Gauging Patient Access Performance
A Key Step in Readying Your Practice for the Future
Patient access is at the center of the evolving healthcare environment, as it sets the stage for the entire healthcare experience. When done well, the patient access function offers opportunities to enhance patient engagement, physician and resource productivity, and care management programs. Each of these benefits translates to elevated financial performance for the physician practice, regardless of size.
Progressive healthcare providers are rapidly realizing the importance of efficient and effective patient access in managing patient care, improving patient retention, and remaining competitive in terms of attracting new patients. Yet, practices may not understand how they can affect meaningful change in this area.
Key Questions to Determine Patient Access Performance
In my experience, the first step is to carefully assess current patient-access processes from the initial appointment request (whether over the phone or electronically through a patient portal) through check in, the clinical encounter, check out, and ongoing patient engagement. This allows a physician practice to identify areas of strength and improvement opportunities, discovering ways to create efficient and reliable workflows that better equip the practice to lower administrative costs while enhancing patient care, satisfaction, and payment. Practices can use the following questions to guide the assessment process.
1. How are metrics used to measure productivity and performance? Performance metrics are not new to practice management; however, the inter-relationship of patient access, clinical productivity, and revenue cycle metrics provides a holistic view of true practice performance. For example, one client of ours faced an unfortunate situation with excessively long appointment wait times, and provider productivity well below expected RVU production. Understanding the linkage of these metrics drove modifications to the practice’s scheduling templates that reduced wait times and improved the patient experience, provider productivity, and practice revenues.
2. Is there consistency in patient access across all entry points? Inconsistent or redundant processes can create patient and staff frustration and inefficiencies, and compromise data quality, resulting in downstream denials. Taking the time to identify and replace variations in workflows with standardized policies, procedures, and workflows provides significant improvements in terms of the patient experience, data quality, and resource productivity. This standardization should be based on best practices personalized to support each organization’s overall objectives. Once standardized processes are in place, be sure to provide the necessary education and training to front desk staff to help them perform consistently and deliver a seamless patient experience. Lastly, ensure appropriate feedback across the practice to monitor performance and to hold people accountable.
3. How do you collect patient payments? Failure to collect payment at the time of service slows the revenue cycle and causes the practice to incur additional expense to collect the payment later. Developing strategies for obtaining patient payment is especially important in the current climate, where patients are shouldering more financial responsibility. Improvement strategies should incorporate solutions to proactively identify patient responsibility before delivery of care. This shifts financial discussions to the front end, allowing staff to communicate with the patient in person or via the telephone about his or her payment responsibility. By communicating patient responsibility prior to the visit, the practice can achieve greater transparency, boosting both patient satisfaction and the likelihood of payment. For some practices, the shift toward patient collections represents a departure from previous strategies. To ensure a smooth transition, you should provide robust training so staff can interpret available financial information and be empowered to ask for payment in a patient-friendly manner.
There is no question that current industry changes have major implications for patients and practices. In this context, practices that take a proactive approach toward improving patient access can enhance operational efficiencies and clinical quality while also increasing patient satisfaction and driving revenue, ultimately laying the groundwork for future success.
Brad Boyd is vice president of sales and marketing for Culbert Healthcare Solutions.