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Increasing Patient Volume in a Post-pandemic World

Despite a massive influx of patients with COVID-19 in 2020, the healthcare industry experienced an overall decrease in patient volume and demand for elective services. One year-end report estimated that hospital discharges decreased 10 percent overall in 2020, while outpatient revenue decreased by six percent. A separate earlier study estimated that primary care practices would lose $67,774 in gross revenue per full-time-equivalent physician due to the drop in preventive and acute care. State restrictions on elective services early in the pandemic drove some of the volume decrease, but a significant portion of patients also skipped needed care due to fear of catching COVID-19.

Given these challenges, it makes sense that a survey of practices conducted by Epion Health found that increasing patient volume was deemed the top priority for 2021 with respondents characterizing it as “critical” or “most critical.” Increasing referrals, which also can help increase patient volume, was the second-highest priority among survey respondents.

Restrictions on elective care were largely lifted months ago, and vaccines are now being widely administered. That means practices can spend the rest of the year and into 2022 rebuilding patient volume and revenue to pre-COVID-19 levels – and even higher. Here’s how practices can maximize patient volume and provider capacity:

  1. Expand Appointment Capacity.

The bottom line for increasing patient volume is simply to make accessing care at your practice easier. This can be accomplished in several ways with varying degrees of cost and effort. The simplest but also costliest and time-consuming way is simply to keep the practice open longer hours during the business day or on weekends. Less costly methods to expand care access and increase patient volume could include conducting group patient visits for services that are covered by payers, shortening appointment times and offering digital check-in. If the digital check-in data automatically flows into the electronic health record (EHR), it can save time for administrative staff and help clinicians prepare for a visit sooner, so appointments can be faster and more efficient. 

  1. Fill Available Slots.

Proactively filling scheduling gaps in the days, weeks and even months ahead is a sure way to increase patient volume. Filling those available slots can include investing in some inexpensive search engine optimization for the practice’s website and search engine marketing to help patients find your practice. Likewise, ensuring the practice has a strong, positive online reputation can attract more patients searching for a new physician and increase the number of patient referrals from friends and family members. 

Another way to fill available slots is to ensure patients with Medicare complete their Annual Wellness Visit, which should already be mandatory at your practice. Patients who do not have Medicare and have not been seen at the practice in over a year could also benefit from a prevention-focused wellness visit. A list of such patients can be easily created within a practice management system. Lastly, online scheduling can help patients book appointments and fill those gaps themselves, saving your staff outreach time and effort, while appointment reminders will make sure they keep them. These online scheduling tools are particularly effective if they are accessed through a health insurer’s website, so the patient can find a provider within their plan’s preferred network.

  1. Prevent No-Shows and Cancellations.

Patient no-shows and last-minute cancellations are inevitable, even if there is pent-up demand for care. Practices can, however, prevent some of these cancellations and no-shows through reminder calls, which are time-consuming but highly effective. Automated reminders requesting confirmation sent to the patient’s smartphone can prevent patients from forgetting about an appointment. Online check-in that occurs while the patient is still at home can also drive visit completion. The latter can sometimes prompt a patient who is considering skipping the appointment to feel obligated to complete the visit.

  1. Shorten Time to Third-Next Available Appointment.

Calculating the practice’s third-next available appointment (TNAA) gives a reliable perspective of how easy it is for a patient to schedule an appointment with the practice. The third-next available is a better indicator than the next or second-next available because the latter could be due to a no-show or last-time minute cancellation, neither or which is predictable or reliable. Practices should target zero to one day for TNAA. Through shortening the TNAA by strategically blocking the schedule to accommodate same-day requests, practices can reliably maximize their capacity. You can learn more about the importance of TNAA here

  1. Reduce Wait Times.

Maximizing patient volume depends on smooth patient flow. Patients waiting too long in the waiting area or exam room means practices cannot schedule additional appointments in the day or fill gaps due to cancellations or no-shows. Here again, digital check-in that can be completed at home before the appointment can significantly shorten the “dwell” times where patients are not receiving care. Automated text message updates sent to the patient’s mobile phone can improve their experience and prevent a potential walk-out. If the practice is still following COVID-19 protocols that require patients to wait in their cars, then such text messages are essential for efficient communication.

As stated above, the right technology partner can help the practice increase patient volume through automated, online tools that help patients schedule appointments and check-in to their visit. These tools can ensure smooth patient flow throughout the day and enable more time for staff to manually close gaps in providers’ schedules or fill a last-minute cancellation or no-show. 

Get in touch with us to learn more about how Epion Health solutions can help increase your practice’s patient volume.