Nearly all pediatric centers are reporting significant wait times across their specialty practices.
The emergence and chronicity of pediatric conditions, combined with the socioeconomic shifts that have resulted post-COVID-19, have brought healthcare organizations to a place where the need for pediatric specialists has outpaced the available workforce.
If your health system or practice is feeling the pressure, here are three areas that can increase capacity without increasing your labor pool.
Open the door to the front office
Ask any good scheduler where they see a need for improvement, and you’ll often hear the words “registration” and “scheduling.” Upon closer investigation, you’ll likely discover that while front office technology has improved dramatically over the past 10 years, most of the operational processes have not.
Many pediatric specialty practices are still largely dependent on call-in scheduling, telephone triage, and manual “day of” benefits verification. With the median age of new parents around 30 years old, most parents today are comfortable scheduling appointments online. They could also complete the majority of registration online before the day of the appointment.
To maximize the full potential of your EHR, consider implementing online scheduling mechanisms, patient portal registration features, and global facilitators to your workflow. In many cases, this technology can be extended to your point of service payments to allow families to pay ahead rather than at the time of service when they’re balancing the care of a child with the check-in process. This can free up capacity for your care team to see patients, follow up on needs, and fulfill their mission of improving pediatric population health.
Clear the pathway to good flow
Have you shadowed a practice employee lately? If not, put on your running shoes and prepare to witness one of the most eye-opening experiences in the business. While investments in practice software and EHRs are a great start, the implementation must be lock step with the workflow, and, unfortunately, many health systems have found their workflows are dictated by the EHR instead of the EHR facilitating the work at hand. If you’re at this crossroad, don’t despair. It’s not only fixable, but the work to fix it can yield significant unrecognized capacity across key performance measures.
Take, for example, the administration of an immunization — a routine procedure. Vaccine alerts typically fire after triage, starting a process that gets your team running to find a vaccine that may be at the other end of the office. Next, they may have to find a syringe in a separate location, and the mandatory printed immunization forms in another. Multiply the number of times this sequence is carried out over a year, and the math can be compelling — simply enabling the vaccine alert to fire at triage coupled with combining team efforts could net part of an FTE. Beyond that, streamlining other processes can reduce or negate patient waiting time, resulting in additional appointment or callback time that can be allocated to other patients.
Though this may seem oversimplified, the work is transferrable to more complex processes, including documentation systems, rooming, and discharge/checkout practices. It’s worth the time to shadow staff and identify the opportunities that can net large-scale capacity without adding to the bottom line.
Meet the patient where they are — quite literally
The emergence of COVID-19 and the public health emergency that followed changed many aspects of healthcare, but none so profoundly as that of access to specialty care. How effectively are you utilizing telehealth? When it comes to pediatric care, telehealth can maximize your ability to reach patients while minimizing many of your throughput challenges. Given the recent studies showing the accuracy of telehealth diagnoses, some of the “sick visits” currently being scheduled might be more simply conducted — or even triaged — via telehealth. Moving these visits online not only helps parents struggling to balance siblings, work and transportation needs, but it also helps manage challenges around rooming, discharge, checkout and disinfection between patients — all of which can net additional capacity to see other patients who need in-person care.
The pediatric landscape may be ever-changing, but one thing rings true: investing in the people and the processes will always lead to success.
Plante Moran is among the nation’s largest accounting, tax, consulting, and wealth management firms with over 3,500 professionals throughout the United States and international offices in Shanghai, China; Mumbai, India; Tokyo, Japan; and Monterrey, Mexico. For more information, visit plantemoran.com.
About the author
As a principal within Plante Moran’s healthcare consulting practice, Tammy Schaeffer works with hospitals, health systems, physician practices, and payors to identify and develop data-driven solutions that enhance quality of care, overall efficiency, patient and employee experience, and overall financial performance.