5 ways medical practices can restore patient visit volumes amid a pandemic: report

Medical pratices may want to take another look at their hours and their wait times as they look to improve patient volumes. (Getty/Geber86)

It's no secret medical practices have taken a serious hit as patient volumes plummeted in the early days of the pandemic.

And while many have turned to virtual visits, that in itself may not be enough to prop up declining revenue or meet all the needs patients have, according to a new report from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA.) A June 2020 survey found more than half of patients (57%) report having a medical condition requiring immediate attention.

In a new report out this week, MGMA released key best practices for practices to follow to help restore patient volumes and stabilize financial footing based on 2019 data from more than 1,500 organizations.

"One of the keys to restoring patient visit volumes and avoiding deferred care is ensuring that these patients feel safe when returning to their medical practice office,” said Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, president and CEO of MGMA. “Medical practices need to win patients’ trust and this benchmarking data will allow medical practices to make necessary adjustments that will allow them to remain competitive in this ever-evolving industry.”

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Some of those practices include: 

  1. Shifting hours of operation: Faced with potential bottlenecks of delayed care, practices may need to consider expanded hours on weekdays and weekends, the report said. These hours may also allow practices to stagger provider and staff into shifts to limit the number of people in the clinic at any one time to better allow for social distancing. 
     
  2. Decreasing patient wait times: While the report shows the latest data from providers indicates wait times trending upward in recent years, that had to change dramatically in the context of a pandemic.  "While front desk check-ins remains the dominant means of handling in-person visits, many MGMA members report shifting to new, digital check-in options in response to the pandemic," the report said. Many practices will need to shift way from their traditional philosophy on scheduling to improve the flow of people through the practice space, it said. 
     
  3. Leveraging patient portals: While the report notes the top three uses of a patient portal are for prescription refills, communication with providers and medical staff and accessing test results, they've taken on a level of importance amid the pandemic in reducing required in-person interactions.
     
  4. Appointment availability and timeliness: The report suggests practices consider measuring the delay patients experience in accessing providers through third-next-available appointment and the use of a patient waitlist to fill next-available appointments.
     
  5. Consider charging a no-show fee: Prior to COVID-19, fewer than one in five single-specialty practices charged a no-show fee. However, given the upheavel in scheduling and patients’ concerns with safety and personal finances, practices may want to reconsider whether to charge a no-show fee, the report suggests.