In medical practices the “urgency of the current” seems to always take priority over planning for the future. If you have been around a medical practice for any length of time you have seen it first-hand. There is always the next patient to check-in and administrative task. The next insurance eligibility to verify. The next patient to get back to the exam room. Oh – and did I mention that the phone does not stop ringing?
The good news is that there is hope for a more streamlined and efficient future state. But the caveat is that it requires an upfront investment of time, and a healthy willingness to modify the environment you’ve grown accustomed to.
Why Efficient Medical Practice Workflows Matter
It may be “chaos,” but it is a chaos that patients, staff, and providers have managed to live with for years. So, what is the motivation for changing the current state when it comes to office workflow? Actually, there are several reasons.
A more streamlined and efficient workflow creates a better patient experience. Remember – today’s “patients” are very much in “consumer” mode. They are looking for not only quality outcomes, but the ability to easily access the tools they need for a positive experience in the office. And if they don’t find it with your practice, they are willing to seek out other sources of care. Creating a streamlined workflow helps to minimize those “irritants” that can drive a patient away.
Better workflows can translate to more predictable patient throughput and less time spent on phone calls. Knowing what you can reliably expect each day and when to expect it in terms of patient volume helps you to better manage your staffing levels, supplies, and other overhead.
Reduced errors should always be a goal for any business. When it comes to healthcare, however, the cost of a mistake due to missing or incomplete information can be catastrophic. Properly integrating automation systems and fully leveraging their capabilities as part of an optimized workflow helps to minimize this risk.
A Healthier Bottom Line
Streamlining workflows can result in an improved medical office and bottom line. The first impulse anytime a sub-optimal workflow is encountered is to throw more staff members at the problem. This is an expensive approach considering that quite often the issue is not a lack of staffing, but rather the lack of an efficient process. The impact of these poor workflows can also be felt in regard to practice billing, resulting in claim denials and cash “left on the table.”
Better Patient Care
Ensuring that you have optimized the clinic’s workflow can be a factor in improving patient care. Processes that are uniform, centralized, and carefully controlled help to ensure that the right data is readily available to facilitate proper clinical decision making.
A more standardized and efficient approach to each day’s work helps to eliminate wasted time and minimize the stress experienced by providers and staff. Provider and staff burnout are problematic throughout the healthcare industry. By creating a clinic environment where the operational uncertainties are minimized, you are reducing the anxiety level for everyone on the team.
Define Your Current Medical Office Workflow
Even though you “live it” on a daily basis, people often do not have the full picture of their office environment. Staff tend to become “siloed” with their jobs. This means that while they may be experts within their respective domains, most do not have an appreciation for the processes occurring upstream and downstream from their assigned area. It is crucial that you get the “complete” picture of your current workflow, keeping in mind the relationship between people, process, and technology during each step.
Here are some things that can help get you started improving workflow.
- Assign workgroups made up of your front-line team members to help map the processes. Anything from high-end software to the standard yellow legal pad can be used to document what you find. What is important is that these workgroups have a true sense of ownership, knowing that what they are doing will lead to a better future state.
- Clearly define the pain-points. Knowing that we don’t like something is easy. Clearly articulating the reasons behind it can be much more of a challenge. Some things your teams can ask to gain greater clarity include:
- Where do process sequential interdependencies reside (i.e., Step A must occur before Step B can take place)?
- Where are we repeating the same steps?
- Where are we relying on manual processes to get the job done?
- Where do we find multiple approvals or signoffs in order to take the next step in the process?
- What are our patients telling us?
Create A Culture That Embraces Change.
Process change within a medical office is disruptive. Even when it is for the better, the change can create anxiety if providers and staff do not understand the “why” behind the need for a new workflow. This is why it’s critical to identify your stakeholders up front. Who will be impacted by the new way of doing things? Make sure they not only understand the reason behind the need for change (i.e., better patient experience, improved quality of care, increased revenue, etc.), but ensure they have a role in developing the future state.
And do not forget to keep the providers in the loop and seek out their input whenever possible (even if on the surface it appears they will not be impacted by the change). Understanding the “why,” having a “voice” in the new process design, and a sense of “ownership” in outcome, are all requirements for a culture that is ready to embrace the journey to a new optimal state.
Map Out Your Optimal Future State
Once you have clearly identified your current state, it is time to define your optimal future state. If chokepoints, redundancies, manual work, etc., could be minimized (i.e., the pain points), what would the new workflow processes look like? Be sure to identify the resources needed to get you there. This can include anything from new or enhanced technology, training, or office staff realignment.
Root Cause Analysis
Work with your team to produce a prioritization of most impactful inefficiencies, that if eliminated would bring you closer to an optimal workflow. Experience has shown that the “let’s do everything at once” approach is rarely successful. Instead select one or two items to successfully resolve before moving on to the next initiative.
Utilize tools such as root cause analysis to determine the “how” and “why” behind these sources of frustration. The key here is to avoid the temptation to focus on “who” is to blame. Rather the goal is to seek out process related cause and effect and develop a corrective course of action.
Fully Leverage Your Technology
Medical groups today invest heavily in technology to support every aspect of practice operations. Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and medical billing systems are two of the most common functions to automate. However, many other functions such as telemedicine, patient portals, and clinic kiosks for patient check-in and registration are common.
What is also common is the failure of medical practices to fully leverage the functionality of the systems in which they have invested, such as automated appointment reminders. The initial training may have been limited or the in-house subject matter experts may have departed. Whatever the reason, it is crucial to close the gap between your current utilization and experiencing the full capability of the technology to ensure maximum return on investment.
Ensure You Have Hardwired Feedback from Staff, Patients, and KPIs
Once the new process is in place, you must determine if it is achieving the expected results. This is done on an ongoing basis through feedback from providers, staff, and patients. Also review your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) associated with the process (particularly if the new workflow is intended to impact revenue, access, or patient satisfaction) to determine if outcomes are trending in the right direction.
This feedback loop must be determined before going live with the new process. Be prepared to monitor on an established cadence and adjust workflow as the feedback indicates.
Invest in Continuous Staff Training
Staff training and development are critical aspects of any medical practice. Make sure the appropriate staff are trained on the new workflows on a routine basis to reenforce and sustain the new “best-practice.” Competency assessments are a great tool to determine if the training is on target. Also include the training as part of new member on-boarding to ensure subject matter expertise is not lost during staff turnover.
Document The New Workflows and Update as Required
Whether it is through a more formal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), a Training Manual, or a simple Tip Sheet, ensure that the new process is captured in a way that allows others to review as needed. Make sure you have scheduled reviews of these materials and update as needed to ensure they remain current.
Summary: How to Improve Workflow in Medical Offices
Enhancing medical practice workflows is essential to optimize practice efficiency while continuing to offer high-quality care to patients and improved job satisfaction. The tips outlined above can be customized to fit the unique demands of your practice.
Be patient; the process of improving workflows will take time, but it is worth it. Remember, the goal is to optimize the workflows of your practice continuously so that you can achieve your performance goals in all aspects.
Streamline Your Workflows with Medical Advantage Practice Consultants
If you would like to learn more about how to make your medical practice run more smoothly, our practice consultants are here to help. The Medical Advantage team has both real-world experience and analytical expertise that covers the entire spectrum of practice operations. Reach out to learn more about how our clinical workflow solutions can improve efficiency and your bottom line.