How Patients Benefit When Clinics Streamline Operations

Efficient workflows are paramount to a clinic’s ability to remain profitable while delivering quality patient care. But operational efficiency is something healthcare providers often struggle to accomplish in their practices.

To drive this point home, the Commonwealth Fund, which regularly ranks health systems of developed countries, listed administrative inefficiencies as one of the key reasons the US healthcare systems lags behind those in other countries. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, bluntly states that American clinics “[waste] a lot of money on administration.”

What’s more, this lack of efficiency creates a tense atmosphere for everyone — for staff, for doctors and, most especially, for patients.

While the immediate financial costs of an inefficient clinic may be a clinic’s primary concern, the impact of a poor patient experience cannot be overlooked or overrated.

The Importance of the Patient Experience

The patient experience is an “integral component of healthcare quality,” writes the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and it encompasses all aspects of a patient’s care, including scheduling, access, communication and care. Clinics that neglect the patient experience put themselves at risk.

Patients have more care options than ever before, which means they can demand a customer-friendly experience, explains Paul Barr, features editor for Modern Healthcare.

And patients have little patience for bad experiences. If they are unhappy with the level of care they receive or are frustrated with any part of the experience, they can easily find another physician or clinic. Further, they can (and will) post negative reviews about the clinic online, which can also have a long-term impact on the success of the clinic.

But if healthcare providers create a positive patient experience by making visits as seamless as possible while delivering the expected quality of care, patients will be happy.

Patients Receive Higher-Quality Care

Quality of care is the No 1 concern among patients, but physicians don’t always have the time necessary to satisfy patient expectations for a visit, which leaves patients frustrated..

The reality of delivering healthcare is often at odds with patient expectations. Ming Tai-Seale, associate director of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute, and a team of researchers found that doctors spent 3.08 hours a day with patients and 3.17 hours a day on “desktop medicine.” When physicians have to spend that much time on administrative tasks, it takes away from the time that they can spend with patients.

Knowing this, clinics should be streamlining processes to increase the duration and quality of time physicians can spend with patients, says Dr. Michael Murphy, co-founder and CEO of ScribeAmerica, LLC. The result for patients is that they receive a higher quality of care because the doctor has more time and brain space to devote to the patients.

By streamlining operations, healthcare clinics create an environment in which quality care is the top priority. Doctors have more time to devote to patient care. This is, by far, the biggest benefit for patients.

Patient Flow is More Systematic and Smooth

Patient flow can make or break the patient experience. It can ultimately prevent physicians from providing the care patients needs, when and where they need it, says Mackenzie Bean, assistant editor for Becker’s Hospital Review. And it is one of the top reasons cited when patients are dissatisfied with providers.

Scheduling, admissions, wait time and information exchange all impact patient flow — and patients become disgruntled when they are stuck for an extended period of time at any stage of the healthcare delivery process. By focusing on moving patients smoothly through a visit, clinics can “accelerate progress toward reliable, safe and efficient care,” suggests Dr. Eugene Litvak, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Optimization.

To avoid stranding patients at any point in during a visit, clinics need to set up a system that moves patients seamlessly from check-in to clinical practice areas to check-out, advises Marisa Manley, president of Healthcare Real Estate Advisors. For a lot of clinics, this includes better scheduling procedures, having patients fill out paperwork before an appointment, verifying insurance before an appointment and making sure patient data is input properly.

When these steps are streamlined, patients have a more positive experience and are happier with the care they receive.

Medical Records Are More Accurate and Accessible

Medical records have long caused problems for healthcare providers and patients. Issues such as accuracy, accessibility and portability have often frustrated both healthcare providers and patients.

A survey by Surescripts reveals some key stats:

  • 55 percent of patients report missing or incomplete medical history.
  • 40 percent of patients have difficulty accessing their medical records.
  • More than half get just as frustrated with paperwork as they would with buying a car.
  • 57 percent of patients would choose one doctor over another based on the ability to fill out forms online before the visit and the use of electronic medical records.

Enter Electronic Health Records (EHR). Thought not without their struggles, EHRs have been a key step in improving the handling of medical records, and they have been an important part of streamlining operations in medical facilities.

And though they may frustrate providers who have to input and manage the data, there is no doubt of the benefits to patients who have electronic access to their records.

For one, patients can be more proactive about managing their ongoing care through patient portals that EHRs can facilitate. According to the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), nearly 80 percent of patients who accessed portals in 2014 found that access beneficial. This access means they have more control over their records, can detect and report inconsistencies in the information and can better manage their care.

With access to their records, patients can easily share their health information with multiple physicians, should their care require referrals. That eases the workload for patients because they don’t have to memorize the details of their medical histories. With the electronic information, they can skip the pre-visit paperwork and give accurate details, Stephen O’Connor at Advanced Data Systems Corporation explains.

With access to EHRs, patients have better control of their healthcare, which contributes to a more positive patient experience.

More Transparent Billing and Easier Payments

Patients are becoming healthcare consumers, says Sara Heath, editor at Xtellingent Media. And just as with any other consumer experience, they want to pay their bills quickly and easily. A 2017 report by InstaMed shows that 80 percent of patients want digital bill pay options.

The problem is medical bills are cumbersome to work with. The bills are often difficult to understand, contain mistakes that can be hard to correct, show up months after treatment and have limited options for payment. Healthcare facilities can eliminate these patient concerns by streamlining their medical billing and medical records.

By employing electronic systems to handle billing, medical clinics have the ability to offer patients more transparent billing and more ways to pay their medical bills, meeting patient expectations and making them happy.

Greater Overall Satisfaction with the Healthcare Experience

For healthcare providers in this patient-centric era of healthcare delivery, improving patient satisfaction has become a primary goal, says Howard Edgar, senior director of creative services at Practice Builders. This is good news for patients because it means providers are working harder to make them happier.

When patients can receive high-quality care, move quickly through an office, manage their healthcare and easily settle medical bills, they are likely to be more satisfied. This is why streamlining processes is so important to keeping patients happy.

images by: Hongqi Zhang/©123rf.com, Cathy Yeulet/©123rf.com, Hongqi Zhang/©123rf.com

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