Health technology is usually touted as helping physicians become more efficient, improve patient outcomes, and spend more time with patients (by spending less time on paperwork). With the right software and training, these can certainly be accomplished—but can technology help you grow your business?
A research paper submitted to the American College of Medical Practice Executives makes a good case that it can. A 31-physician orthopedic practice experiencing limited success with outreach and a decrease in patient satisfaction sought to increase services and availability to patients. It had several physician offices, each with its own scheduling personnel. The offices used the same scheduling software, but there was no consistency in how various appointment types were handled, so many appointments had to be handled over the phone instead of online. On high-volume days, some appointment requests from patients weren’t addressed until the next business day.
After purchasing and rolling out a centralized scheduling/patient-engagement system, the practice achieved its goal of becoming the main destination for orthopedic care in its community. It now provides orthopedic specialists and general orthopedic surgery, MRI with reads by musculoskeletal specialists, physical therapy, and urgent care in a retail location.
Both the practice’s under-30 patients and the parents of underage patients appreciate the ease of the online scheduling system, which lets them choose the services and locations they desire. Thanks to a standardized scheduling process and streamlined appointment types, appointment requests by phone are handled efficiently, with each scheduler able to complete 55 to 65 appointments per day. Importantly, the practice’s operations committee determined that by filling just 20 slots left by patients that cancel within 24 hours of their appointments practice-wide, the scheduling system will pay for itself.
Use Data to Fine Tune Scheduling
With a modern scheduling system in place, orthopedic practice managers can use data analytics to fine tune scheduling. Areas to research include:
- Backlog reduction
- Adding time blocks to accommodate urgent appointments
- Equitable call shift distribution
- Within reason, accommodating provider preferences (e.g., long appointments for new patients early in the day)
- Implement windows for charting to spread out the EHR workload
- Opportunities to overlap appointments to reduce wasted time
- Opportunities to strategically double book to increase revenue without frustrating patients or providers
“Creating a smooth, sustainable workflow for providers is mission-critical, enabling physicians to be their most productive as well as ensuring patient satisfaction and high ratings for the practice,” writes one industry expert. “Integrating newly available analytics with your practice’s historical schedule data is the most direct route to achieve optimal flow and productivity.”
Use Multiple Communication Channels to Improve the Patient Experience
In addition to advanced scheduling techniques, experts recommend improving the patient experience for orthopedic practices seeking a more resilient business model. A study in the World Journal of Clinical Oncology found that orthopedic oncology patients are more likely to recommend attending physicians who are friendly, courteous, sensitive to patient needs, and provide good instructions for follow-up care.
As orthopedists know, a critical factor in improving the patient experience is managing expectations. That requires consistently providing patients with relevant, clear information in manageable portions far in advance of tests and surgery. It’s also a good idea to encourage patients to pose questions, share concerns, and clarify their needs by providing a variety of communication channels (in person, via teleconference, on the phone, via email). Note that poor communication about medical procedures has been linked with patient complaints, compensation claims, and malpractice suits.
Other recommendations for improving the patient experience include building trust with patients by emphasizing empathy and compassion and offering minimally invasive treatment options. Finally, consider using standardized surveys that let patients share insights about their post-operative experiences, now being referred to as patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs).
- McPherson, Jeff. “Opportunities to Improve and Implement Patient Access
Points in an Independent Orthopedic Practice.” Submitted to the American College of Medical Practice Executives, 4 August 2020. https://www.mgma.com/MGMA/media/files/fellowship%20papers/2019%20Fellows%20Papers/Fellowship-Business-Plan-Final-Submission.pdf?ext=.pdf
- Golenski, John. “Orthopedic Practices Should Focus on Flow to Enhance Revenue and Optimize Surgeons’ Time.” Kairoi Health, accessed January 2023.
- Polet, David. “9 Tips for Providing a Better Patient Experience in Orthopedic Care.” WellBe, 17 April 2022. https://wellbe.me/9-tips-for-providing-a-better-patient-experience-in-orthopedic-care/
- Blank, Alan, et al. “What Factors Influence Patient Experience in Orthopedic Oncology Office Visits?” World Journal of Clinical Oncology, 24 March 2020. https://www.wjgnet.com/2218-4333/full/v11/i3/136.htm
- Birkeland, Soren, et al. “Does Greater Patient Involvement in Healthcare Decision-Making Affect Malpractice Complaints? A Large Case Vignette Survey.” Plos One, 2 July 2021. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0254052
- Polet (see 3).