Does the workflow of your healthcare practice rate somewhere between “controlled chaos” and “uncontrolled chaos”? You’re not alone. The nature of the work is that team members should expect the unexpected. There are several steps to take that, process by process, can inch your days closer to the “controlled chaos” side of the spectrum.
As always, the first step to improvement is to understand what reality actually looks like. Workflow mapping is a powerful exercise to capture the reality of the processes in your clinic. This map can cover all aspect of your organization: from the steps taken to ensure thorough and timely exam room clean-up between patients, to the IT processes for prescribing medications, to how and when administrative staff run financial reports. There are several free or low cost guides on workflow mapping for healthcare organizations: the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is a good place to start, with tool kits available for health IT as well as more general clinical processes.
Regular staff meetings are another valuable way to gain insight into what reality looks like within a practice. Setting aside time for short, frequent knowledge shares across team members will pay off by reducing inefficiencies and nipping problems in the bud. As the word huddle implies, these meetings are designed to improve performance and cooperation in a team environment by providing support to all staff and giving each participant an opportunity to raise concerns.
One of the best ways to improve workflow is to save time where possible. It is a given that some amount of patients will be late for their appointments, and this can wreak havoc on schedules. This tardiness is exacerbated when patients still have intake forms to complete upon their arrival. When practices offer a secure way for patients to complete electronic intake forms in advance of the appointment, the last-minute “clipboard scramble” can be avoided. This “clipboard scramble” might sound minor, but there is more to be saved than just getting a patient into an exam room on time. One of the biggest challenges providers face is that the real patient agenda isn’t often presented until after the provider has entered the room. Nurses and medical assistants can play a large role in identifying the true patient agenda in advance with the right conversation. If a patient is distracted by the clipboard of incomplete forms in their hands, this conversation will suffer, and the full scope of the patient’s expectations is not likely to be revealed.
There are plenty of reasons for practices to go paperless, and healthcare consumers are increasingly preferring paperless options. Paper bogs down workflow. Healthcare practices can streamline their workflow by relying on electronic statements, online billing, and digital payment options (such as keeping a payment card on file).
The reality is that the only perfect workflow is theoretical: the ideal vision that practices can strive for. But the reality of the day-to-day can inch closer to this ideal one process at a time. And that’s pretty good.