The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

Why patients demand flexibility from their healthcare provider

Flexibility in healthcare matters to patients. Here’s how to increase your flexibility — not your workload.

two doctors discussing flexibility in healthcare

At a Glance

  • Flexibility in healthcare is a top priority for patients, with 39% considering flexible or late hours to be crucial
  • Providers should find ways to offer flexibility without overburdening themselves or their staff
  • Flexible care options include offering off-hour or virtual follow-up appointments, setting up walk-in clinic hours, and incorporating online, on-demand tools for scheduling and communication

Flexibility in healthcare is more important than ever. In its 4th annual Patient Perspectives survey, Tebra asked over 1,200 patients, “What do patients want most from a healthcare provider?” The survey results provide a fascinating snapshot of the needs and desires of today’s healthcare consumers. While friendly staff and short wait times still matter to patients, what matters even more is flexibility in healthcare and providers who understand the constraints and pressures of modern life. 

Explore some of the key findings from Tebra’s research below and consider incorporating the following tips into your practice management to not only meet patients’ needs but also exceed their expectations.

Flexibility in healthcare doesn’t mean taking on more work

The first and most important thing to recognize is that building more flexibility in your healthcare office for patients shouldn’t be done at the expense of providers and staff. Providing off-hour or virtual follow-up appointments shouldn’t make your day as a provider longer or more difficult.

39% of respondents consider flexible or late hours a top priority after quality care. ”

Instead, look for ways to create scheduling opportunities that work for your patients and for your team. If you decided to offer appointments one Saturday a month, don’t schedule appointments on the following Monday. If you start to see patients at 7am on Wednesdays, end your day an hour earlier than normal or build in an extended lunch break so you can go to the bank, get your teeth cleaned, or see your own doctor.

Pro tip: Offering flexibility can differentiate your practice from the competition. Make sure your comprehensive healthcare marketing strategy highlights your scheduling opportunities along with all the other qualities that set your practice apart.

Offer appointments outside of traditional business hours 

According to Tebra’s Patient Perspectives survey, 39% of respondents consider flexible or late hours a top priority after quality care. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 77% of workers in private industry have access to some paid sick leave, but this number plummets to only 38% for workers with an average wage in the lowest 10% of earners. Off-hour appointments are therefore critical for nearly 2 out of 5 people. 

Reclaiming nights and weekends is certainly one of the theoretical perks of self-employment and private practice, but providers who offer early morning, after hours, and weekend appointments will be able to provide a level of accessibility and flexibility in healthcare that differentiates their practice from others. 

Offer virtual follow-up appointments 

Telehealth appointments may have declined in popularity following the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic — and not all types of patient encounters translate well to the virtual setting — but they can be a valuable tool for creating more flexibility in healthcare for your patients. 

Explore the possibility of conducting quick follow-ups, medication refill appointments, and even initial patient intakes virtually. For example, you may be able to reduce waiting time and increase appointment availability when you add virtual appointments that don’t require physical examinations to your roster. In fact, Tebra’s research found that 57% of patients would prefer it.

Set up clinic hours for walk-in appointments 

If it makes sense for your speciality (cardiology, skip this section and send your urgent patients straight to emergency) consider reserving an afternoon or morning each week for walk-in clinic hours. During this time, your providers can see patients with more acute concerns on a first-come, first-served basis. Not only can this model shorten the amount of time that patients need to wait before being evaluated, it can also help you have a dedicated time to deal with walk-ins instead of causing havoc on your schedule all week.

Get the playbook

Incorporate online, on-demand tools

Online options for scheduling, refill requests, and bill payment are another way to show patients that you understand their need for flexibility — and to lessen the burden of administrative work for your staff. 

It’s important to keep in mind that many people use their mobile device to access online portals, so patients might not take advantage of a scheduling or communication tool that isn’t smartphone-friendly. At the same time, it should still be usable for those on browsers on older devices. Similarly, it’s important to make sure that your website is ADA compliant. 

Tebra also found that 51% of patients prefer to receive appointment reminders via text message, so consider incorporating this service into your practice management as well. 

Accommodate parents of small children

Conducting an exam of a patient holding a wailing baby or wrangling an active toddler isn’t ideal, but for parents without childcare options, a provider’s willingness to accommodate small children can make a huge difference in their ability to access the care they need. 

Consider keeping a few activities for small children available or, if the parent is comfortable with it, asking a team member to entertain the child while you conduct the parent’s appointment. 

Work smarter, not harder, to improve flexibility in healthcare

Ultimately, patients might want flexibility in healthcare, but they also want a provider who isn’t burnt out or too frazzled to provide the high quality of care they expect and deserve.

Working smarter instead of harder is an important way to balance your own needs with those of your patients. Finding tools to streamline administrative and practice management tasks that eat up precious time can help safeguard your own well-being while freeing up space in your schedule that can be used to see your patients.

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Written by

Kate Smith, RN, BSN

Kate Smith is a registered nurse with extensive experience caring for patients in urban emergency departments, private practices, in-home hospice settings, and on cruise ships around the world. She is also a writer who is passionate about the medical field, and endeavors to approach topics in ways that give readers a new perspective.

Reviewed by

Lauren Wheeler, BCPA, MD

Dr. Lauren Wheeler, MD, BCPA, is a former family medicine physician who currently works as an independent healthcare advocate as well as a medical editor and writer. You can get in touch with her about anything writing or advocacy at her website

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