I got a nice response to my last article on speeding up the check-in process, but a very sharp OD (whom I happen to know) emailed me and said she needed more help with her check-out process; not check-in. I understand and agree; that part of the patient experience is also very important and it is extremely slow in many practices.
Checking-out may not get the attention it deserves from doctors because it does not slow down their patient flow and they have generally moved on to the next patient, but there are two big reasons why you should still care.
Why worry about it?
The two big reasons to make your check-out process quicker are:
Customer service. Look at your check-out procedure from the patient's point of view. Patients are most likely tired by the time they get back to your front desk at the end of the visit. They have typically spent over an hour in your office. They may have just spent a great deal of money. It is important that the last interaction with your practice is a good one. It will color how the patient feels about you and it may impact what they tell others. Patients don't care or understand about coding procedures or office computer software, but you have a chance to let them leave feeling very good about your practice... or not.
Reduce financial errors and potential embezzlement. The truth is that the data entry required by many office software systems is quite complex and the process is slow. So much so, that many staff members don't even try to enter the information with the patient standing in front of them. Many offices have evolved into a procedure where the staff member gives the patient a handwritten paper receipt and sets the paperwork aside to enter later. While efficient and in line with the patient's need to get back to his busy life, it is a bad practice. It is extremely easy for those charges to be forgotten and accidentally never entered. This delayed entry process can also be a temptation to steal. No one likes to think that their employees would be dishonest, but we all know it happens. If cash is collected but the patient's account does not reflect the charges and payment, there is no record of the money. Printing an accurate receipt from the accounting system (whether it's a software program or a cash register) is a key component of business security.
How to speed up the check-out
Start by observing the process in your office. Ask your staff to walk you through what they have to do as they check out a patient. What can you do to speed the whole thing up?
Change the setup. Can you reduce the size of drop down lists of products and codes so staff can find what they need faster?
Staff training. Can the staff be faster at data entry? Do they fully understand insurance processing and billing and coding?
Do you have enough staff? Are your staff too busy and no one is available at the check-out point? Should you begin to have your staff specialize so some employees are very good at the process?
Organization. Do you have an in-office fee slip that has all the procedures, products diagnosis codes, recall dates and out of pocket fees clearly detailed?
Who does what? Can the technician or optician prepare most of the fee slip before going to the front desk so the receptionist only has to retrieve it? Can the technician be sure the fees and payments are correct and review them with the patient before going to the front desk?
Prepare in advance. Do you have all the insurance benefits confirmed? Can you have most of the office work done and most printed materials ready when the patient checks out?
The check-out process is one of several influence points within the patient experience in your practice. Be sure it lives up to perception you want to create.