Building More Efficient Schedules for Academic Hospitals

Schedules in Academic Hospitals

Balance Teaching, Research, and Patient Care

Academic medical centers and teaching hospitals play an important role in the overall health system, but the expanded scope of teaching, research, and patient care means academic hospitals routinely face higher patient care costs than nonteaching hospitals.

Average Inpatient Hospital Cost Per Case1

Hospital Costs Per CaseIn such a competitive financial environment, academic healthcare organizations need a more efficient way to manage resources to ensure they can perform their critical social mission. Because labor costs are at an all-time high—likely accounting for up to 60% of hospital operating budgets2—clinical staffing is one of the most critical areas to monitor when it comes to resource management and utilization. Unfortunately, it’s no easy task.

Provider scheduling has proven to be more difficult in an academic setting.

Provider schedules must be able to balance individual departments’ scheduling requirements, organizational standards, provider preferences, and patient demand. Academic healthcare organizations require schedules that can serve as an anchor to operations, factoring in:

  • The unique needs of individual departments.
  • The overall organization’s objectives and goals.
  • Providers’ scheduling preferences.
  • Patient demand for certain care services.
  • Clinical, teaching, and research responsibilities.
  • Training requirements for residents across specialties.

The responsibility of orchestrating academic schedules falls to schedulers, who spend an average of 291 hours annually turning the above laundry list of requirements into provider schedules—often manually, or with little to no automation. Schedulers work hard building on-call lists, calendars, and schedules that meet their organization’s needs, but it’s not always a feasible task. As the hospitalist team at UNC Health, an academic medical center, grew, their scheduler felt that manually scheduling the department’s providers had become nearly impossible.

“The difficulty was we grew very rapidly. It got to where I was spending so many hours creating the schedule, and it had just gotten so complex that it almost became impossible to create. We have to take into consideration providers’ preferences, the many different services that we have. We also have particular services that only some of our providers can cover, such as the procedure service. There are so many different factors that come into play that have to be considered.”

– Administrative Coordinator, Hospitalist Division, UNC Health

Fortunately, UNC Health managed to streamline the scheduling process with Optimized Provider Scheduling powered by Lightning Bolt. Click below to see a video about UNC’s story.

Creating Complex Schedules While Saving Time

An advanced scheduling solution can be instrumental in saving schedulers time as well as creating more effective and efficient schedules. By building out rules that dictate a department’s schedules, schedulers can auto-generate provider schedules and share them globally across their organization to increase schedule visibility and give time back to supporting clinical teams.

“It has allowed me time to do other work besides just scheduling. Scheduling is only a part of what I do.”

Administrative Coordinator, Hospitalist Division, UNC Health

Uncertain how to find a scheduling platform that meets your organization’s needs? Download our new guide, Choosing an Enterprise Scheduling Solution, for a detailed discussion of how rules-based scheduling works and the capabilities you should expect from a scheduling solution.

Efficiently Utilizing Clinical Staff and Resources

In addition to generating significant time savings, an advanced provider scheduling system can also help healthcare organizations better manage their most important resource: clinical staff. Here are four ways an optimized scheduling solution can eliminate excess, cut costs, and increase revenue:

  1. Build schedules that take provider productivity into consideration.
  2. Align provider supply and patient demand to identify and optimize missed revenue opportunities.
  3. Access analytics across shifts, departments, and locations to guide decision making.
  4. Reduce turnover by ensuring shift equity with schedule transparency and provider autonomy over their schedules.

Check out our recent blog post to explore how an advanced optimized scheduling solution can streamline operations and drive efficiency for your organization.

 

Resources:

1. Estimating the Mission-Related Costs of Teaching Hospitals, Project HOPE, Lane Koenig, Allen Dobson, Silver Ho, Jonathan M. Siegel, David Blumenthal, and Joel S. Weissman, Health Affairs—Vol. 22, No. 6—Pages 112-122, November 2003: psnet.ahrq.gov/primer/duty-hours-and-patient-safety
2. Labor Management Trends, Healthcare Financial Management Association, Navigant, Aug. 2018: guidehouse.com/-/media/www/site/insights/healthcare/2018/navigant-hfma-2018-labor-pulse-survey.pdf

Battle Resident Burnout With Better Scheduling

Battle Resident Burnout

Grueling work hours have long been a part of medical training. But growing conversations about resident burnout and well-being, in addition to the impact of unsustainable working hours on patient care, eventually led to a serious revaluation of resident working hours. In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) limited working hours for residents to 80 hours per week and no more than 24 consecutive hours.1

So, how can academic healthcare organizations meet the ACGME’s regulations and reduce burnout while providing exceptional practice experiences? Addressing the hours providers work in a given week is a great place to start. Scheduling can play a huge role in promoting resident satisfaction and well-being, which support high-quality patient care.

