A wellness visit can sometimes be a stressful experience. Patients may be taking time away from family events or using paid time off to go during the workday. While they’re aware of the importance of maintaining their health, they may view this appointment as an inconvenience due to the lengthy paperwork and intake forms required.
Physicians usually have only 15–20 minutes with each patient they see, so they need to make the most productive use of that time. Sometimes they can fall behind due to unforeseen medical situations that arise, an overbooked schedule, or administrative tasks. One study found that nearly half of a doctor’s day is consumed with desk work, while only about a quarter of the day is spent directly with patients.
For these reasons and more, it is important to create an efficient workflow centered around the intake of new and established patients. Fortunately, there’s a solution that can help: pre-visit planning (also called “chart prep”).
Establishing this practice within the medical office helps with patient engagement and building bidirectional trust with office staff, and it utilizes the physician’s time with each patient in the most efficient way.
The overall goal is for patients to leave their physician’s office satisfied with the overall experience, and for providers to feel confident that all medical concerns and preventive care measures were addressed.
Pre-visit planning is the process of methodically preparing for every single patient appointment to the greatest extent possible, with primary focus on wellness visits. Pre-visit planning may include:
According to Kate Iovinelli, Senior Director of Quality Outcomes and Process Improvement at Innovista Health, pre-visit planning incorporates a whole team within the medical practice—sometimes called the Proactive Office Encounter Team (POET). “This team consists of everybody from the scheduler, front desk staff, medical assistant and nurse, to the individual checking the patient out at the end of the visit.”
Pre-visit planning can be time-consuming for medical and administrative staff without proper processes in place. However, there are a few general guidelines that seem to work for many medical offices that incorporate chart prep into their workflow.
Iovinelli says that ideally, practices should begin chart prep about a week prior to the scheduled appointment time. For patients coming in on a Monday, the practice should start planning the preceding Monday; for Tuesday, the preceding Tuesday; and so on. This creates a predictable and reliable cadence in office workflow.
“If the physician is behind, staff should call the patients who are supposed to come in later in the day to see if they want to reschedule,” says Iovinelli. “It’s a courtesy, and patients are usually very thankful that their time is being respected.”
At the end of the patient’s appointment, it’s important to prepare for the next visit, whether it’s three months or one year away.
New patients create a little extra work on the part of the practice since a new file and chart need to be established. However, there are ways to streamline the process.
If the practice has an online portal, setting up an account can allow the patient to complete all intake and medical history forms ahead of time.
Three days before the new patient’s visit, when reaching out with the appointment reminder, be sure to remind them about filling out these forms.
Alternatively, if the patient can’t set up an account or does not have access to a computer, having a nurse or medical assistant call to gather this information helps to kick off the practice/patient relationship on a positive note. This may help the patient to feel more comfortable for the visit, as they may be nervous about seeing a new doctor and forget to share all pertinent health information or medical history. This practice also allows the staff enough time to enter the data into the chart so the patient can go through the rest of the pre-visit planning steps seamlessly.
Unfortunately, the current healthcare system is causing some physicians—particularly primary care providers—a great deal of administrative stress. This may result in burnout and doctors leaving medicine well before their time.
Research clearly shows, though, that by implementing a team-based approach that includes pre-visit planning, satisfaction among staff and patients increases dramatically. It’s a win-win all around.