Cancellations in Bad Weather? You May Need A Specialist to Help Fill Open Slots

Cancellations in bad weather? You may need a specialist to help you fill open slots. If you work in operations in a healthcare provider organization, then you know how bad it can get when the weather gets bad. Patients cancel or need to be rescheduled. Holes in the calendar have to be filled to avoid costly downtime. The phones are jammed and you might also be short-staffed.

Here’s how an actual medical practice in Baltimore is responding with technology:

We are a busy practice, and patients expect to wait at least three to four weeks for an appointment in the best of circumstances. Like any practice in our area, we get cancellations as soon as there is a hint of bad weather. But we hardly get stuck with any open slots. At least not for very long. As soon as someone cancels, the opening is posted on Everseat, and usually not more than a minute or two later an existing patient or even a new patient clicks on it to indicate they want to take that appointment. Our office is notified in real time and can determine in a matter of minutes whether it makes sense to fit them into that slot or to accommodate them in some other way. How do these patients know our available appointments are posted on Everseat? When they call us or visit the office, we tell them about it. We say that they can opt in for digital notification of available open slots. At any given time, we have dozens of people who have chosen to be pinged on their smartphone when something convenient for their specifications opens up. When they get in, they feel like they won the appointment lottery. And we are delighted because we are here to take care of our patients and there is nothing we would rather be doing.IMG_0781_2

Here are a few thoughts to consider as you cope with weather chaos or think about what you will do when it next comes your way:

  •    When patients start canceling, you need an efficient and reliable way to replace them with the right patients in the right slots.
  •    Using the phones to find the right patients on short notice is not easy. And it’s probably not working. At least not well enough.
  •    If your practice is closing due to weather, re-booking all of those patients will tie up your staff and your phones for hours.
  •    As great as your EHR or other tools are for many things, for this job you need technology, strategy and expertise
  •    With Everseat, you can automate the entire process. You will get more done in less time; for the practice and the patients.

Everseat partners with health and wellness provider organizations of all sizes across the United States. We want to work with you. Email us at providers@everseat.com. We can have you up and ready before bad weather hits again.

Better Slot Utilization is Easier With New Technology. Do it Right. Now.

Tens of millions of people catch as many as a billion colds every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So curing the cold would be quite a breakthrough – and scientists say that day may come sooner than you think. Of course, while we are waiting, we know that millions of people will be trying to schedule appointments with their doctors, unsure whether or not the symptoms they are battling are actually something worse. And millions of doctors have unfilled appointment slots that they struggle to fill in an efficient manner. Too often, nobody wins!

So when is the big breakthrough coming in the seemingly simple task of making an appointment to see a doctor?

The good news is that the answer is right now. More and more healthcare providers are using modern methods of making convenient appointment times available to their patients who may be in the throes of “sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching” and – you get the idea.

According to a recent industry report, “by the end of 2019, 66% of US health systems will offer digital self-scheduling and 64% of patients will book appointments digitally”. The study predicted that by 2019, 100% of the 100 largest healthcare delivery systems in the U.S. would offer digital scheduling to patients.

Why are caregivers finally taking this leap forward? A few reasons.

We have the technology! The technology is available to move beyond the 1876 innovation of Alexander Graham Bell. Ring, ring! We can now harness the power of the internet to efficiently connect us all with what we need, when we need it. Simply put, it works. Patients don’t want, nor do they have time, to be on the phone. An Accenture study found that the average healthcare appointment scheduling call is over 8 minutes and a caller is likely to get transferred during the call 63% of the time. Infuriating. And no longer necessary, much of the time.

Power to the Patients! Patients have demanded this change. A recent survey found that 44 percent would choose a doctor that allows them to schedule appointments online. More patients than ever before are voting with their feet, and either switching doctors if we find it hard to make an appointment; or going to rival urgent care centers and other alternatives.

The Bottom Line is the Bottom Line! Healthcare provider organizations lose significant potential revenue when they fail to fill slots. At a conference in New England where Everseat was present, a prominent hospital executive reported that his institution sees 1500 to 2,000 appointment slots wasted every week. Imagine the lost revenue. Some say digital scheduling will mean “$3.2 billion in value and a competitive boost for health systems” and it comes from filling slots.

