Practice Management Q&A

Article excerpt

Consider alternatives to adding provider

Q: Our two-physician family practice is operating close to capacity. We're expecting many new patients when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented and are wondering whether we should stop accepting new patients or add a provider. Thoughts?

A: I would advise you to think carefully about either approach. You may be increasing your capacity with another, costly physician when it may be that all you need is to gain control over your appointment book. And because all revenue in a primary care practice depends on a steady supply of new patients, it can be deadly for word to get out that your practice is great but is not accepting new patients.

To increase your practice's revenues, you must be open to new patients with new problems.

The best way to get control is by rationing those appointments that can wait Begin by tracking the number of emergent appointments made each day. We define an emergency as any patient who needs to be seen today for whom no appointment was on the schedule when you opened the doors this morning.

Emergencies include people who are sick and injured, of course. But the designation also can apply to anyone you regard as a very important person (VIP) for any reason. Maybe they have the problems you especially like to treat, or they were referred by a VIP source. By saving space on the schedule for patients who really need to be seen, you can effectively screen out patients whose needs are less urgent

Consider the following example: An orthopedist can see four patients per hour. On Thursdays, he works all day in the office, starting at 9 a.m. He likes to be finished with the last patient by 5 p.m. and be out the door by 6 p.m. Allowing an hour for lunch, that's a total of 7 hours of patient contact time, which equates to approximately 28 encounters.

We also know that the doctor can expect four emergency (workin) patients and one no-show in any given Thursday, and that his schedule consists of about 40% rechecks of existing conditions. That means the doctor will need to save three slots on every Thursday's schedule for sameday appointments. That leaves 13 slots for other routine patients, not in the emergent or follow-up category.

Now comes the difficult part When the slots for this particular Thursday are all gone, the practice schedulers can't book any more non-emergent patients on that day. Sure, if legitimate emergencies come up, you'll have to work longer. …