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Patient Questionnaires Make Scheduling Faster and Increase Access

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Patient Questionnaires Make Scheduling Faster and Increase Access

Patient Questionnaires Make Scheduling Faster and Increase Access

Date: 01/04/2016

Scheduling specialist appointments used to depend so much on individual schedulers’ memory that it was almost like “living in an oral tradition,” says Anthony Campos, director of patient access for Access Services. “The scheduler would have to figure out through research — much of it in the form of conversations with peers — which subspecialist the patient needed to go to for care. It was a very laborious process and not patient-friendly.”

But that’s changing, as questionnaire-enabled advanced scheduling becomes more widely available. First rolled out in the Division of Cardiology in September 2014 , advanced scheduling is now used by a combination of 21 departments and specialties, with another six soon to follow, says Vivian Zhao, director of access process improvement for The Johns Hopkins Hospital. The straightforward questionnaire enables schedulers to determine quickly and accurately the specialist the patient needs to see.

“The questionnaire takes the anxiety out of scheduling. Schedulers don’t have to remember nine pages of specialists’ patient protocols as they used to,” says Zhao.

The next stage in access improvement is cross-department scheduling. Currently, it is available on a limited basis. Patient access coordinators at all Johns Hopkins Community Physicians sites can schedule appointments for their patients to see a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, otolaryngologist or dermatologist. Plans are to expand cross-department scheduling to all departments in the next six months.

Finally, the goal is to enable patients to schedule some of their appointments directly, via MyChart. Only a handful of departments have MyChart — among them are several Johns Hopkins Community Physicians practices (family practice, internal medicine, Gyn/Ob) and the school of medicine’s internal medicine department.

At the same time as scheduling is being streamlined, efforts are underway to help physicians better manage their appointment templates. One area of concern has been hold times, a function in Epic that, when not used appropriately, can create barriers to scheduling patients. Access Services is training providers and their staff to convert hold times to available or unavailable times quickly. In December 2014, 3,059 hours were left on hold; in October 2015, the number was 537, a decrease of 82 percent, says Zhao.

A provider’s “bump” rate — that is, how often the physician cancels within 30 days of the patient’s appointment — is another metric that Access Services tracks. Lowering the bump rate to under 3 percent is a key ambulatory priority for the Office of Johns Hopkins Physicians. The provider bump rate at baseline, December 2014, was 4.8 percent. As of October 2015, it had been halved, to 2.3 percent.

Access Services is also developing a communication platform that will make managing and tracking provider templates easier.

“A great experience with a doctor will be soured by a bad scheduling experience,” says Campos. “We want a patient’s experience of care to be excellent from the first point of contact with Johns Hopkins.”