For many primary care physicians emergency room visits can be attributed to access and communications issues. Medical reimbursement and profits are now being tied to patient related expenses. It is becoming increasingly important to understand how to keep ER visits from impacting your bottom line.
Over the past 19 years, I have used tools, protocols, and tips that will help keep your patients out of hospital emergency rooms. These tools will increase patient loyalty and keep them coming to you for urgent answers to their questions. In this post, I am going to share 4 simple solutions to decrease ER visits in your patient population which will lead to higher reimbursement and increase patient satisfaction.
#1 The Phones
Phones can be a pain in the… you know what… for you and your medical office staff to deal with. At times, it seems like the phones just don’t stop ringing. During busy times, your staff may become impatient, irritable and come across as having little empathy. Things are even worse when the patient complains to you about phone problems.
A great way to ease your staff’s urge to send patients to the ER is to create phone triage protocols. Patients often go to the ER for non-urgent problems that a simple reassuring conversation with you or another well-trained staff can help avoid.
At the end of this blog post, you can download a one-page phone triage protocol that you can freely customize for your practice. This will help standardize phone conversations and decrease anxiety about dealing with urgent problems that patients may call about. A proper triage of calls can potentially decrease hospitalization expenses and improve patient satisfaction.
#2 Strategic Signage
It is not reasonable to expect your patients to read and understand every single handout given to them. There are things that you really want them to know, but how do you communicate this to them?
In my practice, we have identified strategic areas in the exam room, lobby and check out desk to display short and specific messages. Letting patients know the services you provide, and your expectations, will help improve communication in the exam room and with your staff. This will lead to better patient-provider relationships and help initiate dialogue about things that you feel are important.
#3 Have Good Partners
You cannot be available 24/7, 365 days per year and maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle. As you grow your practice, you will inevitably require coverage that aligns with your practice philosophy.
I have found that partnering with colleagues for short term coverage can be a lifesaver. Even if these colleagues are competing with you in your area, if you have a good rapport with them, you can arrange alternating weekend coverage or vacation coverage without the fear of losing patients. If this is not possible, then working with a local urgent care or walk-in clinic will help fill coverage gaps and help you succeed at maintaining a great quality of life.
#4 Call sicker patients on Thursdays
Sicker patients go to the ER. I know… that was very obvious!!! We all have patients that you can predict will hit the emergency room at least once a month. Sometimes this just cannot be prevented due to socioeconomic issues, multiple chronic diseases, or patients just having poor protoplasm.
A simple way to help decrease your patient’s need or urge to go to the ER is to call sicker patients every Thursday. This gives you the ability to assess any patient needs prior to the weekend. Weekends seem to be the most frequent days for a patient to go to the ER in my practice. Calling patients on Thursdays also gives you an opportunity to see the patient on Friday to address problems proactively.
Do you have any other suggestions? Join the discussion and let us know in the comments what you think.
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