Office Policies and Accessibility
Practice location, access to physicians by phone or email, timely appointments, shortwaiting times, and easy access to the office are all part of operating a practice that isconvenient for patients. If many of your patients are elderly, be sure that your officebuilding has good access for patients using wheelchairs, and that the seats in your waitingroom have arms and are high enough so patients can sit and rise easily. If many of yourpatients find it difficult to schedule appointments during traditional office hours, consideroffering early morning, evening or weekend appointments on some days of the month.Work with your staff to see how the appointment schedule might be revised so thatpatients can get an appointment within the same week that they call and not have to waitmore than 15 minutes after their scheduled appointment time in the reception area.
Shorter wait times are also a good way to attract new patients that do not have arelationship with you or your practice. Keep a list of patients who want to be seen assoon as possible and call them when a cancellation occurs. You might also consideradopting an open access (same day) scheduling system, which will require carefulplanning and several weeks to implement, but has many potential benefits for you andyour patients.
Investigate the feasibility of opening a satellite office so that you will be accessible forpatients in multiple geographic locations. Careful planning should be done before takingon the added expense of another office, but the added patient base could make it aworthwhile investment. It may also be possible to share or switch offices with otherphysicians who would like to have more than one office location.
Establish a system for reminding patients of the need for follow-up visits. Acomputerized recall system based on age, condition and a recommended physicalexamination schedule can send emails to patients automatically or simply produce a listof patients who need to be sent appointment reminders. If you do not have a practicemanagement system, have your office staff maintain a list of patients to be recalled. Ifyou need to see a patient for a follow-up appointment in six months, put their name on alist to be reminded in five months. Some practices give patients a postcard as they arecompleting their office visit and ask them to address it to themselves. The card is pre-printed with a message that says it is time to call the office for an appointment. Theoffice staff retains the post card and mails it at the appropriate recall date. Doing so takesvery little time, builds the practice, and reinforces the need for continuing care.
An area that is often overlooked is the answering service or machine that receives yourafter-hours calls. Most patients prefer to talk to a person, but this is not always possible.An answering machine could ask people to call during regular hours for an appointment,indicate a specific time that your practice is available for urgent care visits, or provide thenumber of the answering service or emergency department to call if it is an emergency.Patient parking at your office should be free and have copies of schedules and routesavailable for patients who may need public transportation. It may also be beneficial topartner with other practices or businesses to provide a free shuttle from publictransportation terminals, or nearby parking lots.
Provide patients a copy of your payment policy in your welcome letter or during theirinitial visit. When payment, credit and collection policies are carefully explained, it willreduce the severity and quantity of billing related problems for your office staff.Unexpected or unexplained policies and procedures are likely to be a source ofannoyance to your patients. Request copayments and payment of outstanding balances atthe time of service by accepting credit cards, giving patients a stamped envelope to sendtheir check to your office, or work out a payment plan while the patient is in the office.This will minimize administrative costs and avoid misunderstandings over the phone.When you do send patient statements out, be sure to itemize all charges and fees tominimize any misunderstandings. When appropriate, notify patients of disputes with aninsurance plan as early as possible. This can drastically improve collection rates andavoids confrontations with angry patients that receive bills months after the date ofservice because your office has exhausted all efforts with their health plan.