Five Ways Better Scheduling Can Improve Resident Satisfaction

  1. Ensuring Shift Equity and Sustainable Work Hours
  2. Increasing Schedule Transparency and Visibility
  3. Simplifying Shift Swapping and Time-Off Requests
  4. Sharing the Schedule in a Timely Fashion
  5. Helping Administrators Better Support Clinical Staff

1. Ensuring Shift Equity and Sustainable Work Hours

Set scheduling rules that limit weekly work hours and ensure fair shift distribution.

In academic medicine, meeting the 80-hour work week guidelines is even more difficult than it seems. A multitude of scheduling factors—including physicians’ teaching requirements, research duties, and clinical responsibilities—must be considered. As a result, it can be difficult to manually prioritize work limits and shift equity with other scheduling rules.

An advanced scheduling solution can easily accommodate for complex scheduling variables once rules are set to limit work hours and balance providers’ varying responsibilities. What’s more, the system should also have the ability to factor in things like providers’ preferences and ensure that certain shifts, like weekends, nights, and call, are distributed as evenly among providers as possible.

It’s a tall order, right? But essential. The right provider scheduling solution will simplify the schedule complexity required to improve outcomes for academic healthcare organizations. We dive deeper into the capabilities that different types of organizations should expect in our new guide, Choosing an Enterprise Scheduling Solution.

2. Increasing Schedule Transparency and Visibility

Increase schedule visibility and transparency by centralizing real-time schedules in a single location.

Creating schedules is one thing, but making sure providers can access the latest schedule is another issue altogether. Locating an up-to-date schedule can be a huge source of frustration for providers and it can also have a big impact on patient care. An advanced digital scheduling solution makes the latest schedules from across your organization accessible to providers at any time from any device at any location.

The ability to easily view the schedule across devices not only cuts down on frustration by making it simpler to view the schedule, find and contact the on-call provider, and communicate with colleagues, but it also increases transparency into how schedules are created. For example, if a resident goes on their mobile app to request Friday off and sees that two other team members have already requested that day off, it may be less surprising if the request is denied.

The reporting capabilities available in the scheduling platform should also promote transparency by allowing schedulers to share reports around shift equity, time off requests approval, and more.

3. Simplifying Shift Swapping and Time-Off Requests

Make the processes easy for swapping shifts and requesting time off.

The lack of a simple, standardized process for shift swapping and time-off requests can make it unnecessarily challenging to find the right person to take over a shift when needed. It can also lead residents to swap shifts without letting the proper administrators know, resulting in outdated, inaccurate schedules that delay communication and patient care.

Centralizing shift swapping, time-off requests, and other scheduling requests on a single digital scheduling platform puts the schedule back in provider hands, giving them more autonomy and control over how and when they are scheduled without leaving administrators in the dark.

4. Sharing the Schedule in a Timely Fashion

Quickly auto-generate gap-free schedules so residents can access next month’s schedule today.

Creating schedules can be incredibly time consuming, especially in academic settings. Schedulers often try to balance teaching, research, and patient care with organizational, departmental, and individual provider needs. Resulting time constraints mean that providers often receive their schedules at the last minute, making work-life balance nearly impossible.

An advanced scheduling solution can simplify schedule creation with rules built to meet each team’s unique needs. Different departments within an organization can then auto-generate gap-free schedules built to their specifications, which helps administrators complete and distribute schedules more quickly. Complete schedules are instantly available for care team members and administrators across the organization to access any time.

5. Helping Administrators Better Support Clinical Staff

Free up administrators’ time so they can better support the needs of clinical staff.

Administrators spend roughly 291 hours annually managing provider schedules. For academic facilities with more complex schedules, the number is likely far more. That’s valuable time administrators could spend to better supporting clinical staff.

Jessica Angerman, the Program Coordinator for the Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center Combined Residency Program, says Optimized Scheduling powered by Lightning Bolt has created a better culture for residents and administrators alike.

