BY DONNA SUTER, Apison, Tenn.

Have you mastered the art of efficient patient flow? Not only is inefficient scheduling a nuisance for everyone, but it can significantly contribute to a practice's success or failure.

As a technician, you certainly can't change scheduling policy without consulting your practitioner, but you can work as a team to design a strategy that maximizes patient visits without sacrificing quality or efficiency. For example:

  • Be realistic about how many patients the doctor can see in 1 day. Depending on his chief complaint, a patient may need 5 minutes for a contact lens checkup or up to 40 minutes for comprehensive testing and refraction.
  • Determine how much time each patient will need with the doctor by asking him for specific information, such as chief complaint and age, when he calls to make an appointment. Older patients, who are more likely to have problems, typically need more time with the doctor than younger patients with healthy eyes.
  • Schedule different types of visits for different times of day. Early morning is a good time to schedule patients for a medical or contact lens progress check. The doctor can see several of these patients in quick succession while comprehensive patients are filling out paperwork and having preliminary tests.
  • Set your scheduling software template for 5-minute intervals. You'll have more flexibility to customize appointment lengths.
  • Be sure to schedule enough core revenue-generating visits in 1 day to cover operating expenses. Calculate how many comprehensive or contact lens patients the doctor needs to see each day to meet financial goals, and then fill in remaining spots with other less-lucrative appointments.

The key to successful patient flow isn't speed. Rather, proactive scheduling lets you offer your patients efficient, complaint-free and consistent quality of care without placing undue stress on office personnel or resources.