If you are old enough (or a pop-culture aficionado) you may be familiar with the somewhat hoaky, often silly, but mostly charming ‘80s cartoon series, Inspector Gadget. The protagonist, for which the show was named, had a host of “gadgets” at his disposal—spring-triggered claws, clamps, etc. Even though he had the best of intentions, Inspector Gadget didn’t always have full possession or control over them—or their outcomes. If you are involved with PT front office operations, you might be able to relate.
Front desk teams are often faced with a myriad of “unpredictables” such as rapidly multiplying missed and unreturned calls, payments left uncollected, insurance that has yet to be verified, and muddled patient check-in or checkout processes. More than just creating unnecessary headaches, these missteps can leave a bad taste in patients’ mouths, detracting from their experience and potentially causing them to seek care elsewhere.
The good news is that there are a few front desk tools that can be used to realign operational workflows to improve efficiency—and we want to explore them with you!
Go-Go Gadget: Front Office Operations Tools
Let’s take a look at a few of the tools and systems that can help refine front office operations, reduce negative outcomes, and demystify some of the puzzles surrounding scheduling, paperwork, and positive patient experiences.
Puzzle #1: Mystery of the Runaway Schedule
Scheduling—it’s essential to patient retention and is the lifeblood of your clinic. Yet, many a front-desk crew can agree, scheduling can also be an operational beast.
“Finding the open slots for patients to schedule—especially a new patient—can be extremely difficult,” says Doug Severson, Director of Product Management at WebPT.
However, finding those precious openings is only half the scheduling battle.
“There’s a great debate on whether to drag and drop a reschedule appointment, versus canceling and scheduling new,” says Jon Schneider, Senior Product Manager at WebPT.
And, as you likely guessed—or have experienced yourself—both of these predicaments not only take up valuable time, but also open your practice up to error.
To remedy finding open schedule opportunities, Severson suggests working with a patient to schedule them for more than one appointment. Additionally, clinics with a Quick Add software option enable front desk staff to quickly register a patient, set up their appointment, and then go back and complete their profile later.
As for the “drag and drop dilemma,” Schneider cautions that while, “this may come down to user or clinic preference, it’s important to understand the impact it could have on analytics and metrics due to a cancellation/arrival rate perspective. Some clinics view a reschedule as a cancel or missed appointment, which can lead to incorrect data.”
And, speaking of cancellations, you might have more control over these than you think. By using software systems that enable you to send automated appointment reminders via text, email, or phone, you can reduce no-shows and cancellations by as much as 38% (per this study). However, in the inevitable event a patient does cancel, it’s best to express as much empathy to the patient patient as possible and try to reschedule a replacement visit within the same week.
Puzzle #2: Pursuit of the Never-Ending Paper Trail
From patient intake to checkout, paperwork has the tendency to proliferate in agonizing ways, becoming quite the time monopolizer for patient and provider.
In terms of intake, many software solutions designed specifically for PT, OT, and SLP environments enable paperwork to be sent to patients in advance of most visits. However, what about follow through? How do you know if (or how much of) the forms you assigned have been completed?
Thankfully, advancements made in patient intake software programs tackle this challenge, allowing front-office operations to see how far along patients are in their paperwork process. These programs also automatically transfer patient data directly to your clinic’s EMR—giving your clinicians a head start and providing your patients the streamlined experience they’re looking for.
In addition to collecting general pre-appointment patient information, certain digital tools can capture additional time-saving information. For example, an option such as the “patient outcome measurement questionnaire,” prompts patients to provide feedback on anything from dizziness handicap and neck disability to foot and ankle ability and knee injury evaluations—all of which can be used for:
- Initial examinations;
- Follow-up appointments; and
Puzzle #3: The Great Customer Service Caper
While there are plenty of training and support resources that promote positive customer communication and interactions, are there any other tools to help front desk staff perfect the patient experience? You bet.
“There are technology-driven tools that enable front office staff to set up workgroups to delegate responsibilities to staff and therapists,” Schneider says. “Anything from missed notes, to finalizing open notes, to follow up on provider credentialing, billing corrections, etc.”
Schneider also adds that educating staff and therapists to use alert features in front-office software modules can help everyone to stay on top of items like expiring or expired authorizations, prescriptions, and progress notes.
Tools that enable proactivity also often alleviate a tremendous amount of stress for the front desk team and provider, thus helping to improve:
- Clinical workflows,
- Quality time spent with patients,
- Patient satisfaction, and
- Overall clinic success.
Check out this free buyers guide to find the software solutions that are worthy for you—and your practice.
Detecting the Right PT Tools
Beyond what was mentioned above, when it comes to finding the right PT software for your front desk, you may also want to see if it enables you (and your team) to:
- View multiple therapists’ calendars, in one place;
- Monitor Medicare patients’ progress toward the therapy threshold;
- Share patient documentation securely (without PHI risk) with third parties;
- Remove unnecessary information in profiles to quickly navigate a note;
- Process patient payments directly within a patient’s record through a scheduler; and
- Fax and email patient notes directly from the system.
What tools have you found to be particularly helpful as a part of your practice front-office operations?