“Our leadership team of program directors and associate program directors really like to foster a good culture between the admin team and leadership and the residents. Lightning Bolt has definitely helped us reach the residents in a more personal way. A lot of the times our administrative team doesn’t get to meet with them one-on-one because they’re so busy. It’s really given us that opportunity to understand where they are day-to-day and what their work includes, and they understand more of what our work includes.”

Jessica Angerman, Program Coordinator, Combined Residency Program, Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center

Watch the full interview with Jessica to learn more.

Increase Resident and Care Team Satisfaction With Better Scheduling

To learn more about how we can support better scheduling at your organization, click below to contact a scheduling specialist.

 

Resources:
1. Duty Hours and Patient Safety, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Patient Safety Network, Sept. 7, 2019: psnet.ahrq.gov/primer/duty-hours-and-patient-safety

The Power of Provider Schedule Visibility

Provider schedule visibility—or lack thereof—has broad impacts on various aspects of patient care. Two top areas that can be improved by making schedules more visible are patient safety and provider satisfaction.

Patient Safety

A review from the Joint Commission reveals that communication failures are at the root of over 70% of sentinel events.1 Often, lapses in clinical communication are caused by the inability of care team members to locate and contact the correct provider, a problem exacerbated by siloed and outdated scheduling systems. If different department call schedules are accessed in different locations across the organization and providers are expected to go through different processes for each department, dangerous delays in communication are inevitable.

A study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality refers to the time care team members spend attempting—but failing—to contact the correct provider as “problematic time.” According to the study, many communication events include time spent searching for information, identifying the appropriate provider, or searching for accurate contact information.

On average, problematic time consisted of 10-40% of total communication time.1 To eliminate problematic time, schedules must make it easy to quickly locate and contact the correct provider.

“To be able to see who is the surgeon that’s going to be taking this case, who’s the radiologist on call, who’s the infectious disease provider on call—all at a glance—that just has huge value to an organization for patient safety and workflow efficiency.”

– Dr. Corey Joekel, Chief Medical Information Officer, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Omaha, Optimized Provider Scheduling Client

Smart organizations improve speed to care and reduce medical errors with one digital scheduling solution that offers the latest schedules and provider contact information for all departments at the touch of a button. An accessible solution also integrates real-time schedules with other essential systems, like the EHR, call center software, and clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) solutions.

Modern provider schedules that are centralized, easily visible, and always up to date make connecting with the right provider much quicker and easier, eliminating delays and streamlining patient care.

Provider Satisfaction

Inefficient and varying processes for locating the on-call provider can be a huge source of dissatisfaction for physicians, care team members, and administrators, contributing to increased turnover.1 A lack of schedule transparency is a frustrating issue that inhibits your staff’s perception of shift fairness, impedes their ability to collaborate quickly, and brings down their overall satisfaction at work. It’s easy to understand why…

A provider who cannot access a full view of the schedule is more likely to get the misconception that a coworker is getting “better” shifts than one who can easily pull up the full team schedule. Perceived unfairness leads to frustration, friction, and dissatisfaction. As provider dissatisfaction spreads, schedulers become overwhelmed with schedule complaints and shift change requests. In the absence of a scheduling solution that is easy to access, edit, and share, schedule changes increasingly pull schedulers away from other important tasks.

The vicious cycle repeats itself in teams that lack schedule visibility, leading to burnout and turnover.

With the cost to replace a physician ranging from $500,000-1 million2, healthcare organizations stand to lose thousands, even millions, of dollars annually in turnover.

Investing in better provider scheduling can save big money in the long run.

Better Scheduling Transparency Improves Healthcare

Ensuring provider shift and on-call schedules are easily accessible across your organization can dramatically increase both patient safety and provider satisfaction by improving healthcare operations.

Want proof? Optimized Provider Scheduling powered by Lightning Bolt helped UK Healthcare’s Hospitalist Department decrease the time to contact the on-call provider by 86.5%.

Contact one of our Clinical Scheduling Specialists today to learn how Optimized Provider Scheduling can drive results for your organization.

