Optimizing Patient Visits Improves Work-Life Balance
“Getting in balance is not so much about adopting new strategies to change your behaviors, as it is about realigning yourself in all of your thoughts so as to create a balance between what you desire and how you conduct your life on a daily basis.”
~ Wayne Dyer
Dr. Wayne Dyer was an American self-help and spiritual author who eventually became known as the “father of motivation.” His focus was on showing people how to determine what was most important on their goal list, so they could have a better chance of living their best possible life.
Unfortunately, he passed away in 2015, so we are only left to wonder what steps he would have advised medical providers to take to create a better work-life balance in our surreal post-COVID-19 world. Could he even have imagined the stress brought on by a never-before-seen, worldwide pandemic, especially one that shut borders, closed businesses, and affected so many lives?
As the leader of your independent medical practice, were you able to achieve a work-life balance during this time? Or were you intently focused on taking the actions necessary to continue providing care to patients, while keeping your practice operating? One step you may have taken was to embrace newer forms of telehealth and remote care, so that you could as least communicate on some level with patients.
Now, as the dust settles a bit, practices are able to offer in-office visits again, which is indeed a critical part of patient care management. But are there some lessons that can be taken from those virtual visits that might help you address your work-life balance as we adjust to the “new normal?”
Building a Better Balance of In-Office and Virtual Visits
Instead of returning to all in-office visits, independent practices can create a better post-COVID-19 balance with virtual visits. This will help your independent practice operate more smoothly, in order to decrease the stress of finding ways to help it flourish.
Balance is certainly possible with technology and planning. In November 2020, Harvard Business Review found that three criteria would be necessary to best continue providing virtual care alongside in-person care in the era during and after COVID-19:
- Practices need to have criteria to triage and schedule patients for in-person or virtual visits.
- Technical functionality for virtual care needs to be optimized to meet core provider and patient needs.
- Key performance indicators should be used to assess the effectiveness of virtual care models.
Criteria for seeing a patient in-person might include:
- New patient or existing patient who has not been seen in a while.
- Provider needs to perform a complete routine physical or Medicare annual wellness visit.
- A physical assessment is required to make or confirm a diagnosis, or to order additional diagnostic tests.
- Cases where there is a language barrier, hearing loss, or cognitive impairment.
- The patient is uncomfortable with technology, or confidentiality cannot be assured.
- High-impact preventative care services, such as cancer screening.
- Chest or abdominal pain.
- Specific medical care procedures such as injections or incisions.
- Pain management.
- Hospital or emergency room follow-up, if needed.
Criteria for conducting a virtual visit with a patent might include:
- Routine follow-up visits between in-office appointments.
- Prescription review and updates.
- Chronic care management.
- Allergy and asthma treatment.
- Mild cold symptoms.
- Questions about the current condition.
- Rash and skin conditions.
- Sinus infections.
- Sore throats.
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) symptoms.
- Behavioral care management.
Each type of visit has its advantages and benefits. The in-office visit allows for a more in-depth interaction and allows the provider and patient to establish a professional relationship. It is easier to perform a physical and visual assessment, and more interpersonal cues are available. A virtual visit, on the other hand, may offer more convenience and scheduling flexibility. They can be thorough for those issues which do not require a physical exam, and results can be easily tracked, entered into the EHR, and coded for billing purposes.
Implementation Recommendations for a Better Visit Balance
In its February 2021 discussion of implementing a team-based approach to telemedicine, Mayo Clinic offered several nuggets of wisdom:
Let Patients Be Involved in Choosing Their Visit Type
Within medical and safety guidelines, allowing patients more voice in the care they receive is part of the patient-centered approach to providing care.
Track Demand for Appointment Types
Keep track of scheduling and appointment length requirements, so your practice can match staffing needs to patient demand.
Time slots May Need to Vary
Medical practices are accustomed to establishing office hours for in-person visits, and having patients accommodate those parameters. Timeframes for virtual visits may need to be more flexible to adapt to patient scheduling limitations, or caregiver availability to help with technical needs. You may have to allow additional time for initial virtual visits, to account for the learning curve for both provider and patient.
Staff Participation is Crucial
Everyone in your practice should be familiar with how the virtual visit correlates to an in-person appointment. You may want to incorporate a few minutes with varying team members as part of a virtual appointment to mimic the in-person approach and maximize provider efficiency.
Allow Time to Learn Technology
Some technology, such as the EHR, is similar between the in-office and virtual visits, but your practice will still need time to familiarize everyone with the specific technology involved in conducting an effective virtual visit. Educate team members and develop a plan to educate patients as well.
Let patients know what can be achieved with each type of visit format and provide education as to how the visit should be approached to make it most efficient.
Have a Backup Plan
Glitches can occur as technology is incorporated into the visit process, so your practice will need to have a backup plan in place in case of technology failures.
