Two techniques you can use to improve patient flow are flow mapping and cycle-time measurement. Flow mapping requires practice staff to walk through the practice and take notes about what a patient experiences during a visit. This allows you to understand the flow from the patient’s point of view. Key things to record are experiences and impressions of the practice from start to finish, such as observations of customer service, right down to the paperwork and equipment used.
Cycle-time measurement includes charting and measuring the time for every stage of a patient’s visit. Total cycle time is the number of minutes from when a patient arrives at the practice until the patient leaves the practice. It is important to recognize bottlenecks in the current patient flow process and their root causes while conducting these techniques. After completing both techniques, discuss your notes with staff to begin constructing and implementing an improved patient flow process.
An ideal patient flow process begins as soon as a patient calls to schedule an appointment. This phone call is the first impression a patient has of a practice. The scheduling process itself is a critical area in patient flow. It should be well organized and should maximize the physician’s time. Maintaining a good physician–patient ratio on a day-to-day basis will allow for walk-ins or emergencies. It can be a good idea to extend the practice’s and physicians’ hours in order to provide more patient access.
The scheduling staff should obtain all the correct and necessary information at the time of scheduling in order to make the patient’s visit smooth and efficient. Staff should be well educated on the typical questions patients ask in case a patient needs information other than appointments. Always remember that having a well-informed staff can reduce the risk of unsatisfied patients.
Patient check-in—the first point in a patient’s visit—is important, too. The front desk staff should be organized and greet patients with enthusiasm and respect. The current day schedule should be prepared at the beginning of the day with all the necessary paperwork ready for the patient to complete or update for claims processing. If check-in is efficient, then the rest of the visit should be efficient as well.
The most important step in the patient flow process is the physician–patient encounter. Nurses or assistants should be well prepared for each patient by gathering the patient’s chart and other paperwork.
When the physician finally sees the patient, the physician should already know why the patient is there and what is needed, except for new issues that might arise. Once the visit is finished, the physician should direct the patient towards the check-out area.