Improved workflows benefit patients and clinical staff
At healthfinch we are very focused on finding ways to keep doctors and their staff happy. We’ve found that when practices automate, delegate, and simplify routine tasks, they are able to save time, increase staff efficiency, and reduce the turnaround time for routine tasks such as responding to prescription refill requests. Of course, saving time and increasing efficiencies make everyone happier - including your patients!
Patient happiness is critical for practice retention. It can also impact the bottom line for practices that are reimbursed under newer payment models that consider patient satisfaction scores. Excess wait times can definitely lead to dissatisfied patients – especially if you factor in the opportunity cost of waiting.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Managed Care looked at the total opportunity cost for ambulatory care in the US and factored in wait times, travel time, and face-to-face time with clinicians. The researchers then calculated the opportunity cost of office visits based on lost productivity to employers and society.
The combined opportunity cost for all patients for physician visits was a staggering $52 billion in 2010. Furthermore, researchers determined that for every dollar spent in visit reimbursement, an additional 15 cents of patient opportunity cost occurs, and, the average opportunity cost per medical visit was $43.
In terms of time, patients spent an average of 37 minutes traveling to and from each physician visit and 84 minutes in the clinic. Only 20 minutes of the clinic time involved a face-to-face interaction with a physician – meaning the rest of the time was spent on ancillary tasks like paying the bill, filling out paperwork, or, waiting to be seen.
Considering there were a total of 1.034 billion visits to physicians in 2010, collectively patients spent an estimated 2.4 billion hours to receive in-office medical care. As the authors point out, we have an ambulatory health system that has room to improve!
What can practices do to decrease the patient opportunity cost of an office visit? One approach is to increase efficiencies. For example, the authors recommend adopting “appropriate” appointment scheduling practices – presumably to allocate appropriate times based on specific visit types and to avoid over-booking.
Another recommendation is to promote “alternative means of providing care,” such as telemedicine, retail clinics, and work-site clinics. However, we’d also suggest looking at existing practice workflows and making sure clinicians work at the top of his or her license. In other words, physicians should delegate routine and repetitive tasks, such as prescription refills, to non-physician clinicians using standardized, evidence-based protocols.
Practices may also want to consider pre-visit planning to shift certain administrative tasks away from a patient’s scheduled appointment time to ensure more of a patient’s in-office visit is spent in direct provider care. For example, by having patients complete their lab tests before an office visit, the physician and patient can spend their face-to-face time discussing the patient’s health and care objectives, rather than reviewing what tests are due and filling out lab paperwork.
Simple changes in practice workflow have the potential to trim the opportunity cost of in-office medical care for your patients. We see it as an opportunity to make everyone a little happier!