The Importance of Data Driven Decision Making

Practice Schedule Management = Provider Time Management = Practice Success

Patient scheduling in a medical practice is no easy task. In fact, patient scheduling is not really a task at all. It is a process – and a unique, complicated one at that. At a root level, patient scheduling is a form of time management and there are countless tools and approaches out there for managing time. One of the wider known time management strategies is known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix- named after its creator, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This approach effectively breaks down all of the tasks an individual faces into 4 categories that look like this-

While this is a straightforward and effective strategy, it is focused on the tasks “an individual” faces. Patient scheduling, however, requires the ability to effectively manage the tasks facing the physician, the patient, the physician extenders and the organization itself. Additionally, the “Do” items, “Decide” items and “Delegate” items all have to be scheduled and, often, across multiple schedules. What defines “Do”, Decide” and “Delegate” also varies between practices and between providers within each practice. Like I said, it’s a unique and complicated process.

When that process is managed effectively, patients receive the care they need when they need it, providers are “the right kind of busy” and practices thrive. The practices that manage it effectively all have one thing in common – they take a proactive approach to scheduling.

Practices who take a more reactive approach face a myriad of challenges that impact patients, physicians and the other staff members. Are patients with urgent needs frequently unable to be seen and forced to seek care elsewhere? Are some physicians working 10-hour clinics to keep up while other physicians have excess capacity? Are physician assistants or nurse practitioners idle while their physician gets stacked with follow-up and pre-op appointments? These things all indicate that the scheduling process is reactive rather than proactive.

One frequent driver of these patterns is basing scheduling decisions on emotion rather than on a data-driven, rules-based process. Every patient is important and we want them to feel that way, but not every patient need is necessarily urgent. Without consistent and automated rules to help schedulers steer those patients to the right slots, we put them at a serious disadvantage.

Picture this:

The scheduler has three calls on hold, the patient on the phone is a young mother with a crying infant in the background who “Really need[s] to get my baby in with Dr. Smith TODAY!”, the scheduler desperately wants to help and presto – an appointment that would be best suited for the physician assistant with capacity takes the last available slot on the physician’s schedule. The next patient on the phone has an urgent need that needs to go the physician today, but now their schedule is full. Does the scheduler overbook the physician or let the patient go elsewhere? Additionally, the needs of those next two patients might just make matters worse.

Unless, of course, there were a way to automate some of the decision-making to help buffer the emotional element of the scheduling process. An automated system that can leverage what our patients have needed from us in the past to better position us to be meet those needs in the future puts our practice in a better position to align with patient demand. An automated system that can present only the available options that best fit the combined needs of the patient, the available providers and the practice itself puts our scheduler in a better position to align with the practice’s goals.

That automated system exists and its name is Opargo.