Resources:

  1. Improving Patient Safety Through Provider Communication Strategy Enhancements, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Dingley C., et al., Advances in Patient Safety: New Directions and Alternative Approaches – Vol. 3, Aug. 2008: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK43663/
  2. Please don’t go: ways to reduce physician turnover, Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), Sep. 20, 2018: mgma.com/data/data-stories/please-don-t-go-ways-to-reduce-physician-turnover#:~:text=According%20to%20Christine%20Sinsky%2C%20MD,costs%20by%20reducing%20physician%20turnover

Manage Patient Surge with Advanced Provider Scheduling

Patient Surge: Meet Demand with Optimized Provider Scheduling

A key part of any emergency preparedness plan is ensuring patients have access to the care they need—when they need it! During any widespread emergency or disaster, every healthcare organization—whether it’s a small local practice or a large health system—must ensure it has the tools in place to meet unexpected patient surge. One of the most important tools for responding to rising patient demand during a crisis: an advanced provider scheduling solution.

Ensure Patient Access by Responding in Real Time

Unpredictable circumstances call for quick responses. An advanced provider scheduling solution enables an organization of any size to respond to unexpected patient surge in real time. Let’s walk through an example.

A natural disaster occurs near Central Hospital, a medium-sized acute care facility. The emergency department is not adequately staffed to meet the increase in patient demand. The department’s administrator launches the scheduling solution and sends a communication to all the department providers not already working to request additional coverage. When providers accept, they are immediately added to the schedule so they can report to the emergency department to provide coverage. The ability to make these quick changes might mean that a patient who otherwise would have had to wait longer due to overwhelmed clinical staff can now get the urgent care they need at the right time.

In addition to providing administrators the ability to communicate with clinical staff, an advanced scheduling solution also enables providers to easily communicate with administrators if emergency circumstances prevent them from being able to cover a shift. Instead of sending emails back and forth to colleagues and administrators trying to find shift coverage, providers can simply send a shift swap request to all available colleagues from the mobile application in less than a minute. When a colleague accepts the request, the change is reflected in real time for all team members to see.

Increase Visibility Across Locations and Departments

In a crisis, visibility into who is working where is key. Without a centralized scheduling solution, healthcare organizations lack both a single source of truth for evaluating staffing needs across locations/departments and the ability to quickly enact staffing changes.

For a hospital, enhanced visibility allows administrators and clinical leaders to ensure adequate staffing across several departments. For example, at a northern California hospital preparing for seasonal wildfires, administrators can evaluate coverage to ensure contingent departments, like the emergency department and the burn unit, have an adequate number of scheduled providers to respond to incoming wildfire injuries.

This level of visibility also enables health systems and multi-site group practices to evaluate staffing needs across all in-network locations in order to meet patient demand. For example—a multi-site group pediatric practice may offer weekend visits with exclusive hours at a specific practice location during flu season; with enhanced visibility administrators can predict weekend shift coverage needs and equitably allocate the appropriate amount of clinical staff to that specific location based on patient demand.

Enhance Communication & Collaboration Workflows

Particularly for a hospital or health system, improved schedule transparency not only allows leaders to make informed staffing decisions, but also empowers care teams to better communicate and collaborate. Collaboration between different specialty departments or providers across locations is essential during an emergency response.

For example:

During a surge in patient admission to the hospitalist department, an administrator makes a request for additional hospitalist coverage. As additional coverage is required, it is essential the coverage updates to the schedule are accessible to all care team members in real time, assuring your team the right messages are delivered to the right provider at the right time. With a scheduling solution, you ensure schedule changes are visible in real time, so your staff can easily contact the correct providers quickly—launching a call, text, or email to a provider directly from the application.

Ensure Ample Coverage in Any Crisis with an Agile Scheduling Solution—Launched in Just 48 Hours

The benefits of a scheduling solution for emergency preparedness are wide-ranging, but scheduling solutions can take up to three months to implement. Need an immediate scheduling solution to prepare your organization for patient surge? Learn more about our Rapid Surge Scheduling solution which is ready to launch just 48 hours.

Optimized Scheduling Drives Hospitalist Satisfaction

31% of hospitalists are not satisfied with their schedules.

Today’s Hospitalist 2019 Career & Compensation Survey reveals that hospitalists are unsatisfied with their schedules, citing a lack of flexibility, inability to take vacation, and inequitable distributions of shifts like weekend and call.1 Other top complaints included burnout, administrative tasks, and an overwhelming patient census.

One root cause of these issues? Ineffective provider scheduling.

Learn how optimized scheduling can increase hospitalist satisfaction at your organization by incorporating provider preferences, simplifying scheduling workflows, and aligning provider supply with patient demand. Click the image below to download the infographic.

