A few questions to start.
- Are the schedules in your physician network always full?
- Is there difficulty in booking new patients in a timely manner?
- Is network revenue cycle and production suffering because of issues with front office staff?
- Are you utilizing the front office staff in your practices to maximum efficiency?
- Is it time to implement centralized scheduling in your physician network?
If these issues are perplexing your physician network executives, it may be time implement centralized scheduling. If so, HSG recommends the following guidelines to help assess the current state of scheduling and help in the decision making process.
A key advantage of centralization of scheduling is it allows more focus on other tasks, without constant interruptions of patients calling in to book appointments. This allows staff to focus on other important tasks like demographic information capture and verification, issues that will help with your revenue cycle management.
Central scheduling also can drive standardize scheduling templates across the network. This gives management more control by eliminating any variation in templates that providers often create. Reducing this variation should help improve patient access and drive more volume to the practices.
How to Staff?
This question requires significant analysis, but a good rule of thumb is to start with one scheduler per five providers. That said, take the time to analyze the data: the number of calls received, the number of calls abandoned, length and type of call, should all be considered. Production and demand will vary for the different types of network. Staffing for multispecialty network will be different than one that is dominated by PCPs, as the former will have greater variation in scheduling practices.
How to successfully roll out?
HSG recommends a phased or staggered roll out to the network. Start slow with one, small to medium sized practice and staff the scheduling with two or three schedulers. Hold periodic meetings with those providers to see what is working and what can be improved. This will help mitigate some of the loss of control at the practice/provider level. Most importantly, TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN.
Pitfalls to avoid?
Managing the implementation will be difficult, and there are plenty of mistakes that can be made. Our top four tips are:
- Carefully select the schedulers; the right candidate has physician office experience and must be perceived as having strong customer service tendencies.
- Work with the practices to develop their templates. That daily plan will help avoid issues as you implement.
- Train, Train, Train.
- customer service training
- process training
- training on insurances
- training to answer for the “practice” avoiding the perception of a call center.
- Do not short cut communication; management should over communicate in the early stages of this initiative and be visible to the staff.
Centralized scheduling will not be without problems or pushback. Highly specialized practices will require extra work as their schedules are complicated and the types of visits are highly variable. These practices in particular take a lot of attention.
In our experience, however, the time commitment has been worth it. If you can develop a culture that supports full schedules, you will reap financial benefits. You patients will also reap benefits related to great access and ease of scheduling. Both are important wins in an environment that requires a population health focus.