03 Jun Summer Vacation: Keeping Your Practice Going and Your Cash Flowing
Summer is here and everyone in your office wants to take extended time off to go to the beach or to be with family…your partners, your nursing staff, your biller–and so do you! You think to yourself, “Let’s just close the office for a month-long August vacation.” But then reality hits and you remember if you don’t see patients and process claims, then you don’t bring in any money and no one gets paid. Argh…what are you supposed to do?
It’s important to remember that this is a predictable problem every summer, and good planning goes a long way in serving your patients, your practice, and your staff. First, look at your patient needs. Many parents prefer their school-aged children have their annual well visit in the summer when they don’t have to be taken out of school. Can you off-load some of this demand proactively in the spring with increased early morning and late afternoon visits? Do you decide to stay later on Thursday evenings in the summer and only work Friday morning so that everyone gets an early start on their weekend (except for the doc on call)? Can you better coordinate your staff vacation schedule with your provider vacation schedule? Clearly if you have a provider on vacation, you are seeing fewer patients in the office and have less staffing needs. It is likely that your triage phones ring less, and you can repurpose these folks to do care coordination for your special needs population. Or they can recall your asthma patients who need a “tune up” (with meds ready to go) before they head back to school in September.
Look at your prior year’s calendar for trends of unfilled slots or missed appointments to help guide you in making better decisions this year. “But we have always done it this way” should never get in the way of innovative solutions that lead to improved operations. Create a work group in your office to strategize this problem. The more input from multiple stakeholders, the more likely everyone will be happy with a compromise solution. Don’t forget to make sure the patient/family is represented in these brainstorming projects!
Summer always means a higher number of no-shows for appointments. How can you improve this? I would recommend reviewing appointment confirmation practices and adjusting them as necessary. Here are some suggestions for filling open slots and last minute cancellations:
Text a reminder to the parents’ cell phone the day before an appointment and ask them to call if you if they need to reschedule an appointment.
Assess a $$ fee for missed appointments not cancelled 24 hours prior to the scheduled appointment time
Create a “cancellation list” you can use, or “tweet” that you have some same day well-visit appointments open, so patients can “call now” to take advantage of the opening
Go to totally open access scheduling in the summer. Use your EHR to proactively generate a list of coming due or overdue patients, contact them and get them in. Well visits are the lifeblood of the pediatric practice!
So you have the patients coming and staff to take care of them….but what if your biller wants to take an extended vacation? (Or worse yet, what if she is taking maternity leave!) Many organizations offer temporary billing solutions for situations just like these. Some organizations can actually log on remotely and do the work inside your system so you can have direct oversight. Do your homework ahead of time, choose wisely and keep those claims going out and payments coming in! When you take the time to plan ahead, you can relax and put your feet in the sand knowing your practice will continue to be profitable.