Optimize Scheduling to Improve Practice Returns

July 21, 2015 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Medical Billing, Revenue Cycle Management, Practice Management

If things at your practice feel like they’re falling off the rails – you’re overly busy and understaffed, your denial rate is soaring, your revenue is stagnating – the unlikely culprit may be sitting on the counter at the front desk. Your appointment book (or online appointment calendar) could be the source of all of your problems.

Scheduling is an aspect of practice management in which even the savviest medical office professionals get sloppy. It’s easy to fall into seemingly innocuous routines and patterns that, upon review, harm more than they hurt. If you’re not auditing and reviewing your scheduling processes regularly, there’s undoubtedly room for improvement at your practice.

Sit down with your top two or three appointment bookers and look back at your weekly schedules for the past six months with a critical eye. See how you can optimize operations by streamlining your schedule in each of the following areas.

The Beginning & The End: To accommodate patients’ own schedules, practices often offer frequent visitors the very first or very last visit of a given day. But if those visits are scheduled far in advance, they can throw an entire day’s schedule out of whack – forcing your docs to come in early or stay late, only to suffer a gap before or after the outlier visit.

Look for patterns where that may be happening at your practice, and resolve it. Perhaps it means designating two days a week as “early days” and two as “late days”; that will help you continue to meet the needs of busy patients while managing to keep your doors open only when you’re earning money through back-to-back patient encounters.

Incremental Issues: Are your patients’ visits really taking 15, 30, or 60 minutes? Or are you only scheduling them for those time allotments due to the limitations of your appointment booking system?

Task a staffer with paying attention to, and recording, how long each physician actually takes to conduct a given type of visit. Then, schedule appointments accordingly so as to prevent getting behind schedule or incurring overly long gaps between encounters. A new practice management system may offer increased flexibility to schedule visits at specific times (i.e. 3:40, instead of 3:30 or 4:00).

Help Wanted: Are there certain times of the day or week where things veer off-course simply because you need more help? Sometimes, the key to keeping your schedule streamlined is simply having an extra set of hands around to check in patients, verify their eligibility, see them off to their rooms, answer their basic questions, and schedule their next visits.

If so, hire a part-time staffer to help you through the roughest patches of the week. (This can absolutely help you avoid billing issues, since it helps ensure that you handle the front-end tasks that can make revenue cycle management easier for your back-office team.) If the issues stem from being understaffed for clinical concerns, however, see if adding a part-time NPP – a non-physician provider such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant – could be of use to you.

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