4 steps to streamline any healthcare process
If you’re like many healthcare businesses, you’re using outdated systems and organizational practices that might have been adequate originally, but lack the scalability, features and functions for a growing practice in the second decade of the 20th century. And it only takes a few slip-ups during the day to create a costly administrative, financial and patient-experience nightmare for you and your team.
The financial costs of an inefficient office are apparent. If you make your staff stay an hour late, you’ll eat the cost in overtime pay. If are forced to catch up on “paperwork” yourself over nights or weekends, your work/life balance suffers.
You should also consider the difficult-to-calculate costs, such as the patient experience and overall satisfaction. Will patients find a new provider because you made them wait? Will they post poor reviews online or steer their friends and family away from your business?
An efficient workflow doesn’t happen by magic. You have to build it. You have to earn it. It requires an acute understanding of the service you provide, your patients, and your team, as well as a willingness to focus on the details. With honest self-reflection, you can turn chaos into efficiency.
1. Maximize your time
Scaling a healthcare business means treating more patients. Obviously you can’t sneak more hours into the day, so the only way to help more people is to squeeze more appointments into your day.
Don’t underestimate the power of tiny revenue additions to your business. If you typically see 7 patients per day, adding one more to your schedule would increase your revenue by 14%. When you think about it, you probably only need to make small changes to see that 8th patient.
Your operating process shouldn’t solely reside in your head. You need to write it down so you can analyze it critically. Create a map of how a customer flows through your business. Start way at the beginning, before the first phone call. How do they become aware of your business? It might be an online review, a referral for a friend, or your name in a Google search.
Continue to map the process as though you are a patient. Who do they encounter when they walk in the door? What steps do they need to take? How long does each step take? What’s the average time interval between each step? Can any be removed? Would changing your office design help?
Next, look at the processes for each team member. If your receptionist spends an hour at the end of the day sorting the day’s paperwork, how can that task be automated? If the primary healthcare provider spends excess time walking between exam rooms, how can that be eliminated?
Part of streamlining your process means putting the right people in the right positions. You need to delegate as much as possible. The cost of an assistant, administrator or nurse might be less than the additional revenue you can bring in by divorcing yourself from basic tasks. Have your staff perform tasks you could do, but shouldn’t, like setting up rooms, taking vitals and basic information, explaining take-home literature, etc.
2. Pay attention to your accounts receivable
Financially, healthcare providers aren’t having the easiest time. You’re seeing more patients than ever, but your insurance premiums keep rising. On top of that, insurance companies are reimbursing you less for the care you provide.
One of the biggest mistakes healthcare providers make is failing to focus on their accounts. According to a report from McKinsey & Co., up to 35% of healthcare providers’ revenue comes directly from patients (as opposed to insurance). This is true now more than ever, with patients with ever-higher deductibles are paying a greater part of the bill themselves. If you aren’t careful with your billing, you could be losing thousands of dollars per year.
Thoroughly train your staff to bill properly. Whoever (or whatever system) is doing your medical coding must be an expert and capable of identifying all of the correct insurance charges.
Even though your staff aren’t likely to miss consultation or visitation fees, they might not be aware of minor charges, like the cost of a knee brace, the meal plan you devised, or that bottle of vitamins. Missed charges, no matter how small, can add up to big losses at the end of the year.
Create and implement an accounts receivable procedure for you and your team. Everything should run in a streamlined fashion. Ideally, your billing records should be managed electronically and linked to an email tool. The software should send automatic reminders to patients with outstanding bills every two weeks. It should also notify you when bills are critically outstanding (90 days, for instance) so you can take more immediate action.
If your receivables aren’t collected, you’ll fight every day just to tread water. By boosting your cash flow, you can invest in more streamlining practices like automation and staff.
3. Have patients prepare before their visit
Image: Ilmicrofono Oggiono / Flickr
Your patient intake process can be as detailed as you like. Instruct your patients to take care of as many administrative tasks as possible before their appointment day. You want the patient to show up prepared to quickly handle their consultation without any delay.
You can do this in three important ways. (Depending on your business, there may be more.) Always look for ways to help patients prepare for the visit.
1. Have them fill out an intake form
An online patient intake form enables you to email the necessary questions to your patients the moment they make their appointment. Include any information you need on the form to provide high-quality treatment that keeps your schedule running on time.
2. Validate their insurance
Use your intake form to capture the patient’s insurance information so you can validate it before the appointment. If the information is dated, inactive or no longer covers your services, it’s best to inform the patient (and maybe cancel the appointment) before they arrive. Otherwise, the time slot could be lost if the patient can’t pay out-of-pocket for the services rendered.
3. Deliver patient instructions
Depending on the type of care you provide, you may need to provide instructions. For instance, if you require a urine sample for testing, the patient should be instructed to drink something just before the appointment and not use the restroom, otherwise you would have to wait for a sample. Little delays like that can eat into your day and cost revenue.
4. Leverage technology at every opportunity
Presumably your education and experience are the core assets of the business. You shouldn’t be making phone calls to remind patients about their appointments or digging through files. The purpose of software is to automate tasks you could do, but aren’t worth the time and expense of your staff.
There are a million ways to use technology to improve your process. I couldn’t possibly go into all of them, but here are some ideas.
- Adopt an electronic healthcare record system. Rid your office of paper, filing cabinets, and time spent filing, sorting, and searching for documents. Your records should be available at every computer station, through a system that is secure but also allows remote access of authorized team members.
- Install a terminal in a convenient area of your office with access to the EHR and a telephone so staff don’t have to walk to offices. Alternatively, you could give each healthcare provider a tablet with access to your EHRs so they can access and input information on the go.
- Standardize and make employee processes available on a computer. If, for instance, you like your exam room set up in a specific way, create a checklist for your team to follow and electronically initial when the job has been complete.
- Send electronic patient appointment reminders automatically. You should have the ability through your practice-management solution to send reminders by email, text message or pre-recorded phone call. Hopefully you can be patient-friendly and offer a choice to patients as to how they would prefer to be reminded.
- Don’t tolerate poor devices or outdated systems. Yes, new tools will require an investment, but they usually quickly pay for themselves in recovered time. If your computer takes ages to load a file or your record system routinely lags, it’s time to upgrade. And in that process, you can add new capabilities that you’ve been yearning for.
One last point
As you find ways to streamline your healthcare practice and improve efficiency, you should never sacrifice the quality of care. Not only would that be unethical, but patients who are unhappy with your treatment are sure to spread their criticism to other people…not only word of mouth, but online reviews that can last on the internet for seemingly forever. You could do long-term damage to your business and reputation if word gets around that you focus on profits over care, and aren’t very good at it to boot.