It's 2023, and an uptick in the number of new patients at your practice is the new normal. According to new data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the US could experience a shortage of between 37,900 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. The time to get strategic about managing more patients is now.
An influx in patients may have you feeling a bit overwhelmed but try to take it in stride. Read on to discover why the best patient acquisition strategy doesn’t turn away patients — and how you can effectively manage a larger patient roster without sacrificing quality care.
3 reasons doctors shouldn’t close their doors to new patients
1. Patient volume fluctuates
Even the best providers experience attrition. In fact, our most recent Patient Perspective survey found that 36 percent of patients have left a healthcare provider in the past two years. You may be getting a flood of new patients today but the pendulum could easily swing the other way tomorrow. For long-term practice success, you need to play the long game. Accepting new patients at all times helps keep your patient roster at a healthy level, so your practice will remain profitable despite occasional ebbs and flows. This might mean you have a higher volume of patients during busy periods, but it will level out in the long run.
2. It’s bad for business
Just like with any other type of business, turning away customers is not good for your bottom line. Once they’ve been turned down, patients won’t return to your practice to try and make an appointment again. Plus, when people find a doctor they like, they often want to refer other patients. If you stop accepting new patients, you may find yourself having to decide whether to give preferential treatment to those who have been referred or turn away everyone across the board. Either way, you risk losing existing patients to a provider who is willing to treat their loved ones.
3. Temporary closures cause uncertainty
Some amount of patient turnover is to be expected. Which means unless you’re retiring from medicine for good, a ban on new patients is never going to be permanent. Temporary closures make it hard for other doctors, insurers, and existing patients to keep track of your current status. Your fellow physicians could stop referring you because they won’t want to recommend a provider who might be unavailable to a patient needing immediate medical attention. It’s much easier to recommend a doctor who takes an always-open approach to patient acquisition. Again, growth should be an ongoing strategy for your practice — not an occasional project.
How to handle too many patients
1. Give patients more control
Everyone wins when you make the patient experience more interactive, effectively streamlining operations to accommodate more patients. According to Advisory Board, 81 percent of patients would schedule a doctor’s appointment online if they could and 40 percent would consider switching providers for online access. Plus, our research shows that roughly a quarter of appointments are scheduled for the same day or next day, making it easy for both new and longtime patients to fill up empty time slots. According to our 2021 Patient Perspective survey, more than half of patients prefer digital interactions for five key tasks, including appointment scheduling and filling out forms. Sending intake forms in advance via email or SMS also cuts down on waiting time and subsequent delays. New patients can complete forms in advance so they arrive ready to see the doctor, making it easier for you to keep up with a full schedule.
2. Automate routine office tasks
With the right systems in place, a growing number of patients doesn’t have to mean increased strain on your staff. While some things always require a personal touch, basic tasks like appointment confirmations and reminders don’t fall into this category. Automating these processes allows your staff to review text confirmations in a matter of minutes, effectively adding hours back into their day. This is time they can use to focus on new patients, while also reducing late arrivals, no-shows, and cancellations.
Adding an asynchronous channel for patient communications gives your staff back even more valuable time. For example, if patients can send questions via text message, staff can respond when it’s convenient — which saves both sides from having to carve time out of their day for a phone conversation. So it’s a win win.
3. Enhance your EMR
Effectively treating a higher volume of patients requires increased efficiency. Simplify your practice by integrating your EMR/EHR system with software that will help you provide an elevated quality of care while also boosting productivity.
An integrated EHR system will save you time by reducing redundancy and making it easier to access patient data. When all the right information is at your fingertips, you can spend more quality time with patients, increasing their satisfaction and allowing you to focus on what matters most: providing the best possible care. Look for a system that’s cloud-based with an intuitive interface designed to meet daily clinical needs. Shortcuts and templates will help you get administrative tasks done more quickly while maintaining the level of detail that’s needed to personalize care.
4. Offer shared appointments
One of the more innovative ways to manage patient acquisition, shared medical appointments allow you to treat several patients at once. In this type of setting, people experiencing similar health concerns are grouped together to ask questions, share concerns, and receive guidance.
The Cleveland Clinic has been using this approach since 1999 and currently offers more than 200 SMAs. This is an effective way to see patients faster and offers the added bonus of helping people with similar conditions connect with one another.