With a virtual visit, you are entering the patient’s home, so be respectful of what some people could consider an intrusion. Set privacy guidelines for the home and office environment, so your confidential conversations are not overheard.
Just as you have designed your exam rooms for privacy, you need to make sure there is a quiet place for virtual visits as well. There should be adequate computer, Wi-Fi, and internet capabilities. Have additional chargers and batteries on hand, and a backup power source. Create an environment that is quiet and free of distractions. Be aware of what patients might see in the office or use a virtual background. Monitor private information, if using a personal device for these interactions.
For the provider, keep in mind that the point of balancing in-office and virtual visits is to provide a better work-life balance. The provider should not feel the need to be “on the clock” all the time, in order to provide a wider array of scheduling flexibility. Establish a regular weekly schedule that includes all team members for telemedicine sessions, just as you would have for in-office visits.
If a provider or team member is sick or on vacation, follow similar procedures as those you use when someone cannot come into the office. Don’t succumb to the temptation to “just hop on” the computer to contact a patient with a quick call or follow-up. Use the technical support tools at your disposal to monitor patient health, communicate with patients and other providers, and update the EHR in an organized fashion.
You may also find that it is helpful for your independent practice to try to group similar types of in-person and virtual visits into specific time periods. For example, you might want to schedule any Chronic Care Management patients for one specific day, in order to increase productivity and enhance efficiency.
Increasing Technical Functionality for Improved Work-Life Balance
By supporting a better balance of in-office and virtual visits, technology is leading the way in improving the work-life balance for medical care providers. An independent practice that embraces technology can run more efficiently, and maintain its competitive advantage, while still meeting patient needs. Types of technology that can lead to a more productive office environment include:
Electronic Health Records (EHR)
The latest in EHR capabilities make smoother charting a breeze. Components of the newest comprehensive EHR systems include easy charting capabilities and templates to maximize provider time, e-Prescribing, better scheduling capabilities, and a patient portal for enhanced communication purposes.
Telehealth solutions increase the ability of your practice to remotely deliver in-home patient care that is comparable to an in-office visit. You and your medical staff can quickly and easily initiate telehealth video and secure text conversations and maintain logs of those chats and videos for billing and audit purposes.
Virtual Preventative Care Assistant
Another advancement that is helping to bring a better balance to the different types of patient visits is a Virtual Preventative Care Assistant. Amazing Charts now offers the capability to add external remote care services to your patient care kit by adding remote staff, or contracting out existing staff, to reduce labor costs while maintaining patient continuity. This takes a huge administrative burden away from the medical professional.
Medical Billing Service
The area that can really cause a lot of stress for your medical team is coding, billing and collections. Amazing Charts Medical Billing Service is a fully integrated Revenue Cycle Management service that handles the hassle of billing for you, and at a more affordable rate than most third-party billers. Your practice could experience an increase in collections, a higher rate of claims paid on first submission, and a quicker time to payment with your payers and patients.
Why is Physician Work-Life Balance Important?
“Cura te ipsum – physician, heal thyself.”
As a medical provider, you spend most of your time advising patients as to what steps they should take to achieve a better balance in their lives, but do you follow your own advice? Your work-life balance is just as important to your own well-being and success.
In May 2021, Medical Economics actually posed the question, “Is work-life balance even possible for physicians?” With a concerted approach, the benefits of focusing on your personal work-life can have dramatic effects:
All work and no play is not only dull, but it can also be dangerous. Trudging through work every day, feeling stressed about patients and your medical practice, can be personally debilitating.
If you find a better balance for yourself, your practice will probably operate more efficiently, too. When you accomplish your personal goals, you can also become more productive in your practice.
Better Career Satisfaction
So many providers now are thinking about closing their practice or working only in hospitals. But, if you are happier with your lifestyle, you can focus more on how to help your practice thrive.
Happier Personal Life
Staff, friends and family members will appreciate your improved outlook on life.
Finally, you can set a great example for patients by taking great care of yourself.
Being a medical professional with an independent practice was difficult enough before COVID-19 threw in a whole new set of life challenges. But there is some positive news that can be taken away from that crisis as we use the lessons learned to adapt to a balanced new world of in-office and virtual visits. When carefully implemented, a better balance can be achieved, which leads to the all-important better work-life balance for you.
Healthcare Technology Solutions Designed By and For Independent Practices
Amazing Charts was founded in 2001 by a practicing family physician to help medical practices thrive. We have grown consistently since then by creating easy-to-use solutions for delivering patient care. Today, we offer a variety of additional capabilities designed to help independent practices succeed, including Electronic Health Records, Practice Management, Billing Services, Population Health and Remote Care. Call 866-382-5932 to learn about our products, schedule a practice consultation, and learn more about telehealth pandemic lessons that can help your independent practice grow.