Article

Streamlined scheduling boosts orthopedists’ volume, patient satisfaction

By John Rossheim | March 13, 2020

Ortho_header

It’s harder than ever for doctors to organize their appointment schedules, what with growing physician groups, multiple office locations, and the inevitable time crunch all medical professionals face. It’s even more complicated for specialists like orthopedists, many of whom have different subspecialties, and all of whom have their own scheduling preferences.

As the pressure mounts, patients can slip through the cracks. Schedulers can feel severely stressed, leading to turnover and wasted resources. However, new digital tools are enabling orthopedic groups to handle these escalating patient scheduling demands, helping practices use their providers to the fullest and keeping scarce clinical talent happy through efficient and rewarding use of their time.

Seeking to optimize and streamline scheduling

Scheduling was an inefficient process for both doctors and patients at Peachtree Orthopedics in Atlanta. “Everyone was accustomed to going into our EHR, choosing a patient, choosing a schedule, and trying to navigate and find the doctor that they needed and the appropriate appointment type,” says Lee Cothren, operations strategist at Peachtree.

OrthoMaryland faced similar challenges and wanted to enhance its handling of provider preferences, scheduling rules and wait lists, according to CEO Karrie Barbour, FACMPE. “Our biggest concerns were matching patients with doctors in the right subspecialties, finding the next available appointment more easily, and meeting doctors’ needs and personal preferences for which kinds of appointments they have scheduled at which times of day,” she says. Like many practices, OrthoMaryland recorded each provider’s scheduling requirements primarily as “sticky note rules.”

Olympia Orthopaedic Associates’ seven schedulers had their own woes. COO Lourie Roberts  explained, “We had high turnover in our call center because there was no job satisfaction and schedulers kept being told their error rates were high.” New schedulers took three to six months to train, mostly to memorize each doctor’s complex requirements regarding insurance accepted and subspecialties, as well as personal preferences. “It could take five to ten minutes to schedule an appointment because there were so many rules,” says Roberts.

Practices implement Radix’s DASH scheduling solutions

These three growing orthopedic practices chose to implement Radix Health’s DASH patient scheduling software as an add-on to their athenahealth EHR. Athenahealth and Radix have partnered to offer this fully integrated solution.

In January 2017, Peachtree began using DASH for check-in and check-out, as well as new patient scheduling and evaluation. Cothren says Peachtree’s providers quickly saw the value of scheduling with Radix’s DASH. “When you bring in any new software, the greatest challenge is to get everyone on board to begin using it and trust it,” says Cothren of Peachtree. “Our physicians have jumped into the process, and they find it trustworthy.”

To optimize and streamline scheduling with DASH, Peachtree created a form and sent it to each physician, asking them to describe the numbers and types of patients that they were seeing in each of their clinics each week. “We told each physician, ‘Here are the rules we’ve been using to schedule patients for you. Please review this, make any needed changes, and we’ll build rules and scheduling templates in DASH to reflect your needs and preferences,’” says Cothren.

Barbour of OrthoMaryland directed a similar process of “normalizing” schedules to kick off DASH implementation. “Getting the scheduling rules set up for each doctor was labor-intensive, but it was good to get them pinned down on their preferences. And our doctors had to come to a consensus on overarching rules, such as the minimum age for patients.”

Scheduling solution “bakes in” every rule and preference

With DASH implemented, these orthopedic practices are reaping the benefits of integrated scheduling for all their providers in each subspecialty working at every location.

“Having the rules all built into one system and all schedulers on the same page – it’s a big advantage,” says Jennifer Lacy, team leader for medical records at OrthoMaryland. Before adding Radix’s DASH, the practice’s schedulers weren’t able to offer doctors consistent information about scheduling. “Our rules are now all baked in to the Radix system,” says Barbour. “We’re definitely not hearing as many doctor complaints about scheduling.”

Optimized scheduling grows patient volume

Being able to fill each orthopedist’s schedule on the fly — such as when a patient cancels their appointment at the last minute — is helping to grow Peachtree’s business as well as its reputation. “Using Radix’s DASH has greatly contributed to our patient volume increasing, and helped us improve patient satisfaction,” says Cothren. “We’re scheduling patients two to three weeks out, and at the same time we’re working toward scheduling them same-day when they ask for that.”

Peachtree is also growing by expanding its hours – a near-necessity in this era of consumer-driven healthcare. For example, in 2018 the group’s providers saw 217 patients during Saturday hours; in 2019, Saturday appointments more than tripled, to 767. “Much of this increase is due to DASH,” Cothren says.

Self-scheduling

Patient self-scheduling is saving OrthoMaryland staff time while also enabling patients to go online after hours and on weekends to schedule or cancel appointments. Barbour says that patients find Radix’s self-scheduling solution easy to use. “We’ve had very few drop-offs from the scheduling sequence online when patients have chosen to self-schedule.”

At Peachtree, DASHself is capturing about 450 to 500 completed self-scheduled appointments each month.

Curbing staffing costs and patient frustration

Streamlined scheduling has benefited orthopedic practices by reducing patients’ phone hold time and by significantly reducing staffing needs.

“We’re answering more calls and our wait time, which was six minutes, is now two and a half or three minutes,” says Roberts of Olympia. That translates to fewer patient hang-ups and fuller schedules for physicians.

At Peachtree, faster call-handling, together with self-scheduling, have cut the scheduler staffing headcount by about one-third. In 2017, the practice had approximately 19 staff doing scheduling; this year, Cothren projects that schedulers will range between 11 and 13. That savings on labor goes right to the bottom line.

Roberts has found that scheduler turnover at Olympia has improved dramatically since their DASH implementation in June 2019. “We were losing schedulers every month, but since September, we’ve had no turnover,” she says.

While optimizing scheduling to boost revenue and reduce expenses is crucial to these orthopedic practices, providing patients with care that’s timelier and more convenient is top of mind. “We’re always trying to make patients our first priority and minimize barriers for patients to get into our practice,” says Cothren.