Patient flow management revisited: Increase patient satisfaction

“Doctors’ schedules change, and they change often. Technology should make it easy for changing everything, keeping it current, and most importantly, communicating the change instantly to stakeholders.”

Patient flow management is a subject that often receives less attention than it deserves. However, it is one of the key areas that influences patient satisfaction. More importantly, well-planned and effective patient flow management strategy enables you to save time, as well as reduce stress in your practice – something completely invaluable in the medical field.

Oftentimes, there is a tendency to think that very little can be done to manage patient flow. It’s an occupational hazard – something to live with. Many doctors will provide various scenarios of how things go wrong.

The problem starts with the patient seeking appointments in different ways – unexpected walk-ins, urgent appointments, VIP patients – and then continues with a lack of efficient staff skilled in managing the schedule, lack of transparency in queues, patient arguments, and doctors and patients being unable to keep the promise of the schedule. Too many issues. As one of the specialist doctors quite eloquently put it, “It’s as if you are trying to create a calm, serene pond in the middle of the Himalayan rapids.”

All is not lost – yet.
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appointments on calendarLet’s accept one thing. Doctor appointment scheduling is a difficult problem to solve. There is no silver bullet. Bad things happen. There will be angry patients, and there will be bad days. However, the best way to look at this is – can I cushion the blow? Can I solve 80% of the issues? Can I implement a better patient flow management strategy if not the ideal one?

The solution lies in the intersection of technology, process, and people. Often technology helps in packaging the best processes and embodies collective learning. People are needed to implement this technology.

The underlying philosophy of the solution is that doctors’ schedules change, and they change often. Technology should make it easy for changing everything, keeping it current, and most importantly, communicating the change instantly to stakeholders.

I submit the following 5 key strategies, which can be used to make patient flow management easier.

First, and most importantly, have a central, real-time shared calendar – all appointments in one place. No clashes. If you are visiting multiple locations, the calendar should be powerful enough to manage multiple locations. This technological tool should be capable of allowing you to specify your schedule, manage your time slots, and change the configuration in real time.

Secondly, identify the channels through which patients reach out to you. Phone, Internet, and walk-ins are the main channels. Identify a tool that integrates all three into a real-time calendar. Technology is available today in which a personalized automated IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system answers a patient call, looks up your calendar, announces the available time slots, and upon selection, communicates via text message and email the chosen time of the appointment. This kind of calendar is available on the Internet, so it is easily accessible, and the staff has full visibility of the doctor’s schedule.

Thirdly, reserve enough slots for walk-ins to avoid your schedule going haywire. Do not fill up everything with appointments. Communicate your honest emotions to patients who do not turn up for appointments respectfully (ex: “Please cancel appointments so that you can free up the slot for other patients”).

Fourthly, communicate any changes in scheduling by cancellation text messages/emails. Patients accept that doctors can get busy with emergencies, and they appreciate knowing about changes to the schedule beforehand so that they can plan accordingly.

Finally, improve transparency in your clinic/hospital by displaying the patient queue using overhead screens that indicate “who is next.” Keep the power to change queues if needed.

Keep in mind that no matter how good your scheduling system may be, things will go wrong on a bad day. However, overall, you will make more people happy than upset.

prashant_hegde Prashant Hegde is a co-founder of www.DocPulse.com and www.Meetmydoctor.in and has worked closely with doctors, clinics, and hospitals to help them adopt technology in their practices.

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4 Comments

  1. DHEERAJ MULCHANDANI
    Posted Mar 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Brilliant Post.
    There are many more things of course that can be done but this about covers most of it effectively.
    Let’s hope people read and follow it

  2. DR DEEPAK MAKWANA
    Posted Mar 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Its really useful at consultancy level, but for General practitioner, it is very difficult.

    • Arun Kumbhat
      Posted Oct 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      we may have answers that may interest the GO, Dr.Makwana.
      We can discuss them offline.
      Cheers
      Arun Kumbhat
      +91 98100 50478

  3. Arun Kumbhat
    Posted Sep 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article. There if of course a lot more to a successful appointment and managing patient flow. But this is a good start.

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