To learn more about how PerfectServe can support better hospitalist scheduling at your organization, click below to contact one of our Scheduling Specialists.

 

 

Resources:
1. Today’s Hospitalist 2019 Career & Compensation Survey: todayshospitalist.com/salary-survey-results/

How Virtual Waiting Rooms Protect Patients, Staff, and Productivity

How Virtual Waiting Rooms Protect Patients, Staff, and Productivity

A traditional waiting room can be a melting pot for germs and bacteria. Learn how a virtual waiting room protects patients and staff by reducing their risk of exposure to infection. Possible side effects: more pleasant patient-provider encounters, increased patient and provider satisfaction, better adherence to social distancing best practices, and improved overall outcomes.

May 2020, 90% of patients globally reported that the quality of care was as good or better with the recent surge in virtual care than care quality before COVID-19.1

What is a “virtual waiting room”?

If you’ve been out to eat at a restaurant in the past few years, you may have noticed a change in the experience of waiting for a table. Rather than asking you to stay within earshot while you wait, today’s hostess will likely request your cell phone number and offer to text you when your table is ready.

The text-to-table process makes the entire experience feel more personal, comfortable, and customer-centric. That’s because waiting is less unpleasant when you are free to do what you want—where you want—until the moment your turn arrives. Now, the same experience has become essential in healthcare to minimize patient discomfort and protect public safety with social distancing.

A virtual waiting room (aka mobile waiting room, zero-contact waiting room, or curbside check-in) is a service that allows patients to check in using their mobile phone and notifies them through a direct text message when it is their turn to be seen by the doctor.

An ideal virtual waiting room serves two essential purposes:

  1. Giving in-person patients the freedom to wait for their turn privately in their car or wherever they choose, rather than being confined to a stuffy, crowded waiting room and risking exposure to new germs and potential illness.
  2. Facilitating a smooth check-in process for telehealth visits.

Both purposes improve the patient experience and encourage healthy practices.

Why are virtual waiting rooms essential for in-person patient visits?

31% of patients say they are uncomfortable visiting a doctor’s office and 42% are uncomfortable visiting a hospital.2

Traditional waiting rooms that require patients to touch shared surfaces and breathe shared air are both uncomfortable and unsafe in the current environment. Virtual waiting rooms serve the important health purpose of enabling social distancing, and they also enhance the patient experience.

Unlike a traditional waiting room, a virtual waiting room reduces the risk of patients (and staff) associating your organization with frustrating factors beyond your control, which may include pesky sounds, smells, other people, and even boredom. As demand rises for a safer, more comfortable healthcare experience, virtual waiting rooms are the key to getting patients in the door while increasing their odds of leaving satisfied.

How can virtual waiting rooms apply to video visits?

Ideally, the same virtual solution used to help manage in-person patient visits can be adapted to also queue up video visits, allowing providers and patients to indicate when they are ready.

What’s the best way to implement a virtual waiting room?

In short, work with what you’ve got. If you have a patient engagement solution that can also facilitate a virtual waiting room and video visits, talk to your vendor about the next steps for launching a virtual waiting room.

If you do not have a solution for two-way texting or video visits with patients, or if you are looking for a replacement/upgrade to your current system, focus on finding a solution that can do the following:

  • Automated Appointment Reminders to Patients
  • Pre-Appointment and Pre-Arrival Instructions to Patients
  • Patient Arrival Notification via Simple Text
  • Entry Notification and Office Navigation Guidance
  • HIPAA-Compliant Video Connection
  • Scheduled and On-the-Fly Video Visits
  • Connect Without Requiring App Downloads or Passwords
  • Caller ID Protection for Providers
  • 24/7 Connection

Here’s a streamlined patient experience with an organization using all of the above capabilities:

Key Benefits of an Integrated Virtual Waiting Room

Virtual waiting rooms are extremely beneficial to patients, staff, and organizations that implement them, especially when they are integrated with other patient engagement solutions, such as video visits and HIPAA-compliant messaging.

Some of the top benefits include:

  • Patient Protection and Safety
  • Increased Patient Satisfaction
  • Reduced Frustration for Patients and Staff
  • Efficient Patient Intake
  • Reduced No-Shows

 

Get Started Now to See Benefits Sooner

Give your patients a safer, easier solution for maintaining their healthcare with a user-friendly, integrated virtual waiting room. To see how it works, click below.

