Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? On a daily basis, medical group leaders juggle provider, staff, and patient schedules, a calendar full of meetings, quality and patient experience measures, process improvements, and employee and provider engagement. Rework further compounds the time we are required to spend on these tasks. Communicating repeatedly with the same patient about the same issue can create frustration for both the patient and our care teams. So, how can we create efficiencies in our practice that streamline the process for both parties?
Run a report of all patient-initiated phone calls this year to date. What percentage are related to test results? I have typically found that between 20 to 25 percent of all patient calls are related to test results. When patients call our offices to follow-up on results, not only are we failing to meet our patients’ expectations, but we are also burdening our teams with the task of responding to every new request. So, what can we do? I recommend three primary tactics for creating efficiencies in your practice while simultaneously managing patient expectations:
- Create a standard communication tool for all staff and providers that outlines expected timeframes for communicating test results to the patient. How long after general lab work (blood counts, metabolic panels, lipid panels etc.) or radiology tests will it take for us to not only receive the results, but also to communicate them to patients? For most generalized tests, I recommend setting an expectation for follow-up within seven days of completing the test.
- Use your patient portal to help manage this process. If you are like most medical practices, you want to increase the utilization of your patient portal. Sharing test results is a great way to encourage patient use. Explain to patients that the portal is the primary method for sharing results that do not require changes in the treatment plan or immediate follow-up. Many electronic medical records allow you to automatically push results to patients, simplifying communication. I recommend a timeframe of 48-72 hours after the results are received to allow your team time to review and make treatment decisions, if any are needed.
- Exceed any expectations you set with your patients. If you promise to reach out in seven days with results, but follow-up in five, patients will be pleased. Fail to meet expressed deadlines, and you will not only frustrate your patient, but create extra work for teams that are inundated with other priorities.
Once you have hardwired the above strategies in your practice, you will find that communication with patients becomes easier and staff and provider engagement likewise improves. The medical group coaches at Studer Group, myself included, have seen small changes like these have major positive impacts on medical practices across the country.