I’ve got a confession to make: I’m one of those people who bust out the pumpkin spice and fall decor on September 1. This might be a product of my Midwestern roots (apple-picking and corn mazes, anyone?), or it could be the result of living in Arizona, where autumn is more of a state of mind than an actual shift in season. So, it’s no wonder that Thanksgiving is one of the holidays I look forward to most. There’s nothing like getting your fill of mashed potatoes and pie, and then settling in for a nice, long, post-turkey coma.
However, while stuffing your belly on Thanksgiving often results in blissful R&R, the same cannot be said about stuffing your schedule at work—a lesson familiar to many a rehab therapist. In fact, as we pored over the results of our recent industry-wide survey (which you can download for free here), we found that the vast majority of survey-takers—nearly 75%—reported having patient appointments that last an average of 31 to 60 minutes. However, the number of patients each therapist treats on a daily basis was all over the board. This told us that many providers may bend to the pressure to cram as many patients as possible into their workdays. And while a lot of patients can turn into a lot of revenue for your practice, the lasting effects of schedule-stuffing could be to the detriment of your patients’ experience—and your overall bottom-line. To keep your patients happy and healthy, watch out for these potential consequences of over-scheduling:
Sacrificing Patient Satisfaction
In this month’s Founder Letter, WebPT President and Co-founder Heidi Jannenga wrote about her own experiences with the woes of schedule-cramming: “Making every patient-staff interaction a quality one becomes increasingly difficult as your patient volume grows, but that doesn’t mean it should be less of a focus. Otherwise, you could end up inadvertently employing the treatment model my PT colleagues and I used to refer to as ‘shake ’n bake’ therapy: get patients in, get them treated with passive modalities, and get them out the door.” And while this work model means you can see more patients in a day, are you really able to give each patient the time and attention he or she needs?
Studies like the one found in “Putting Patients First” by Susan B. Frampton have shown that patient satisfaction directly correlates with the amount of time patients spend with their providers. Furthermore, patient satisfaction has a direct relationship with patient retention—meaning the higher the average satisfaction rate, the higher the average retention rate.
Any provider with a jam-packed schedule knows how easy it is for one mishap to offset the entire day. No matter how organized you are, no matter how timely your treatment sessions are, always be sure to account for any hiccups throughout the day—and that means giving yourself some buffer time between tasks. At the very least, make sure you—or your front desk staff—schedule ample time for each appointment. A patient might run late, or a session might go longer than expected, and that could mean spending the rest of the day trying to play catch-up. And that not only takes focus and attention away from your other patients, but also detracts from the overall patient experience.
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Feeling the Burn(out)
Cramming too many patients into your schedule is a one-way ticket to burnout. Instead, take some advice from this WebPT post and schedule breaks. Remember: If you don’t put your breaks on the schedule, they won’t happen. Equally important (if not more so): Take your lunch. For the ambitious rehab therapist, it may be tempting to forgo the 30-minute lunch break to squeeze in another patient, but let’s be real here: are you really at your best on an empty stomach?
Also, try shaking up your routine. Some days will require longer hours—it’s a fact of life for anyone in the industry—but it may work to alternate long and short days. That way, you can still see the same number of patients, but you won’t be stretched thin every day.
As Jannenga mentioned during our State of Rehab Therapy webinar, “When I was practicing in my sports PT practice, I used to see—on average—12-14 patients in an eight-hour day, but I had an athletic trainer assisting me with all eligible patients.” When providers delegate some of the work to their assistants, trainers, and other extenders, they’re often able to see more patients in a normal workday. And delegating isn’t just good for you—it’s good for your team, too. If your assistant is eager to learn, present him or her with opportunities to grow—like the chance to take on new responsibilities. In doing so, your assistant will gain valuable experience, and you’ll be able to give your best to each of your patients.
Cramming a bunch of patients into your schedule can be as tempting as cramming a slice of pumpkin pie into your mouth—especially if your practice is still in a rapid growth stage. But doing so can have a devastating impact on patient satisfaction—not to mention your own well being. After all, while stuffing is great for turkey, it’s not-so-great for schedules. So, to avoid the pitfalls of over-scheduling, remember to (1) leave yourself some wiggle room between sessions, and (2) collaborate with your team to ensure you always offer the best patient experience possible.