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  • Viewpoint: 4 Tips for Building a Smart Schedule

    Viewpoint is a column created by AAOE® specifically for ophthalmologists and leaders in practice management.

    Updated September 2023

    Balancing patient satisfaction with clinical efficiency is vital for a successful thriving practice. A robust smart schedule allows optimal time allocation to various key components of the clinic thereby improving patient satisfaction and reducing team burnout.

    1. Learn the Workflow
    Take the time to observe, assimilate and master every step in the patient’s clinic journey starting from arrival at the front desk to check out. Identify the bottlenecks and try to segregate the productive vs. wasted time with the goal of eliminating the wasted time completely.

    Assign an approximate time value (be liberal considering the complexity of cases commonly seen in your practice), calculating a baseline visit time for both new and established patients. This will enhance your ability to make an efficient template for the day.

    2. Reduce Unwarranted Wait Times
    The majority of negative patient reviews are directed around long appointment wait times. These include unwarranted wait times or “wasted time” in the clinic and typically stem from unrecognized bottlenecks in the clinic, in-efficient front desk procedures, unorganized supplies, and shuffling patients between multiple rooms during appointments.

    Employing a lean operating philosophy by utilizing standardized time-tested protocols, minimizing patient movement, and eliminating the bottlenecks can substantially reduce the wait time thereby enhancing patient satisfaction manyfold. 

    3. Gather the Data
    With your basic schedule in place, start running a real time analysis in your clinic to better understand your workflow. Most ophthalmology-based electronic health records (EHR) offer time stamp data giving an overview of the total time spent by a patient in your clinic. Start to build some metrics that matter to you and get sophisticated with how you analyze and utilize this data for template optimization. These metrics can be used to empower the frontline staff for problem-solving, boosting their morale and creating a constructive productive culture.

    4. Control and Improve
    As your expertise and familiarity with your clinic grows, so should your clinic schedule. Continue to use lean principles to increase your efficiency and use it as an opportunity to evaluate your practice patterns. Build the analysis into your periodic staff meetings. Every member of your team will have valuable information to improve your performance, create a culture where everyone is invested in improving efficiency, your success is their success. Every member of your team will have valuable information to improve your performance. Create a culture where everyone is invested in improving efficiency and remember that your success is their success.

    Extra Pearls

    • It is always easier to add patients to your clinic schedule template than remove them! Start light and build the schedule to your liking.
    • Pay attention to wait times--they are a key patient satisfaction metric. Can you utilize wait time time better?  
    • No one in your clinic knows how to schedule your patients better than you. Find your sidekick, the key figure in the office who knows your practice patterns inside out.

    About the Author

    Dr. Rahul Bhola is an internationally recognized expert in pediatric ophthalmology. He is currently the Chair and Medical Director of Ophthalmology at Children’s Hospital of Orange County and serves as the division chief of Pediatric Ophthalmology at CHOC Children’s Specialists and associate clinical professor at University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. Dr. Bhola serves as a member of the AAOE Board of Directors and AAOE Content Committee.