Clearly define patient destinations
Signage is the key. It may be as simple as lobby or parking lot signs directing patients to the correct floor or door. It may be signs within a practice clearly distinguishing check-in from check-out, or segregating patients by type of service needed.
A suburban specialty practice group with four locations found that its patients prefer visiting their doctor at an older, smaller facility rather than the central office. According to one of the senior physicians it is because “they know just where to go. It is less stressful.”
The most common bottleneck is at the traditional check-in counter. Operational and architectural changes can solve this.
Know your providers’ capacities and schedule accordingly. No matter what technology or floor plan you adopt, if your practice overschedules providers, patients will sit in a waiting area and fume.
Consider the strategic use of exam rooms. Know how many exam rooms a provider can typically handle at the same time. For many, it is two or three. Plan accordingly, then consider “swing” exam rooms—extra rooms allocated among several practitioners to absorb patients at times of high demand. These may be used to enable a patient to see a doctor on schedule, when another patient with a complex visit would otherwise cause a back-up in the schedule.
Plan for logical traffic patterns with no crossed paths
Very often a patient checks in, sits in a waiting room, then must cross the path of new patients checking in on the way to an exam room. Plan instead for a traffic flow that moves patients sequentially through a visit without crossing paths or retracing steps.
Some practices now use “just in time” patient service. They have no waiting areas. Patients move directly from check-in to exam room; doctors enter the room from a separate entrance. Many more solutions are available depending on the size and configuration of the facility. Patients may move from check-in to financial consult to vitals to exam room to check-out without crossing other traffic paths.
In some practices, patients check in and check out at the same counter with the same staff members. Patients who have completed their visits often must wait while a staffer registers another patient. Departing patients do not appreciate this wait.
Moreover, if a patient must handle financial matters at check-out (or check-in), it can create an uncomfortable situation, and depending on the design, may violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy regulations. Use separate check-in and check-out areas, even if the functions are handled by the same staff members