One of the more popular trends in health care today is increasing the availability of health care providers to patients. One way to do this is to add non-traditional hours.
Ways of increasing availability via extended hours
Adding extra hours for patients doesn’t have to mean increasing your payroll or overhead costs. Rather, it involves thinking of non-traditional ways to better serve your patients. This can mean extending your office hours with smaller staff as well as changing your scheduling models to allow for ready appointment availability.
Another effective way of making your practice more available to patients is to see patients during what is usually considered a lunch hour, normally from noon to 1:00 p.m. Instead of locking the doors and switching your phones over to an answering service, consider staffing through that period when your patients might be more available to call and to keep appointments.
Adding lunch “hours”
Extending your office hours through a traditional lunch period has a lot to recommend it. Your patients will likely appreciate the extra availability, while the added utility and support cost will be less than if you opened your office during a day when you hadn’t been open previously. One good way to use this time slot is to schedule only last minute appointments over lunch. Lunch-time, on-demand appointments usually take less provider time. To make this work, consider staggering lunch breaks by 30 minutes so there’s always someone to man the reception desk and the phones.
Evenings and weekends
Evenings and weekends are other options for increasing availability. Like lunch time hours, adding an hour in the morning or the evening won’t increase your overhead substantially and can be managed by staggering start and leave times for staff. By doing this, the entire staff would be on-site during the busy middle of the day. Most practices could add one of two patient hours this way without hiring extra staff.
Selling the change
Like all changes, shifting staff hours may cause a little grumbling among the staff. To make this transition a little easier, introduce the new hours slowly, perhaps only adding one day a week to begin with. You can also make it clear when you hiring new staff members that they will be expected to work a flexible schedule.
Managing for extra availability
Increased availability can also be realized by changing how your practice manages its appointment schedule. Many practices have been successful at this by adopting an “open access” concept of scheduling. Essentially, this allows for patients to be seen when they call, not scheduled weeks in advance, and all, but eliminates “double booking.” The potential down-side to this system is that patients are not able to schedule follow up appointments during their current appointments, which could lead to patients being lost from the health care system when care is needed.
A hybrid approach
This concern can be addressed by adopting a “hybrid” approach that combines both advanced scheduling a same or next-day scheduling. Such a scheduling model also makes it easier to bill patients, since their records can be pulled when they make their appointment and set out for the health care provider and the support staff, eliminating double handling. Using medical billing software can also streamline your patient record handling. Such software makes it easy to access patient appointments invoice patients and send necessary paperwork to health insurance providers.
Finding ways to increase provider availability is just one more way to increase your practice’s level of service without increasing your costs dramatically.
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