Don’t Play Whac-A-Mole With Your Patient Workflows 

Author: Ravi Kalidindi
The word “workflow” surrounded by icons and images representing improving the patient workflow.

Patient workflows are filled with touchpoints, like appointment reminders, intake, check-in, and data entry.

Unfortunately, speeding up just one of these processes won’t speed up your overall patient workflow. It’s like playing the old Whac-A-Mole game. Once you solve one problem (or “bop” one mole), another rears its head.

It’s easy (and tempting) to hyper-focus on fixing one area of your patient workflow, but you likely won’t see significant results. A systemic and holistic approach is what speeds up patient workflows — because it “bops” all the moles at once.

Quote: Don’t Play Whac-A-Mole With Your Patient Workflows

Optimize More Than One Facet of Your Patient Workflow

We speak with a lot of healthcare facilities (and we mean a lot!) and hear the same thing time and time again: frustration with bottlenecks in their patient workflows.

Many times, they’ve already tried implementing solutions, but they aren’t seeing the results they expected. Why? Because they’re (unknowingly) playing Whac-A-Mole, addressing just one bottleneck in the process.

In practice, this might look like one of the following scenarios:

  • A facility implements a fabulous appointment reminder process that leads to fewer no-shows and more patients showing up on time. However, their inefficient, paper-based check-in process means patients continue to languish in the waiting room, leading to a dissatisfying experience.
  • A facility digitizes their patient intake process, but doesn’t make it convenient for patients to complete their forms before their arrival. When patients come on time (or a little late), they still have to complete forms in the waiting room.
  • A facility implements effective new-patient intake forms, but doesn’t have a digital check-in process for returning patients. The front-office staff becomes overwhelmed with manually checking patients in for their appointments while taking care of other front-desk responsibilities.
  • A facility has digital intake and check-in forms, but the forms don’t push the data into their EMR. The staff has to enter the information manually, creating a bottleneck.
  • A facility implements digital forms, but doesn’t have buy-in from their staff or providers, who continue to print paper forms. This creates new inefficiencies, as well as the need for manual data entry.
Infographic: Don’t Play Whac-A-Mole With Your Patient Workflows

Take a Holistic Approach to Fixing Patient Workflows 

Clearly, improving just one part of the patient workflow isn’t enough to resolve all the bottlenecks in the process. Instead, try a holistic approach to fixing your patient workflow bottlenecks with these steps:

Step #1: Set Goals

Setting goals for what you want to accomplish in your patient workflow is a great place to start. Simple Interact uses the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework, and we believe it’s a valuable tool that healthcare organizations can take advantage of to set strategic goals, build clear paths to reach them, and set benchmarks to measure progress.

Goal setting frameworks such as the above help identify the main objectives and key results you want to see from your patient workflow. Ultimately, goals for patient workflows typically center around seeing the optimal number of patients per provider per day in your facility — which means optimizing how patients arrive, check-in, and get seen in your practice.

Step #2: Identify Inefficiencies

The next step is to examine all aspects of your patient workflow and identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks. Some common examples we’ve seen in working with numerous healthcare facilities include:

  • Overbooking — If your facility suffers from a high no-show rate, you may overbook your appointment schedule to compensate and improve provider utilization. On days with the usual no-shows, this works ok. But on days when most patients show up, you end up with delays, long wait times, and rampant frustration.
  • Paper Intake Forms — It’s hard to predict how long patients need to fill out paper intake forms in the waiting room. Some may be slower than you anticipate, and others may be fast but careless. If the staff needs to ask follow-up questions about incomplete forms, this contributes to the bottleneck.
  • Manual Check-In Process — It can take longer than you expect to complete manual check-in for returning patients. This prevents staff from focusing their attention on other patients and tasks.
  • Data Entry — The front-office and medical staff are often busy. Having them manually enter patient data into the EMR introduces yet another distraction, which can lead to delays in the workflow.
  • Technology Issues — In a manual process, if a printer jams or a scanner breaks, it causes serious problems for patient workflows.

Step #3: Create Action Items

Once you identify all the “moles” hiding in your patient workflow, it’s time to bop them all at once. A comprehensive solution should bring predictability and reliability to every piece of the patient workflow. For example:

  • Overbooking — If the first issue you identify is overbooking due to no-shows, the action item for this bottleneck is to create an automated process that reduces the number of no-show patients, like automated appointment reminders.
  • Paper Intake Forms — If another issue is paper forms, implementing digital forms is a great action item. One of the most important points in this action item is to ensure high patient participation in using the digital forms you create. Otherwise, you’ll still have patients filling out forms in your waiting room. Try delivering forms via your appointment reminders rather than in a patient portal, or worse, by leaving them on your website and hoping new patients find them.

You can use this same process to create action items for any other problems or bottlenecks you identify in your patient workflows.

Step #4: Measure and Track

Perhaps the most important part of this process is knowing the data behind every inefficiency. If you can’t measure it, you won’t be able to determine how impactful your solution is.

So, measure your data before you implement a change, and continually track that data once a change is implemented.

Improve Patient Workflows With Simple Interact

At Simple Interact, we measure and track patient workflow data for our clients, and we know which levers to pull to improve these numbers to help our clients reach their goals.

Contact us if you’d like to request a demo of our comprehensive digital platform for patient intake forms, appointment reminders, and other tools to improve your patient workflows. We’re here to help you win the game!

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