Mr. Style’s aunt pulled me aside and tells me she has concluded she has a great doctor because:

  1. she can’t get in to see him for 2 months
  2. when she does get an appointment, she waits at least an hour.

You would think that he was Ralph Lauren making her a dress for the Emmy’s.  And I run across the same sentiment frequently.  The idea that my doctor is better because he is “in demand” is so foreign to me, as a healthcare professional. Physician practices are tasked with treating sick patients and the waits and scheduling challenges are not an achievement to be proud of – rather it is a problem in our very broken healthcare system.

Fixing this isn’t rocket science.  It is simply a matter as administrators and practice managers of changing the way we view our physicians’ schedule and panel.

  1. Is your PCP Panel Size appropriate? If you can’t get in a new patient in the next month and your provider isn’t taking a vacation in the next month, you probably need to cap his/her panel. (If your provider has recently cut down on the amount of time they are seeing patients – look for patients that might be willing to switch to a new provider. For example, maybe they came in for a sick visit and really liked the provider they saw – ask if they would consider switching).
  2. Make sure your team is helping providers see patients and not doing things someone else could. For example, diabetic foot exams can be given to a CMA with training.  Your CMAs can review prescription requests to ensure they are set up correctly for the provider.  Having your provider take a few minutes to review the schedule with the CMA before the day starts is a great way to keep them on schedule and to be prepared for the patient.
  3. Build your template. Without doing a full consult, I can’t tell you the perfect template for you. What I can tell you: patients are people who don’t want to wait in your waiting room or exam rooms for long periods of time.  To fix this, simply:
    1. Do a time study with each provider. A simple spreadsheet – where you put the type of appointment, time scheduled, time arrived, time brought back, time MA/LPN left room, time provider entered, time provider exited, and time patient left)
    2. Use this to say Dr. X needs 30 minutes instead of 20 or if it is just certain patients that always need more time (document that in your scheduling system or just make a list of them). Give the providers the time they need– there is nothing wrong with having  different times for different providers.
  4. Bill for the time they spend. There are wonderful resources out there about billing evaluation and management codes based on time and how to document that.  Instead of seeing one more patient, instead bill for what you are doing.  For example, tobacco counseling is its own reimbursable code that you can add to a non-wellness visit.  Discussing weight loss when an obese patient is there for joint pain – bill it, it should have its own reimbursable code.

New year’s resolution: Let’s change the idea that good doctors make you wait.  Imagine what an impact your practice will have if doctors actually see your patients when they need you.

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