In one orthopedics group we work with at Everseat, when you call to schedule an appointment and find yourself on hold, you will hear something like this:

“Thank you for calling. Please know that you do not have to wait on hold to make an appointment. You can hang up right now and go straight to our website because we post many of our upcoming open appointment slots right there, powered by Everseat. With a few clicks, you will be able to select an appointment that works for you, or let us know that you want to be alerted as soon as one opens up.”

Who knew something that seems so simple as going online to point and click on a website or a mobile app would pass as a major breakthrough! But it makes things easier and could actually make us all healthier too. And again, the business case speaks for itself. With cold season coming, these are compelling reasons for change – and nothing to sniff at, if you pardon the pun. For healthcare providers, this is serious business.

Now if getting rid of the common cold were only as easy. Here’s hoping that those researchers figure it out soon.

If you are with a healthcare provider organization and would like to learn more about what Everseat can do to maximize schedule utilization for you, please see our website at www.everseat.com for videos and more information. If you are someone who just wants to make getting appointments easier – download the Everseat app and follow the directions right to your next doctor’s visit. Thank you.

Top 5 Inefficiencies in Hospital Operations

Top 5 Inefficiencies in Hospital Operations

In the face of sweeping changes to care delivery due to the Affordable Care Act, concerns over hospital efficiency and access to services are unsurprising. Indeed, though more Americans are insured today than ever before, over 20% report that nonfinancial barriers have led to “unmet needs or delayed care,” with accessibility to hospitals cited as one of the primary reasons. That’s despite the fact that admissions are, in fact, continuing to go down.

So, what’s going on here? The answer is complicated.

Shortage of clinicians
The dearth of primary care doctors and nurses was anticipated, and solutions have been suggested and tested, including the greater use of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to handle lower-level care decisions. But by some estimates, the shortage will become even more pronounced in the next five years — upwards of 20,000 missing primary care providers by 2020, and as many as 90,000 by 2025.

With 16.4 million newly insured and sometimes chronically ill patients now covered under Obamacare, bottlenecks of quite sick people are likely to continue to occur in hospitals across the country. And a clinician shortage affects more than just efficiency. For obvious reasons, well-staffed hospital departments see lower patient mortality rates and higher care quality scores, too.

Poorly-managed patient flow
For over a decade, smooth patient flow has been recognized as one of the most critical factors in preventing overcrowding, delays in care delivery, and maintaining efficiency in hospital settings. Yet data shows that hospitals, particularly emergency departments, remain overcrowded and marked by lengthy average wait times. Part of this is certainly attributable to the ongoing provider shortage.

Lengthy hospital stays, or delayed discharges
Whether because patients aren’t being discharged as soon as they can be, hospital inpatients are sicker than ever before, or planning and coordination among specialists is poor, the length of the average hospital stay has been gradually increasing, standing in 2015 at just under five days. These longer stays aren’t just costly, running between about $1,800 and $2,300 patient per day — they also cost hospitals beds, resulting in fewer spots for inbound patients.

High readmission rates
Despite the provisions of the ACA’s Hospital Readmission Reduction Program, which implements Medicare payment reductions for hospitals with too many readmissions, the number of hospitals being penalized for 30-day readmissions were higher in 2015 than in prior years.  What’s causing this “u-turn” or “revolving door” syndrome? According to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, avoidable readmissions often occur because inpatient care quality and care coordination is poor.

Poor communication
At the root of poor patient flow, lengthy stays, and high readmission rates may well be inefficient communication among care teams. A survey from the Ponemon Institute of more than 400 providers found that poor communication is costing upwards of $11 billion industry-wide. What is causing communication breakdowns? Some point to shortcomings in or total lack of technology — inadequate pagers or wireless connectivity, for instance.

