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.

Fast Care Nation: Is Convenience King in Healthcare?

Fast Care Nation: Is Convenience King in Healthcare?

Now more than ever, patients expect and covet convenience from their healthcare providers, alongside quality of care and privacy. This is especially true among younger patients, who have become accustomed to on-demand access to all kinds of goods and services, thanks to web platforms ranging from Amazon.com to Open Table. In fact, patients under 40 are almost 50 percent more likely to not even have an ongoing relationship with a primary-care physician, relying almost exclusively on walk-in clinics and other nontraditional modes of primary-care delivery.

Is the focus on convenience good for patients? That depends on many factors. But the phenomenon is here to stay. And many hospitals and practices are coming to understand that inconvenient scheduling is increasingly a competitive challenge. Yet what many don’t realize is that it is also a factor in whether your existing patients will even show up for their scheduled appointments. Truth be told, I have no-showed at my own doctor’s office more than once. A simple phone call would have been nice, and I am not proud of being so inconsiderate. My experience and a little data tells me that I am not alone. One survey of patients who skipped their appointments at a large genetics practice, for example, found that “too busy” and “forgot” were the two most-common reasons given. And the longer patients have to wait for an appointment, the more likely they are to miss it.

Why is convenience rising in importance for patients? And what can you do to make your practice more accessible?

Walk-in clinics are becoming more common
They’re springing up everywhere: retail clinics associated inside big box stores and in freestanding pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. And there are more to come: big retail pharmacies are investing more heavily in their retail clinic business, spurred by lessening profitability in the sale of medications, which means your competition for patients could be increasing. Indeed, CVS projects operating 1,500 clinic outlets by 2017.

Adding to the allure of visiting a retail clinic is the fact that many publish their prices for certain services outright on their websites — Target lists “convenient same-day care” by a nurse practitioner or physicians’ assistant for “treatment for minor illnesses” at between $79–$89.

And even though these clinics don’t claim to replace primary-care providers, the fact is that many patients simply find them more convenient for minor day-to-day issues, especially if they can’t get in to see you on short notice.

Americans feel more rushed than ever
With Gallup reporting that employed Americans adults work, on average, nearly six days a week, it should come as no surprise that we feel more rushed than ever before.

In fact, American moms, who make most healthcare decisions for their families, report having just 36 minutes of free time per day. With time this strapped across the board among parents and non-parents, full-time and part-time workers, it’s easy to understand why the need for convenience in all things, healthcare included, has risen in recent years.

So, knowing that patients want convenience, particularly as the out-of-pocket cost of healthcare continues to go up and people are feeling more and more rushed, what can you do to make your practice more convenient?

  • Put the power to book and reschedule appointments in patients’ hands. Self-scheduling is set to explode in the coming years. As many as 64 percent of patients will book appointments digitally by the end of 2019. Offering the ability to use a smartphone or tablet to jump in line to see the doctor — and to be notified immediately when an appointment is available — will help patients feel more in control, and that care is more accessible.
  • Keep track of repeat no-shows. These patients are inflating the wait time to see the doctor for everyone else. Track who often doesn’t show up or cancels at the last minute, and consider charging them (us!) for missed appointments or deploying a software solution like Smart Scheduling, for example.
  • Dedicate an hour of the schedule each day to walk-ins. By quarantining time in the regular schedule each day or week and advertising this time to patients as open for walk-ins, you let patients know that they have an option outside of visiting the ER or a retail clinic.

Now, more than ever, convenience is important to Americans in seeking health care. Coupled with accessibility of the doctor, digital services, and good communication, ease of getting an appointment is becoming more and more important to patients. Convenience may not be king all on its own but it has definitely taken a prominent seat at the table.

To learn more about putting the power to book appointments in your patients’ hands and making your practice more convenient, contact Everseat.

ES_BlogBadge1

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

Missed Appointments Affect More Than Just Revenue

Missed Appointments Affect More Than Just Revenue

Most physicians and practice managers know that missed appointments are bad for business. How bad? Some experts say that these no-shows and late cancellations cost the American healthcare system more than $150 billion per year, and individual practices between $100 and over $1,000 per appointment, depending on specialty and location.

And these figures reflect just lost revenue, not the additional costs associated with lost staff time and sicker patients. Also hidden behind the numbers is the level of frustration experienced by patients who must wait longer to get an appointment because doctor schedules appear full, even though each day brings a few more unfilled seats.

Yes, last-minute appointment cancellations and no-shows drain your bottom line, but their implications lie elsewhere in your practice, too.

Patients don’t get the care they need
We’ve written before about the myriad of reasons why your patients may not be showing up for their doctor visits — money, nerves, or a lack of convenience or appointment availability all can play a role. And these missed appointments have very real, negative implications for their health.

The scope of the problem is enormous: Some 49 million adults skipped recommended care in 2012 because of cost alone.