Resources:

  1. Virtual care here to stay, PharmaTimes, Brad Michel, Jul. 21, 2020: pharmatimes.com/web_exclusives/Virtual_care_here_to_stay_1345204
  2. Breakdown of Changes in Consumers’ Health Care Behavior During COVID-19—INFOGRAPHIC, Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), May 21, 2020: achp.org/research-breakdown-of-changes-in-consumers-health-care-behavior-during-covid-19

Engaging Millennial Parents to Increase Well-Child Visits

Scheduling well-child visits can be problematic for young parents. Many don’t know how often to bring in their children or understand the importance of regularly scheduled visits. Regular visits are particularly critical during the first three years of a child’s life to track growth and development, help prevent illness, and allow early intervention when necessary for optimal outcomes.

Text message reminders have become an expected touchpoint for dental appointments, vet visits, car maintenance, and various other services for today’s consumer. But some providers have been slow to engage parents via text to help keep their children on track with recommended care plans.

Millennials, who are accustomed to checking their text messages regularly throughout the day, respond positively to businesses that reach out to them via text. Young parents want the efficiency and convenience of smartphone messaging in most aspects of their lives, including appointment reminders.

See how Park Nicollet utilized PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication functionality to launch a text message appointment reminder program helping new parents more closely adhere to the recommended well-child visit schedule.

Constructing the Program

In 2016, Park Nicollet, part of HealthPartners, a nonprofit healthcare system based in Minnesota, launched a text-message-based reminder program to proactively support young parents in scheduling well-child visits from infancy to late childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends six visits in the first 15 months (Health Plan Employers Data and Information Set [HEDIS] measure), which fits into the broad scope of 12 recommended well-child visits by age three.

To promote parents’ adherence to the advised schedule, our team set five goals aligned with best practices from AAP’s Bright Futures initiative:

  1. Keep children on time for well-child visits.
  2. Prevent missed visits and gaps in care.
  3. Improve the patient and parent experience.
  4. Support Bright Futures—recall and reminder system.
  5. Improve the HEDIS measure.

A program was launched using an algorithm based on birth dates to send text messages at appropriate intervals to parents of children aged two months to 36 months. Instead of waiting to reach out until after appointments were overdue, preemptive texts encouraged parents to schedule before the next well visit, offering a direct link for parents to easily schedule an appointment. The seamless and automatic process allowed Park Nicollet to reclaim precious staff time that was previously used to manage reminders.

Program Structure

Birth to Three Years

A SMS text message is sent to the child’s family or primary caregiver 30 days prior to the next well-child visit,
based on the child’s date of birth. Then, text reminders are only sent if an appointment is not scheduled in the appropriate timeframe.

Three to 10 Years

A text message is sent to the child’s family or primary caregiver two weeks prior to the next well-child visit, based on the date of the child’s last well-child visit. Then, a text reminder is only sent if an appointment is not scheduled in the appropriate timeframe.

Launching the Program

Launching the program with a small patient population (birth to three years) enabled Park Nicollet to see results quickly; early results showed that the text outreach was positive. Patient satisfaction increased among parents, who loved the ease and convenience of the program. Prior to the texting program, patients were seen an average of one month after their recommended well visit. Only three to six months after initiating the text reminder program, the one-month average gap was cut in half, meaning patients were seen closer to AAP recommendations.

Implementing the program on a smaller scale provided an opportunity to identify and address problems before expanding to the larger population. The biggest challenge involved parental consent and whether to design an opt-in or opt-out program. Park Nicollet defaulted to an opt-in program, requiring parents to provide consent to start receiving text reminders. Eventually, this obstacle overcome by training frontline staff to have parents sign consent forms, but the face-to-face process limited enrollment to the parents who were already making and keeping appointments.

Efficient enrollment and expansion required automation and updating of the electronic health record (EHR). Following the EHR integration, enrollment consent was captured in the EHR and parents didn’t need to be present in the office if they had consented to text messaging as their preferred appointment reminder.

With enterprise-wide expansion of PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication to all HealthPartners facilities in 2017, the automated process increased enrollment by over 35,000 and increased well-child visits by 10%. Based on the last reported 12-month period, enterprise-wide enrollment has over 79,000 active patients, which includes HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, and over 43,000 enrolled patients for Park Nicollet alone (see Table 1).