Others blame cumbersome processes, like those around patient admissions and transfers. The same Ponemon survey revealed, for example, that more than half of the amount of time required for admitting one patient (51 minutes) was wasted on communication inefficiencies. And it’s not just communication between doctors, nurses, and other medical staff that’s affecting the bottom line. Poor communication between patients and providers has been shown to lead to costly readmissions.

In the face of a multifaceted problem, where do solutions lie?  One option may be found in focusing on the “handful” of conditions that are the costliest in terms of time and money to treat, the top five being septicemia, osteoarthritis, complication of device implant or graft, newborn infants, and acute myocardial infarction. Scheduling optimization, including the use of better tools to help schedule outpatient procedures and manage patient flow from department to department, presents another avenue of improvement. Regardless, options would be best sought quickly given the number of newly insured patients sure to enter the market in years to come.

To learn more about models of care efficiency and tools that can help improve care delivery, contact Everseat.

ES_BlogBadge2

Understand the Challenges Facing Your Front Desk Staff

Understand the Challenges Facing Your Front Desk Staff

Your front desk staff: they’re the face of your practice to every patient who walks through the door or calls your phone number. They are the front lines, responsible for everything from greeting patients to managing patient flow to collecting copayments.

The performance of front desk staff directly affects your ability to retain patients — and thus your bottom line, according to practice management expert Elizabeth Woodcock. Yet they’re often among the most overlooked employees in a practice.

It may be an overstatement to say that the ability of your front desk staff to maintain an efficient, frictionless, and welcoming waiting room experience will make or break your practice, but maybe not by much. Indeed, regardless of a patient’s relationship with their doctor, if the front office staff is unpleasant to deal with, that could be one reason why they may consider changing practices.

You’re probably already aware of some of the more obvious challenges faced by your front desk staff — managing inbound phone calls, scheduling, and greeting patients — but your staff are also dealing with issues that you may not have considered. What else are they facing?

Managing patient emotions
A study in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that a “significant portion” of front desk staff’s work involved managing patients’ and families’ emotions, ranging from “confirming a prescription with an angry patient, to congratulating a new mother, to consoling a man whose wife had just died, to helping a mentally ill patient make an appointment.”

Handling call volume and maintaining phone etiquette
Your front desk handles dozens (maybe more than 100) calls a day, and it’s impossible to know how time-consuming an individual call will be. A patient may be calling to confirm the time of an appointment (a less than five-minute call), update their insurance information, or reschedule an appointment. Patients also ask questions about their doctor’s instructions, which may not be something the front desk can answer — but those staff still have to field the calls.

Much has been written (and many phone system solutions developed) to help practices manage their incoming calls and maintain exceptional phone etiquette. Using a patient portal can help significantly reduce call volume by enabling patients to get many of their questions answered online. But few practices have robustly embraced portals. Another way to temper call volume is to offer patients other ways to book, reschedule, or cancel appointments (i.e. an online appointment system or scheduling app).

Managing patient wait times and patient flow
It’s simple: patients hate waiting to see the doctor. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, long waits were among the top 10 gripes that patients have about their doctors. Managing that frustration isn’t so simple.

That’s because it’s not just patient frustration over wait times that receptionists must balance — it’s the needs of the doctors who are juggling increasingly packed schedules and who need help choreographing the flow of patients from the waiting room to the exam room. From using techniques like keeping waiting room patients informed about delays to referring to “scripts” that help guide service during common challenging patient scenarios, receptionists are constantly on their toes keeping patients calm and balancing the flow of traffic somewhere between a trickle and a tsunami.

Complaint resolution
Receptionists are responsible, at least in the immediate, for fielding and responding to complaints about issues ranging from long hold times to the quality of care they’ve received. Balancing empathy for the patient’s situation and determining how best to address it is a drain on energy and time, no matter how experienced a receptionist may be.

In sum, your front desk staff are the unsung heroes of your practice, and they’re key to maintaining efficiency and productivity as well as excellent patient relationships. Don’t forget to spend time acknowledging and evaluating the challenges they face. The effort you spend managing your front desk will pay off handsomely.

For more information about how to make life easier for your receptionists and other front office staff by streamlining the appointment booking process and more, contact Everseat today.

ES_BlogBadge2