Some studies have indicated no-show rates in community practices ranging from 5 percent to 55 percent. These missed sessions disrupt continuity and compromise quality of care for the patients who miss the appointments and for those who “would have been scheduled in those appointment slots,” according to Family Medicine.

Patient satisfaction takes a hit
It’s not just the cancellation or no-show who is negatively affected by a missed appointment — the health of other patients, not to mention their opinion of the practice, suffers too. That’s because every missed appointment could have been filled by another (potentially ill) person, increasing the length of time that patients have to wait to see the doctor.

Captain Kim Decker, chief of the Martin Army Community Hospital Healthcare Management Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, puts it succinctly: “An appointment missed by you is an appointment missed by two.” In other words, the person who misses an appointment is likely to need to re-book, and “whoever didn’t get an appointment initially is also still needing one.”

Frustration is more than understandable. The average cumulative wait time to see a family physician in 15 U.S. markets in 2014 was just shy of three weeks. One Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 Americans showed that “difficulty in getting an appointment when sick” ranked among the top five biggest complaints that patients have about their doctors.

Further, the problem may actually compound itself: some studies indicate that no-show rates increased and the “likelihood an appointment would be kept decreased” the further in advance an appointment was scheduled. In other words, missed appointments cause longer wait times, and vice versa.

Your staff loses valuable time
When patients do call to let a practice know that they won’t be able to make their appointment, the great scramble to fill the now-vacant appointment begins. If there is no good system in place to keep track of people on the waiting list hoping for an earlier appointment, the result could be duplicative phone calls, double-booking, or worse, patients could fall through the cracks.

Spending valuable time on a wild goose chase for patients is not cost-effective and takes front desk staff away from their other duties, including greeting and checking in patients as well as communicating with doctors and nurses about the status of the waiting room and more.

Interested in learning more about how to better manage your schedule and reduce missed appointments? Contact Everseat to discuss solutions available to you.

ES_BlogBadge1

Not Just Docs: Healthcare Reform Affects Staff, Too

The Affordable Care Act continues to bring millions of new patients into hospitals and medical practices by extending coverage to the previously uninsured. In fact, nearly 60 percent of primary care physicians are seeing more patients who are newly insured under a private plan or Medicaid. And it’s not just patient volume that’s changing — the way care must be delivered is changing, too, requiring more accountability and transparency on the part of providers.

To be sure, doctors are feeling that pressure. But how have these changes affected support staff at practices and hospitals?

Patients don’t understand their plans
Consider this: some sources report that more than 15 million Americans who didn’t have health coverage before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law were covered by the end of open enrollment in 2014. That’s great, but many of these patients are unclear about what is or isn’t covered by their plans.

As you well know, even people who have had health insurance their whole lives often have questions about the details of their coverage. So those who are new to the system understandably require explanation of certain aspects of what they’re paying for. Although support staff aren’t hired to be insurance educators for patients, they’re increasingly accepting that role during the check-out process, and those conversations take time.

Practices must decide which plans to take
Practice managers and administrators must navigate the particularities of individual plans offered on the new healthcare exchanges in order to determine which ones to accept — a time-consuming task under any circumstances, made more so by the sheer volume of new insurance offerings on the exchanges.

Collection is getting harder
The responsibility for collecting payment has shifted more heavily from insurance companies to individual practices and hospital staff as patient accountability for payment has increased with the rise in popularity of high deductible health plans (HDHPs). Indeed, as many as 17.4 million people held HDHPs as of January 2014. Today, billing department representatives must spend more time trying to hunt down payments from patients. With the size of the average deductible more than doubling over the last eight years — from just under $600 to over $1,200 — many patients experience sticker shock when their bill arrives, and may even avoid paying for as long as possible because they simply don’t have the money. And, by all accounts, HDHPs are here to stay.

Widespread pre-authorizations aren’t going away
Prior authorizations (PAs) for tests and procedures aren’t new, but the frequency with which these often time-consuming processes are required is increasing, resulting in millions of potential hours of lost productivity. According to one estimate, that adds up to 868.4 million hours of physician time, plus untold additional staff hours, spent on this task. Many expect the problem to get worse, with some physicians now facing PA requirements for generic drug prescriptions, or prescriptions for medications that patients have been on for a long time.

“Customer” is king
A key element of the ACA is the tenet that patient engagement and satisfaction scores — determined by patient survey responses and patient reported outcomes — will factor in to how hospitals and practices receive reimbursements going forward. That means that greater attention is now being paid to delivering a better patient experience, from more personalized attention by front desk staff and administrators to facility cleanliness, waiting room pleasantness, and more. With some experts predicting that as many as one-third of hospitals will close over the next five years, partly due to poor patient experiences and reviews, the importance of patient satisfaction has never been more important.

Securing patient data is growing more complex
HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) has been around for nearly two decades, and when it was first passed, paper records for patients were the norm. Today, electronic records have taken hold, with nearly 71 percent of physicians having adopted EHRs at the end of 2014. Electronic records require careful security measures, including password management, standardized policies on who gets access to what information, and how records can be accessed (via mobile device, etc.) as well as regular assessments of security risks — not only to prevent breaches but also to make practices and hospitals both compliant with HIPAA and eligible to attest to meaningful use.

