Extended hours. This can be a tough topic for many practices. For lots of offices, physicians and their staff are already feeling overburdened. Opening for even more hours seems crazy. But here's the deal. We live in a world where we bank, shop, and eat out 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have more informed, savvy patients. They know they have options when it comes to their healthcare. Having open appointment slots doesn't mean much for patients when they are only available at times when they can't be there. And yet the majority of physicians would rather keep to a regular work week. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to provide extra availability and still only open 40 hours per week.
Are Extended Hours the Future of Healthcare?
Once upon a time, after hours care was only available on a limited scope for walk-in patients. Today there are a wide variety of options for patients to be seen after regular business hours. Urgent care practices and retail facilities have both grown tremendously over the past decade. In order to stay competitive, providing the convenience of extended hours can be the difference between a successful practice and a struggling one. In fact, it's estimated that by 2024, care that takes place outside o regular business hours is projected to bring in $5.4 trillion in revenue.
“‘This represents a huge paradigm shift in healthcare,’ said Normand E. Deschene, chief executive of Wellforce, the parent company of Tufts Medical Center and Lowell General Hospital. ‘The systems that are going to succeed are those that are going to embrace it because this is what the consumers want. Most industries follow what their consumers want. Health care should be no different.’”
Simple Ways to Make your Practice More Accommodating
Many practices may not currently be in the position to open their office for additional hours. This does not mean, however, that you can't find ways to meet the demands of today's patients. There are creative ways you can extend availability and still only open for 40 hours per week.
1. Look at your lunch hour. With so many people working full time hours, the lunch hour is often the only time they can fit an appointment into their day. Unfortunately, many practices close during the lunch break. Try to keep your practice open from the critical hours of 10am-2pm. If you have multiple providers, stagger breaks so that someone is always available. In a solo practice, consider taking a break a little later in the day (closing from 2pm-3pm, for instance). This is an easy way to offer more attractive appointment times without changing your regular 8-5 schedule.
2. Be flexible with hours. There is no reason your practice needs to be open from 8-5 each business day. Consider changing up your daily schedule so that you start earlier or end later in the day. For example, on Monday and Wednesday you could be open from 6-3 while on Tuesdays and Thursdays you open from 10-7. Some practices take that even further, pushing back open times to 11 or noon on certain days to stay open for even more evening hours. Most practices find that evening appointments are so attractive that revenue significantly increases...without adding any extra hours to your schedule.
3. Don't forget the weekends. You may have noticed that I didn't give an example for Friday times. For many practices, Friday afternoons and evenings are not attractive times for appointments. You may want to think about being open just a half day on Fridays and then open for another half day on Saturday. Saturday appointments are some of the most attractive in healthcare and often fill up very quickly. You are trading off a slow Friday afternoon for a busy Saturday morning. It's a win-win.
Any change can be hard, so make sure you discuss it with your entire team. Find out what conflicts or problems it may cause and work through those. Ask everyone on the team to give it a try for a specified amount of time (two or three months is good) and then meet again to discuss challenges.
As our patients change, it is critical that we change with them. Finding ways to do so may require some creativity, but will be worth it!
If you're wanting to know more, you can read "Discover the Secret Sauce of Patient Satisfaction" as well.