Table 1

Development and Expansion

With expansion of the program to Park Nicollet’s entire clinic care group in 2019, they began using text reminders for well visits for children up to age 10. Future initiatives with the program for Park Nicollet included incorporating additional languages (a sizable subset of HealthPartners patients is non-native-English speaking). In addition, increased enrollment of the millennial population presented opportunities to address various patient population needs—such as:

  • Reminders for flu vaccines and other immunizations.
  • Health metrics monitoring.
  • Checks for postpartum depression.

A Roadmap for Getting Started

Leveraging technology with a trusted and experienced partner enabled the team at Park Nicollet to create a program that worked for patients’ families. Following a digital roadmap, PerfectServe and Park Nicollet worked together to build reports derived from actionable, engaging, timely, and relevant data. Based on these insights, here are five recommendations for implementing a successful texting program:

  1. Partner with a solution that has proven expertise with EMR systems and experience providing reliable, secure communication to patients and their family.
  2. Engage a project champion to guide project design, implementation, effectiveness, expansion, and quality assurance.
  3. Assemble a multidisciplinary team—mobile communication technology partner, EMR vendor, physicians, quality improvement specialists, health information management (HIM), compliance and legal experts, growth strategists, and frontline managers—and solicit input from all stakeholders.
  4. Launch a scaled down program with a small population to identify and address problems before expanding to a larger patient population.
  5. Initiate the process with a mindset of patience. Avoid trying to implement the program hastily and without forethought. This endeavor demands careful preparation to ensure success.

PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication solution gives providers a simple and elegant way to engage directly with patients. From sharing directions to your office before an appointment to checking in with patients post-discharge, text messaging is a quick, effective, and easily automated way to stay connected with any patient population—most of all millennials.

Learn more about how PerfectServe supports patient-provider communication by contacting one of our Clinical Communication Specialists below.

Comprehensive Clinical Communication to Support Mother-Baby Care Delivery

Nearly four million babies are born per year in the United States.1 Obstetricians, pediatricians, nurses, case managers, discharge coordinators, and various other providers and care teams work to ensure that mothers and babies have optimal solutions for pregnancy, labor, delivery, and child healthcare.

From preconception to parenthood, PerfectServe’s comprehensive communication solutions can help your practice provide top-notch care at every touchpoint of mother and baby’s healthcare journey. Click the image below to download the infographic.

1Births and Natality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/births.htm

To learn more about how PerfectServe can support your organization in mother-baby care delivery, contact one of our Clinical Communication Specialists.

Patient Benefits of an Advanced Automated Answering Service Solution

Patient experience is the most important factor when it comes to patient retention at any medical practice. An essential touchpoint to optimize in modern medical practices is to standardize the way your patient calls are handled. The right 24/7 answering service solution can free up valuable provider and staff resources to focus on patient care while reducing unnecessary interruptions and ensuring urgent messages reach the right provider at the right time—every time.

Removing human error and delivering an automated and reliable service for both providers and patients, advanced answering service solutions are being implemented by more and more practices to enhance both patient and provider satisfaction.

Here are just a few key patient benefits of an ideal automated answering service solution:

Less Frustration

Your patients have busy lives but your practice is busy, too. If your practice experiences call volume congestion, your patients still need to be able to reach you without being put on hold. The right answering service solution will differentiate messages based on urgency and use your on-call schedules to accurately route communication to the right provider based on escalation policies set by your practice, speeding time to treatment.

Timely Communication

Efficient practice operations help decrease the time patients spend waiting during appointments and on hold when they call your practice. Automation allows patients to reach your practice at any time, during any circumstances to get the answers and help they need. The best answering service solutions offer smart routing that ensures providers are only interrupted to address urgent requests that require responses in a timely manner.

24/7 Care Access

Although many answering services are only used for after-hours coverage, an automated answering service solution delivers around-the-clock coverage as needed. Just because you don’t see your patients on a 24-hour basis does not mean it shouldn’t be easy for them to manage their appointments and make routine requests such as medication refills whenever they think of them, which might not be during regular office hours. An automated answering service solution can support call volume overflow when the main line at your practice is busy and serve as a 24/7 backup during emergency events when your practice is closed.

Better Onsite Service

Your staff need to be able to do their jobs, but when they face constant interruptions and take on the additional task of call filtering, concentration is broken, efficiency is lost, and providers can become unable to best care for their patients. Implementing the right automated answering service solution can free up your team to focus more on what they do best—patient care.

