How to manage post-Covid appointment surge - smartly - MedCity News

During the pandemic, most people put off personal care that they did not consider strictly necessary. Worse, cases of chronic disease have increased during the pandemic: Studies show that millions of us have gained weighttaken on bad habitsdeveloped acute psychological stress and ignored our concerns in everything from cholesterol checks to cancer screenings. If you’re anything like me, we’re still catching up on those post-Covid appointments with my primary care doctor, dermatologist, dentist, etc.

The good news is that we are beginning to re-emerge in the doctor’s office in droves to address these and other critical and ongoing health concerns. The challenge for many supplier groups is managing capacity beyond what they are built for in the face of labor shortages. Unfortunately, it’s not a short-term problem: ‘Health care workers are leaving in droves’, The Atlantic reports, noting that about one in five healthcare workers have left their jobs since the pandemic began. Over the next five years, the United States is expected to face a shortage of more than 3.2 million lower-wage health workersand that’s not even counting the projected shortage of up to 124,000 doctors across the country by 2034.

Keep doctors’ schedules full with the right appointments

For many healthcare organizations struggling with demand growth, provider shortages, overworked staff, and long patient wait times for appointments, addressing some of the underlying issues with patient scheduling and appointment management can go a long way in alleviating these challenges. The key is to ensure that providers’ time is optimized for the best, right appointments on an ongoing basis.

Here are some ways innovative clinics are using smart scheduling technology to maximize physician capacity, ensure physicians are practicing at the highest level of licensure, and optimize physician efficiency.

  • Ensure higher physician utilization by integrating contingencies into appointment booking. Many provider organizations tell us that they regularly lose between 15 and 30 percent of their physician productivity due to unfilled time because they either failed to book enough patients with the right conditions to match physician availability or because they missed scheduled appointments due to non-appearances. Some suppliers simply accept this as the cost of doing business. However, creating dynamic rules to monitor patient populations can help offset this quite dramatically. It helps to know which patients are likely to respond to reminders and requests for confirmations. The same goes for carefully and strategically managed overbooking and waiting lists. Aggregating more patient data, analyzing demand, and carefully building dynamic decision tree automation can dramatically increase the productive use of time to ensure time slots don’t go unused.
  • Deeper incorporation of metrics into clinic planning. Most scheduling systems are set up to view physician time availability as aggregate—ie. not vary by time of day, day of the week, season of the year, geographic location, or most importantly, the doctor’s rules and preferences. However, what we have learned from working with over 50 million unique patient appointments per year is that these factors do make a difference! Intelligent scheduling must adapt to specific rules and physician preferences and also anticipate that a physician is often more likely to quickly book an appointment in a busy central location A versus a rural location B and build different strategies to fill time when the doctor is in location B. Time of day can do a huge difference in patient interest and availability also matching patient preference data with physician rules and preferences allows structuring individual plans and automation rules to maximize bookings in different situations is the key to maximizing physician capacity.
  • Build insight into patient needs and the likely provider services they will need to plan. A patient with hip pain may benefit from a physical therapist or hip surgeon, depending on the clinical features, and sending this patient to the wrong location wastes time and money for everyone. It is also a drain on the consumer experience, which has been shown to correlate with perceived quality of care. Instead, incorporate sorting directly into the planning process. Collect patient data in advance so you know you’ve done everything you can to ensure an office visit is as beneficial as possible for both patient and provider.
  • Save money and add convenience by engaging patients more deeply in the appointment process. Talking to a patient on the phone to set up – and possibly rebook – an appointment can cost $5-8 per clinic, not to mention taking up valuable administrative time that could be used for more valuable activities. Build a digital self-service capability so that your office’s default strategy is for patients to set appointments and reschedule them themselves or using asynchronous chat. Not only does this save organizations money, but it gives patients added flexibility as many prefer to book after hours or late at night or early in the morning when your booking staff may not be available. An added bonus? More and more patients are beginning to demand this kind of self-service technology. A recent KLAS survey found that 67% want the ability to schedule appointments online or through an app, but most healthcare organizations do not have this option.
  • Extend planning across multiple geographies and aggregate data from multiple templates. As insurance payment and industry compliance rules proliferate and the number of physician subspecialties increases, many healthcare providers have used very detailed location-specific appointment setting templates for each physician in their network. That’s fine as far as he’s concerned. But too often there is no visibility into location templates, so managers can’t see if time is available in different locations or in different specialties. Moreover, even when they i can see if time is available, they often do not have the necessary and appropriate administrative rights to initiate or change bookings. A flexible scheduling system with smart rules provides both visibility and access across the organization while following required insurance and compliance regulations as well as the clinician’s personal appointment scheduling preferences. Don’t let your organization become too divided.

For many healthcare groups and providers today, long-term headwinds—staffing shortages, physician burnout, rising costs, lower reimbursements, increased competition, growing demand, consumerism—are front and center, impacting performance and profitability.

For these provider groups, the ability to provide timely, consistent, and convenient access to patients in the outpatient setting has become an increasingly important differentiator. Using cutting-edge scheduling technology to redefine and reimagine the patient experience has proven to be an important way to keep customers happy, run clinics at peak efficiency, and grow business
reputation.

Photo: PixelEmbargo, Getty Images

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