What keeps you up at night? For many allergists, it’s wondering “How can I see more patients with limited resources and maintain efficiency?” In many cases, the answer is staffing appropriately and utilizing technology to its fullest potential.
The results of a recent Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) survey indicate that higher-performing practices have more total support staff per full-time equivalent (FTE) physician. Unfortunately in many cases, physician offices are staffed so sparingly that, especially in clinic, the physician is often waiting on staff to complete a task before the room can be turned over.
At our office, an allergist gets approximately one FTE staff in clinic for every 10 patients they see in a day. An allergist who sees 30-35 patients a day has three clinical staff, and we try to schedule those three staff to the same allergist daily. This creates a more coherent team, and staff can often anticipate what the allergist will do. For example, in terms of patient education, staff has frequently already discussed treatments such as allergy testing and immunotherapy before the allergist enters the room, increasing efficiency.
Take advantage of tech
A second roadblock affecting efficiency of practices is the insufficient use of available technology, such as EHR systems. I have often observed practices attempting to utilize old processes within a new EHR system. However, it would benefit them to gain an understanding of the new system’s design and formulate new approaches that complement the capabilities of the new system.
Take the patient portal feature, for example. Most current systems have robust patient portals which allow patients to complete paperwork, view lab results and request prescription refills. Some practices may be apprehensive about promoting this feature. At our office, we encourage both our new and returning patients to complete paperwork through the portal prior to their visit. Once at the office, the check-in process is expedited, allowing data to be uploaded quickly and the patient to be seen sooner.
The days of patients arriving 15 to 30 minutes early to fill out paperwork are over, and by minimizing the total time patients are in the office, we improve patient satisfaction. By encouraging patients to view lab results and make refill requests via the portal, we reduce the number of phone calls to the office and have clearly documented data flow. When labs are ordered, we instruct the patient to check the portal in a week or two, after the allergist has been able to review the results and enter comments for the patient.
In today’s changing health care environment, we constantly have to think of how we can increase efficiency. Make sure your staffing ratios are not limiting physician performance, and ensure you are using your EMR the way it was designed rather than trying to create a work around for an antiquated process.
Jason Biddy, MBA, Administrator, Alabama Allergy and Asthma Center, LLC