Reduce phone calls in your medical practice

A physician approached me at the end of a talk on optimizing practice efficiency and improving service to patients and said, “I dream of an office with no phones.”

Do you have days where the phones are ringing off the hook? Or the phone message forms in your in-box seem to be reproducing? Maybe it’s been one of those days when you can never get your nurse’s help because she’s been on the phone every time you’ve looked for her.

We can all appreciate the feeling of frustration that the repeated interruptions of phone calls create for everyone in the office — you, your nurses, your receptionists, your lab tech, everyone!

The idea of not having any phones is a bit extreme, but let’s think about how you might function without one.

How would patients get an appointment, for instance? Answer: Your website would be the incoming line to your appointment schedules.

How? You’ve probably heard about patient portals that support requests for appointments.

The patient can select a provider, an appointment type or reason, and even specific days of the week or dates on the calendar in their request. The practice staff acts upon that request with a specific date-time slot and messages that information back to the patient for confirmation.

That eliminates the telephone exchange, but it is still means your staff is spending time interacting to provide the patient with an appointment.

Why not let the patient view available dates and times that fit their request criteria (provider and reason for the appointment) and select the preferred date and time?

You still effectively manage your schedule because the website will offer patients only those slots you have predetermined as available.

It is all self-service by the patient, so your staff can spend time interacting with the patients who are already in your office and facilitate the flow for the day. You get better use of staff time, and patients are happier being in control of their own destiny.

Try it with your flu shot clinic. Try it with back-to-school physicals. Try it with OB visits. Try it!

Why else do patients call into the office? Those prescription refills!

Again, you’ve heard about the patient portal features that allow patients to get online to request their medication reissues, but that process still requires additional staff time. Nurses must manage those portal requests and message providers to grant the request; even in the electronic world of e-prescribing and the EHR it means at least two sets of hands in the office are on the keyboard or mouse.

That particular inefficiency is self-inflicted!

You saw the patient, you wrote two orders — a prescription and a note for a follow-up visit. The duration for each of those should be the same!

For example, say your patient is well-controlled on a blood pressure medication and at his annual visit you write a prescription for 90 days and tell him you’ll see him next year unless he needs you for something sooner.

About three months later, that patient is going to need his blood pressure medication refilled, and that’s when the phone will ring in your office! Or, maybe it’s an incoming fax from the pharmacy. Someone in the practice has to deal with that.

That situation would never exist if you simply provided the patient with a prescription for a year’s supply of that medication during the visit.

It’s just that simple to reduce the incoming phone calls by 50% in your practice!

You’ll still have a phone, but imagine only half those rings buzzing every day … peace, quiet, and efficiency!

Rosemarie Nelson is a principal with the MGMA Health Care Consulting Group.

Originally published in MedPage Today. Visit MedPageToday.com for more practice management news.

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