Consolidation and growth among health-care providers is one of today’s most important medical trends, for many very good reasons. Larger practices can typically provide a wider range of specialized expertise, high-tech diagnostics and treatment, and cost-saving economies of scale. But there’s a real risk of losing that important personal relationship between doctor and patient, which was once the norm.
Many of us fondly remember the days when our family doctors and their staff knew us by name, and treated us more like family rather than just a set of unrelated symptoms. But changes in the economics and technology of health care today have made it harder and harder for small independent medical practices to stay in business.
That presents a challenge for growing practices like ours: How can we create the best of both worlds, both for our patients’ benefit – and our own?
One recent development at OrthoWilmington is what we call our “Care Team” Model. It’s an innovative structure to how our staff – including doctors and physicians’ assistants as well as appointment schedulers —interacts with our patients. The idea was simple: create small “teams” that work closely together, so everybody involved with a patient’s care knew the provider’s protocols and the patient’s medical history and could anticipate the patient’s needs. The new care team model served to bridge our clinical and non-clinical operations into this new care coordination concept.
How do you build that personal relationship into the larger organization while still focusing on one patient at a time?
Translating this idea into reality, of course, required a deeper examination into our operations and our workflows. It also required us to look very honestly in the mirror.
One of the many challenges an organization faces as it grows larger is the impersonal regulatory tasks that may create system inefficiencies which become magnified in the larger model. As we merged, we found that our communications structure was complex and was just not working for us or, more importantly, for our patients and referring providers. Additionally, we found duplicate work taking place across our business and clinical operations. The pressure to improve the patient experience and communications systems fell to the management team and our IT vendors to find a solution.
The first area we addressed was the first impression of the group, which starts when a customer dials our main number. Our first objective was to live answer as many calls as we could with a friendly, helpful tone and voice. This stands in stark contrast to the computer automated prompts you receive when calling most large companies. Our operators were retrained and given the technology and tools necessary to be able to efficiently route callers across the organization to the most appropriate person based upon their need.
If the caller is new to the practice, the patient will work with a referral coordinator who is assigned to help the patient find the most appropriate provider, office location, and date and time for the patient. This coordinator also assists the patient through the registration process. As part of this process, the coordinator may also invite new patients to complete the registration process online, at their leisure. Our patients have self-reported that they find completing their paperwork online a much easier task and prefer completing as much information as possible prior to their arrival. We feel the referral coordinators are truly having a measurable impact on helping to create a great first impression and reduce patient anxiety.
Because new patients have different needs than established patients, we also created “Care Teams” to work with our established patients. When our established patients call us, they are connected with their provider’s Care Coordinator on their “Care Team,” the point person for the established patient. Each of our nine Care Coordinators is part of a care team consisting of two doctors, two physicians’ assistants, two medical assistants and a surgery scheduler.
By re-thinking our communications systems and the delivery of patient care through live answering our calls and creating this Care Team model, we have accomplished several very valuable goals:
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