The hits keep coming. If it’s not global health threats it’s staff shortages and surging inflation throwing yet another curve ball at healthcare practices. If it seems like you just can’t get a break in trying to find some semblance of normality in all this craziness, you’re not alone.

No matter what type of healthcare practice you run, it’s likely that external factors such as the pandemic and changing economic realities are continuing to play havoc to your business operations. These forces are likely affecting appointment volumes, staffing levels, and your practice’s profitability margins.

Higher Appointment Volumes

A recent MGMA poll of medical groups showed that 55 percent of practices are reporting higher appointment volumes than 2021 while 30 percent are about the same, and 16 percent are below. The reasons for higher volumes include:

  • Society getting back to normal schedules and routines as COVID becomes less of a risk (asterisk inserted).
  • Employees returning to their offices and their kids resuming in-person schooling leading to more contact with others and an uptick in sick appointments.
  • Increased demand for behavioral and mental health care from people dealing with stress and burnout due to the pandemic and resulting pressures.

But how can your diminished staff successfully handle more patients without being overwhelmed? In a moment, we’ll talk about how you can raise your capacity to accommodate higher appointment volumes despite staff coverage limitations and surging operational costs.

Lower or Static Appointment Volumes

And what about the other 46 percent of practices who are seeing either the same or reduced appointment levels compared to last year? Why aren’t they seeing the same bumps in appointment volumes as other practices?

Though each practice’s experience can be vastly difference based on speciality and range of factors, other variables at play include:

  • In some areas, mid-to high-COVID risks due to the Omicron variant mean that some patients are still opting to stay away from the doctor’s office.
  • Some visit numbers are down from 2021 because fewer people are booking visits for COVID testing or to receive the vaccine.
  • Visits are taking longer because many deferred care and now are facing more numerous and more complicated healthcare issues.
  • Many practices simply lack the adequate staff to achieve higher appointment volumes due to ongoing staff shortages.
  • Patients on high-deductible plans can’t afford to make appointments in the face of rising gas costs and overall consumer inflation.

There are proven strategies and tactics to overcome lowered appointment volumes. In this article, we’ll also look at some approaches to deal with current disruptions, including labor shortages and record levels of inflation.

Inflation and Staffing Shortages

One perplexing hurdle that practices share in common is skyrocketing inflation that is driving up healthcare operational costs and spending. The April 2022 Consumer Price Index (CPI) report showed an 8.3 percent increase in April 2022 and a 8.5 percent increase in March 2022, the largest annual gain since December 1981.

Part of this is because many practices are offering higher, more competitive wages and salaries in a bid to retain existing clinicians and staff. They’re also using offers of higher compensation to try to fill gaps in staffing coverage due to increased retirements and resignations. The staffing shortage problem in all sectors and industries strained healthcare practices in 2021 and doesn’t show any signs of slowing in 2022.

Technology As a Staff Multiplier

For practices seeing higher appointment volumes, it’s likely a double-edged sword. You may be seeing a fuller schedule and increased revenue. But at the same time, labor shortages might mean you lack the staff coverage to accommodate more appointments. Similarly, inflation and offering greater compensation to offset the impacts of staffing shortages means higher operational costs and a lower profit margin.

That’s where modern patient communications software can make up the difference—and then some. Tools with automation built inside like appointment reminders, recall notifications, digital intake, two-way text messaging, and others enable a smaller staff to efficiently reach more patients, which gives you greater appointment volume capacity. Instead of your front office staff or call center members getting stuck on phones, they’re able to use a digital solution that automates most of the mundane and repetitive communication tasks to make sure patients show up for their visits.

In that vein, implementing a comprehensive patient communications platform is like adding more staff, but at a fraction of the cost.

If your practice appointment volumes are static or lower than in 2021, it may be due to the realities of operating with fewer front office staff and impacts of higher operational costs. Here also, patient communications tech can help your practice do more with less.

For example, an automated recall tool allows you to efficiently send recare notifications for hygiene visits, preventive care, and chronic care management at the click of mouse. It lets you select message recipients based on demographics like patient age, diagnosis, or appointment type. Short-staffed? No sweat. Reach your patients quickly and without the hassle of manual phone calls and reminders and get them back in the office to avoid costly gaps in care. That way, you’re able to increase your appointment volume and increase recall revenue despite having fewer staff.

Key Takeaways

Though it’s impossible to avoid the all external pressures impacting your practice, patient communications technology can be a game-changer to:

  • Help you find efficiencies to accommodate higher appointment volumes despite staff shortages and inflation.
  • Help you increase appointment volumes through tools like automated recall that act as a staff multiplier.
  • Create operational efficiencies by reducing time-consuming, manual communication tasks on your staff so you can lower costs, fill your waiting room, and increase revenue.