Referral Generator: Work Smarter At Patient Education

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By Chris E. Vance, DPM
Chris shared her experiences with Neurontin when she worked with a neurologist and we adapted her recommendations for our neuropathy and restless leg patients. Colleen shared our new patient feedback forms to elicit input from patients regarding their care. We moved to review the input received from patients at our next staff meeting. Understanding The Benefits Of Having Two Medical Assistants During the course of one of our monthly meetings, one of the staff members asked, “Why couldn’t we have two medical assistants during peak treatment times?” Peak times are those high demand appointment times that are most frequently requested by patients. For our patient population, these times usually fall between 8 and 8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and noon, 1:30 and 2 p.m., and at times relative to the commute between 3:30 and 5 p.m. Initially, we started scheduling an additional back office medical assistant at these peak times. We have since found that our patients appreciate having two medical assistants as it results in more care and less delay. After a two-month trial, we now employ two medical assistants for each doctor at all times. All medical staff undergo six weeks of training. Both front and back office staff have three notebooks of reference material they are tested on. Each new employee has a checklist that a senior staff person oversees. Front office staff are trained in eliciting information over the telephone and how to handle the irritated patient in the office. Our training staff report weekly progress to our office coordinator who helps both trainer and trainee reflect on the process and career fit. Most of our staff is part-time, which gives us more flexibility. Some of our staff are trained for both front and back office duties. This advantage allows the front office staff to help the back office or vice-versa during times of increased patient flow. For example, when one medical assistant is busy taking off a BK cast and the second medical assistant is interviewing a new patient, the multi-talented front office staff can take an X-ray of an emergency ankle fracture that was referred on an emergency basis by the patient’s primary care physician. To uncork the discharge desk, back office staff can set up appointments and answer the appointment phone. Increased Flexibility Leads To Increased Referrals We have found that not only do our patients appreciate being cared for more thoroughly, but our referral doctors appreciate our ability to accommodate their patients in a timely fashion. Usually we are able to schedule their referral the same day they call, if requested. Referring doctors are no longer impressed by a two-week wait to accommodate patients. We are now receiving new referrals from 16 doctors who previously referred to other orthopedists or podiatrists in the area. The reason given for this change in their referral pattern was our ability to get their patients into the office when requested, and our reputation for better patient education. We have also seen an increase in patient referrals from patients. A greater percentage of patients who have made appointments keep them. Prior to utilizing two medical assistants, we had a 12 percent no-show rate. With the presence of two medical assistants, our no-show rate with new patients is down to 5 percent. We believe this decreased rate of new patient no-shows is directly due to our ability to reduce the patient wait time from 10 days down to less than three days. Also, patients usually come in on the day that they call if they request that day. Are two medical assistants cost effective? With a second medical assistant working 20 hours each week at $14 an hour, you will generate at least three more patient visits. It does not take long to see that you can easily justify the second medical assistant. You will work smarter but not harder if you consider a second medical assistant for better patient education and patient care. Dr. Vance is board certified by the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and is a practice management consultant. He practices with Gordon Nishimoto, DPM, at Northwest Foot And Ankle Specialists in Everett, Wa.

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