If providing an excellent patient experience and running an efficient medical practice are priorities for you, an advanced automated answering service solution might be just what the doctor ordered.

Let’s discuss more about how the ideal automated answering service solution can benefit your patients.

 

4 Simple Steps for Reducing Third-Party Vendor Costs

In the era of nonstop mergers and acquisitions, healthcare organizations are taking on immeasurable costs in the form of third-party services. When a health system acquires a private or independent group practice, the health system inherits all the practice’s employed third-party services and systems, including:

  • Electronic Health Record (EHR)
  • Practice Management
  • Revenue Cycle Management
  • Medical Answering Service
  • Security, Maintenance, and More

When healthcare organizations merge, issues with purchased services compound as the health system takes on all existing service contracts from the practices affiliated with the previous organizations. Purchased services represent as much as 20% to 25% of an organization’s annual spend,1 so consolidating services is a valuable opportunity to save on spending.

Standardizing third-party processes and technology can be an untapped source of savings across the healthcare supply chain. To help you identify areas in need of improvement, here are four steps that can help successfully lower your organization’s purchased services costs:

Step One: Mine the data.

For many healthcare organizations, simply gaining visibility into third-party contracts and expenses can be challenging. Contracts are often managed by various people throughout healthcare organizations, or even services outside organizations, such as group purchasing organizations (GPOs).

Start gathering the actualities by creating an inventory of all third-party vendors used throughout your organization, as well as the associated stakeholders and contracts. It’s important to speak with each stakeholder and review each contract thoroughly.

Next, collect all financial data for your vendors. Check with your accounts payable department and take a look at current and past purchase orders. While purchase orders won’t tell the whole story, they are a good place to start to get an idea of total cost. Many third-party vendors have variable costs that make it difficult to get an accurate account of how much they’re really costing. Reviewing your general ledger will help you uncover variable costs.

There are a few key questions to consider when reviewing your service contracts:

  • What rate is this vendor currently charging me and how often?
  • Is there an auto-renewal in place? If so, when?
  • What are the scaling terms and are there fees associated with scaling?
  • Are there termination clauses? If so, what are they?

Place vendors into categories to get a more accurate picture of how much your organization is spending in specific areas. You may find that the individual costs of many of your third-party vendors are relatively small, but when aggregated by category, the numbers compound quickly.

Step Two: Gain Executive Buy-In

Equipped with your data, it’s time to engage your decision makers. Engaging organizational leadership early in the process is a great way to build a case to move forward. Speaking with executives can help you understand the different viewpoints and situational nuances in your organization, which helps you navigate roadblocks and build the business case to make changes.

Step Three: Evaluate Performance

Analyze vendor and service performance in three key areas:

  1. Comparing Spend
  2. Assessing Utilization
  3. Evaluating the Quality and Effectiveness

Some vendors charge hidden or variable fees, so looking at one month’s service charges can be misleading. Look at each vendor’s historical cost, trends, and variability. Then, consider local benchmarks: What prices are other vendors in your area offering for a similar service?

Another important aspect to consider is utilization. Here are a few simple questions that can help you assess your organization’s use of a particular service or vendor:

  • Who is actively using the service/vendor?
  • How is the service/vendor being used?
  • Could the service/vendor be used more efficiently?

Finally, do some digging to find out your staff’s level of satisfaction with the third-party service/vendor:

  • What level of results is the service or provider currently delivering?
  • Are your stakeholders satisfied with the performance?
  • What kinds of performance metrics can the service or vendor provide?
  • Does the service or vendor meet your organization’s performance metric needs?
  • Does the service or vendor make your staff’s job easier?

Step Four: Consider Standardization Options

Completing steps one through three will give you a firm grasp on the types of vendors you have and the services you’re paying for, how they’re being used throughout your organization, and your staff’s readiness to try new solutions.

If you consider replacing multiple similar vendors with a single standardized solution, make sure the solution you select does the following:

  • Addresses all stakeholder needs and goals.
  • Decreases (and if possible, helps to standardize) your organization’s overall spend.
  • Contributes to your organization’s strategic objectives.

When your organization undergoes a merger or acquisition, it’s more important than ever to conduct a high-level review of the spending and operating efficiency of the larger organization. At the end of your evaluation, you should be better prepared to make specific service and vendor selections based on your analysis and your organization’s strategic priorities.


1Vizient, 2020