Take Firm Steps Toward Your Efficiency Goals
Regardless of your reasons for achieving an efficient practice, these technologies can help.
JOHN WARREN, O.D., RACINE, WISC.
There are many definitions of “ef-ficiency” in an eyecare practice, and for good reason. In one practice, being efficient may mean seeing more patients in a given time period than before. In another practice, it may mean having more “quality” time with patients — spending less time collecting data and more time educating the findings and plans with the patient vs. before. And in yet another practice, it may mean working less time than was previously the norm to accomplish the same amount of work.
Honestly, in most practices, it’s a little bit of all three of the scenarios mentioned. No matter which of the scenarios may be attractive to your practice, you can and should take steps to work toward those goals, plan for the project, and make it happen.
Two paths to efficiency
There are two major routes to take when looking to improve efficiency. The first is technology and the second is an improved system of care delivery. While they are often intertwined, they are different. When it comes to technology, there are many different types. Here, I will highlight just a few. Some are devices, and some are technology services or functions delivered via technology.
Devices that do more
Multifunction devices can greatly reduce the time required to gather objective data from patients at the start, in the middle and even at the end of the exam. From devices that measure a patient’s autorefraction, keratometry and NCT results or an aberrometer that provides multiple autorefractions, aberrometry values, topography, keratometry, pupilometry and an anterior segment image all in one stop, these devices can greatly improve patient throughput and the quantity and quality of data gathered.
Also, many of these devices facilitate the movement of data throughout your practice, from pretesting, to the subjective refraction and into your EHR, without any manual data entry by you or your staff. Not only is this efficient, it prevents transposition or data entry errors.
Automating repetitive tasks
Technology can be a great help when it comes to automating continual tasks, such as appointment confirmation or recall. There are many technology solutions that automate these office functions via e-mail, text messaging and automated phone calls.
By having one of these systems, along with your practice management software, your patients can interact with your office automatically and on their own schedule.
My patients appreciate the text reminders the day of their appointments, and my staff likes having patients confirm their appointments via e-mail and text. If you have 20 patients to see per day, and half of them confirm their appointments via these options vs. using telephone confirmation, your staff can easily save 45 to 60 minutes per day. (Just consider the time it takes to locate the patient’s contact information, dial their phone number, talk to the patient — assuming you reach them on the first attempt — or leave a voicemail message, and you easily save two minutes per patient.)
Also, you can automate notifications that contact lenses are ready to be picked up, that eyeglasses have arrived and are ready to be dispensed, as well as follow-up communication about orders.
Looking at your “system”
I mentioned an improved system of care delivery as an efficiency boost for your practice too. By this I mean taking a look at every aspect of a patient encounter (and maybe different encounters based on how patients move through your practice). From the time the phone rings to make the appointment until the patient leaves the office after their visit, every step along the way has the potential to cost or save you and your staff time.
For example, it makes no sense to have patients all showing up at the same time if they all need to be examined on the same piece of equipment. Scheduling based on expected time per “encounter step,” such as refraction, retinal photography or optical, is how I have managed my patient flow. We try to move patients through each step of the office visit in a manner that prevents them from “stacking up,” whether it’s waiting for a staff member, a piece of technology or a doctor. Many times, all it takes is a simple switch in the order that testing or some other steps are performed to either boost or ruin efficiency.
In addition to making this technological change, I also have altered our workflow for confirming appointments, sending patient reminders and communicating with my patients. We now have e-mail addresses for more than 60% of my patients. We use this data to automatically send them appointment reminders, recalls (for overdue patients), announcements that eye glasses are ready to be picked up and for office events.
The result? My staff spends absolutely zero time sending these e-mails and texts, and when a patient confirms their appointment via e-mail or text, the appointment is automatically marked as confirmed in my practice management software.
Buying time for patients
In my practice I wanted more time to spend with my patients discussing vision correction options, ocular health issues and, sometimes, to have social conversations. To do this, I made one of the biggest changes in my 20-plus years of practice: I acquired a digital refraction system that consists of the following:
▸ OPD aberrometer
▸ LCD acuity chart
▸ Digital refractor
As a result, I radically changed the way that I perform the refraction portion of my examination. Since using this device, I’ve been able to save five to 10 minutes of data gathering time per patient encounter between the objective and subjective portions of the process. And patients have said they love the experience compared with undergoing several separate (and more lengthy) tests.
A high rate of return
While these efficiency gains require financial investment, when done correctly, this investment returns many times its cost in benefits. These benefits include, but are not limited to, “buying time” to be used as desired, streamlining your staff and making them happier with their jobs, and, the ultimate goal, an improved patient experience in your office. OM
Dr. Warren practices at the Warren Eye Care Center. E-mail him at email@example.com. To comment on this article, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.