Improving Patient Cycle Time

doctorHang around any medical practice and you’ll hear a lot of industry specific lingo. One frequently used term is Cycle Time. No, the practice isn’t planning a long bicycle ride, they’re referring to the amount of time on average a patient spends at a visit, from the moment they walk in the door until the time they leave.

By the way, this term is really not industry specific to medicine. Cycle time is also used in manufacturing and refers to the amount of time that elapses from the point when a product is ordered until it is delivered to the customer.

Whether we’re talking about manufacturing or medical practices, one thing that cycle time has in common is that it includes waiting. And a lot of of it. In fact, a manufacturing sales order cycle time process may include up to 95% time spent waiting as a result of bottlenecks in production, sales order processing, etc.

Medical practices obviously have similar expectations of their cycle times because the floor plan even includes a room in homage to it: the waiting room. Wikipedia defines waiting rooms as follows: A waiting room is a building, or more commonly a part of a building where people sit or stand until the event they are waiting for occurs.

Waiting rooms look like they’re around to stay, but how can you make sure patients spend as little time in them as necessary? Analyzing and managing your practice cycle times can help. And there’s another reason why this is an important metric. The Wall Street Journal reported on a study indicating practices that improve patient cycle time, even by as little as 5 minutes, see improvements in patient satisfaction.

Here are some tips to help improve cycle time in your practice.

  • Get Real. With, your schedule that is. This step takes some thought, so you may want to do this in a team approach, including members of the front desk and providers. Consider the current scheduling process and determine if it’s working or not. Determine how many patients can realistically be seen within an hour and schedule accordingly.
  • Same Day Appointments. Make sure to allow some time slots in your schedule for same day appointments rather than double booking patients who have an urgent need to be seen. Double booking is the equivalent of manufacturing’s bottle neck; it produces unnecessary delays.
  • Don’t delay the start of your day! Getting your day of appointments started on time is crucial to improving overall cycle times. Elizabeth Woodcock wrote in her article, “Improving Your ‘Touch Time’” that “chart previews” should be done days ahead of appointments so the practice can be prepared for each visit. Consider this list of pre-appointment plans to get your appointments going on the right foot:
    • Review charts prior to scheduled visits, preferably a day or two before the appointment
    • Have the staff assembly any necessary reports and/or information for the visit ahead of time
    • Labwork needed? Have staff contact the patient to make sure the lab work is ready ahead of the visit
    • Make sure exam rooms are prepped and ready for the visit
  • Focus on Patient-Centered Care. Improving efficiencies is important but it’s not the only thing that matters. Finding the right mix between efficient patient flow and value-added care is key to providing patient-centered care.
  • It’s all about Teamwork. Maximize use of your team by using their skill sets in the cycle time process. Front desk staff can verify insurance and nursing staff can educate patients. Know your team and their skills and be sure to use them in the health care delivery process.
  • Keep an Eye on the Situation. Conduct periodical process improvement observations by following a patient through an office visit. What steps can be streamlined to improve efficiencies?
  • Be Consistent. Standardize exam rooms so you don’t loose valuable time looking for tools or patient education materials.

There are a font of great articles with tips on improving process flow and patient cycle times for your practice. Work with your practice team to select a few and get started today.

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