Medicare and Medicaid compliance programs are required, not optional
Due to ACA’s Section 6401 mandate that all providers establish a Medicare/Medicaid compliance program, support staff are now on the hook not just to establish such programs, but also to manage them in order to ensure proper billing as part of a waste-fraud-abuse-inefficiency reduction strategy. Effective compliance is also key to improving the experience — and ultimately, the patient-generated review of care — of patients who are covered under a Medicare or Medicaid plan.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Support staff — the unsung heroes of any medical practice — are facing just as much pressure as doctors because of the changes caused by healthcare reform.

Is your practice feeling the strain of increased patient volume? To discover how Everseat can help relieve the pressure of more appointments on your scheduling system, get in touch today. Everseat has helped practices nationwide reduce cancellations and missed appointments and improve the bottom line.

ES_BlogBadge1

You Say ‘Patient’ and I Say ‘Consumer’ – Either Way, We Both Want Convenience

What do you call a person seeking care from a health professional these days? Some say patient, and others say consumer. Either way, one thing is true: when we need to see a doctor, one thing we really want is convenience.

New public policy efforts and the efforts of entrepreneurial thinkers are changing the game on the convenience issue already. We have more choices than we used to, and it is undeniable that as patients, we are becoming better consumers, looking for providers who will meet a range of needs we have and not just treat our ailment.

Should we wait for a regular check-up to get a doctor’s advice? Or should we track our own health indicators and review our own records with one of the many devices bloggers Todd Hixon and Neil Versel have been writing about in Forbes?

Should we go to a minute clinic at the mall or visit the emergency room at a hospital?

Should we take the “next available appointment” or shop around for the magic words: “the doctor will see you now?”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote an entire column last year with advice on how to get in to see your doctor sooner. His prescription? Convey urgency, be thorough, get a referral, and ask questions.

I would not dare disagree with Dr. Gupta. Still, the patient/customer is craving a more efficient solution without having to grovel. And let’s face it: most of us don’t even want to have to call the doctor’s office at all. There is no doubt that physicians and their all-important office staffers would like to get off the phone too. They have work piling up and patients right there in front of them who need their attention.

According to Pew Research Center, 64% of adults in the United States have smart-phones, and if you are a provider not primarily treating people above age 65, the percentage in your patient population may be much higher. As patients and as consumers, we need the option of using personal technology that helps us get in to see the doctor as soon as possible when that is what we think we need to do.

Healthcare innovators and entrepreneurs will keep making it easier for all of us to get timely access to quality care. The rest of us can contribute by asking our providers to invest in technology tools that improve our experience whether we think of ourselves as patients or consumers. Either way, we can all be advocates for greater convenience as part of a better patient experience. Be polite but tell them we need it in a hurry.

Wanted: A New Relationship Based on Empathy

Patients are seeking a new relationship with their doctors and other health providers and what they want is … empathy, according to the renowned healthcare provider organization Cleveland Clinic, which just concluded its 6th annual summit on patient empathy, experience and innovation.

Thousands of healthcare leaders, researchers, clinicians and advocates gathered in Cleveland to focus on “how organizations around the world strive to deliver the best clinical, physical and emotional experience to patients and families.” An untold and undoubtedly even larger audience followed the proceedings online.

Numerous innovations in patient experience were on the agenda, including patient-centered care models, communication techniques, plans for educating caregivers, as well as uses for wearable devices, data-rich websites, and mobile apps.

Don’t be misled by the trendiness of the buzzwords. This was not just a gathering to talk about new tricks and new treatments.

Christy Dempsey, chief nursing officer at healthcare consultancy Press Ganey captured the spirit of the event in her address to the audience, saying “[i]t is no longer OK to be just a great clinician, and, “I want you to take a minute and remember that your patients are scared.”

Dempsey’s words support the logic behind University of Indiana Medical School professor Dr. Richard Frankel’s advocacy for better doctor communication, which he spoke about in Cleveland. Frankel recently told a University of Indiana publication that “There now are a number of studies and systematic reviews that show the positive effects of improved communication on patients’ biomedical as well as psychosocial health outcomes.”

Bedside manner, or examining room manner, provides the iconic image of the doctor-patient relationship. But of course the relationship starts even before the patient arrives. It begins with the seemingly innocuous but routinely stressful task of scheduling an appointment. Thanks to creative uses of digital technology, and the talent and innovative spirit of key staff in healthcare provider offices, there are ways to make the process simpler and easier for patients. And it keeps getting better.

The innovations Everseat has developed are very much a part of the push for empathy in the doctor-patient relationship. It all starts with a hassle-free system for setting up a convenient time to see the doctor as soon as possible. When beginning a relationship as important as this one, who wants to get off on the wrong foot?