Health systems are digitizing many of their processes to improve operations and become more consumer-friendly, but health leaders sometimes miss a key piece of the puzzle: the call center.
The manual process for fielding scheduling calls can be a nightmare: Calls can take up to 20 minutes, and agents comb through binders/spreadsheets of provider calendars and scheduling rules to book an appointment.
This process can only place a handful of patients per day, despite call centers receiving hundreds of scheduling calls. This contributes to a poor patient experience, care delays, and, ultimately, a loss of business to surrounding competitors.
Heritage Medical Associates, a large, independent multi-specialty group in Middle Tennessee, had patient liaisons, centralized schedulers focused on scheduling new patient appointments, and relied on a cumbersome process to connect patients with providers: They accessed individual provider schedules to find the soonest available appointment.
“This negatively impacted the patient in two ways: The process of making an appointment was belabored and access to care was compromised,” said Jessica Smith, chief administrative officer at Heritage Medical Associates.
“With no shortage of calls coming in, patients were often put on hold as liaisons looked for the right provider and appointment. Sometimes they would be scheduled with a provider that could not accommodate them for several months despite appointment availability within days that was invisible to the liaison with their method of scanning individual schedules.”
With this process, liaisons spent seven to 10 minutes scheduling each new patient appointment and no more than six to 10 appointments per day.
So Heritage Medical Associates turned to scheduling IT vendor MyHealthDirect to augment its internal online provider directory with real-time integration with its Allscripts practice management system.
The platform enables liaisons to see the next available appointment within one view and capture only required demographic data to schedule an appointment, thus expediting the scheduling process.
“Through an integration with Allscripts, they now see all available appointments for each provider in real time, can quickly and easily identify the best provider and appointment for a patient’s specific care need, and book an appointment within the platform.”
Jessica Smith, Heritage Medical Associates
“While it is important for us to improve access and reduce the time to schedule appointments, it is equally important that we maintain the provider’s personal preferences for how they arrange their day,” Smith explained. “The technology allows us to designate which appointment slots are available to which visit type and when, thereby automating and ensuring adherence to the provider’s scheduling rules.”
Overall, it is a streamlined experience and a more efficient way to connect patients with providers, she added.
There are many online patient scheduling systems on the market today. Some of the vendors of these systems include Ability, Atlas Business Solutions, BookSteam, CareCloud, DocMeIn, DoctorConnect, DrChrono Medical Scheduling, Luma Health, QGenda and SimplyBook.me.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Before using the MyHealthDirect system, Heritage Medical Associates patient liaisons manually scanned individual schedules from the Allscripts practice management system and referenced a separate internal website to confirm insurance participation and which physicians were open to accepting new patients.
“The system’s digital care coordination platform was implemented within our existing website to improve this process,” Smith said. “Through an integration with Allscripts, they now see all available appointments for each provider in real time, can quickly and easily identify the best provider and appointment for a patient’s specific care needs, and book an appointment within the platform.”
Time spent on the phone scheduling an appointment has been cut in half from an average of eight minutes to four minutes.
Before, patient liaisons manually scanned provider calendars individually and cross-referenced insurance and panel availability while the patient was on hold. A single patient liaison was booking only 6-10 appointments per day.
Now, with direct line-of-sight into providers’ calendars and a clear-cut view of who to schedule and when, patient liaisons can quickly and efficiently book an appointment and have doubled their output, Smith reported. Now the number of appointments scheduled per day by the patient liaison team is between 40 and 50.
“Providers have also reported greater satisfaction because we can give them a more structured and predictable day by consistently filling available appointment spots,” Smith explained. “Despite seeing more patients, they are left feeling more balanced and in control of their daily experience.”
And as reimbursement gets tighter, it demands that the practice is more efficient and maximizes its current resources to sustain growth and continue to deliver high-quality patient care, Smith said.
“MyHealthDirect enables us to better leverage our existing resources to improve patient access to services through better alignment of demand with schedule capacity,” she said.
As each individual provider and location becomes more efficient, Heritage Medical Associates can better control the costs in delivering quality healthcare to its patients, she added.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“There is no shortage of healthcare technology solutions available to provider organizations today, a lot of which only meet a singular need or require sacrificing the patient experience so that the technology can be supported by internal IT teams,” said Smith
“I think this danger is mitigated by a technology partner that acts as an extension of your team and is equipped to adapt and evolve as your needs and the industry do,” she added.
It’s also important, she said, to partner with lean technology organizations that keep developers in the sales conversation as they more reliably meet customer expectations; prioritize product releases that have the biggest impact on the end user’s experience; and customize their tools to leverage existing workflows or technology in the practice.
Email the writer: [email protected]
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