During the last 12 months we’ve seen unprecedented ingenuity and creativity amongst the practitioners that we work with and talk to.
But we also know that many of you have been in “survival mode”, battening down the hatches, furloughing staff and waiting out (forcibly or not) the long periods of lockdown.
Whether you’ve been ingenious or resilient we salute you! This has been the toughest 12 months ever for practically all businesses, small or large. Thankfully though, green shoots are starting to appear and it looks like we’re through the worst🤞.
Whichever “mode” you’ve been in over the past 12 months we thought it would be super helpful to pull together an article sharing our top tips on how to transform, automate and streamline your practice as we go into a new financial year. This is often referred to as “process improvement” and whilst that might sound a bit boring it will lead to tangible benefits, such as:
- Eradicating repetitive & time-consuming tasks that you dread doing every week/month
- Freeing up “wasted time” to:
- spend more time with your existing clients (if you want to)
- take on new clients and generate more income
- enjoy more down-time away from your practice
- Eliminating paper and all the associated storage space
- Improving your client’s experience and interactions with your practice
- Simplifying your compliance with key regulations like GDPR
- Reducing the threat of virus transmission
If any of those sound appealing let’s take a look at what you need to know to get started.
What exactly are process improvements?
Large businesses pay consultants big bucks to optimise their processes, reduce costs and improve the experience for their customers. Below I’ve listed some of the key “process improvement” areas that you can target in your practice along with the rationale behind them from a practice management perspective:
|Automating Repetitive Tasks||It makes no sense to perform high volume repetitive tasks. For example, sending out email or text confirmations to clients for the next day. There’s a natural trade-off between the amount of effort required to automate a task and the time spent doing it but as a rough rule of thumb if you’re doing 10 repetitions of a daily task (i.e. 50 / week or 2400 per working year) they should probably be automated|
|Eradicating Paper||Handling paper is time-consuming, requires storage and in the recent past has become a possible route of virus transmission|
|Systemising Error-Prone Tasks||Systems can simplify checks or tallying. For example, when a client wants their invoice if you have to manually check a diary to see how many appointments they’ve had it would be very easy to miss one. A system wouldn’t make this mistake.|
|Improving Self-Service Options for Clients||Consumers/users/patients are used to doing things themselves these days. It reduces admin on your side, it’s often more accurate and it puts the client in control of their data/destiny. For example, it makes much more sense for clients to book their own appointments when they’ve got their diary in front of them or for them to complete their details (Name, address, DoB) rather than you entering it on their behalf when you could be treating them.|
Whether you’re a single person practice or a large multi-national the same rules apply. In fact, for a smaller business, these time-sapping processes can sometimes be the difference between sinking or swimming.
How do I identify process improvements in my own practice?
Later in the article we’ll cover typical areas where process improvements can be made in an established practice. But before we do here are some simple tools to help identify your own.
Ask yourself some tough questions….
To help you “focus in” on possible process improvements ask yourself a few simple questions:
- What tasks am I doing again and again and again and again?
- By doing these repetitive, potentially low-value tasks am I making the best use of my valuable time?
- By undertaking these tasks am I adding some intelligence/insight that means that it can’t be automated?
- By undertaking these tasks am I inadvertently having a detrimental impact on the experience and service that I offer to my customers?
- By undertaking these tasks am I introducing errors or mistakes because they’re just plain boring?
Quantify & prioritise the improvements
Having answered the tough questions you should have a pretty clear list of the tasks/processes that could be improved, automated or (if you’re really lucky) stopped. Now you just need to attribute a time cost to them using either of the formula below:
Weekly Duration of Task x Your Hourly Rate x 52 = Annual Cost
Example: Say a big task takes you 2 hours per week to complete and your hourly rate is £40. The annual cost of that task or process = 2 x 40 x 52 = £4,160
Small Bitesize Tasks/Processes
- Duration of an individual task x # of iterations of per day = Total Task Time Per Day
- Total Task Time Per Day x Your Hourly Rate x 5 x 52 = Annual Cost
Example: Say a small task like sending out appt texts takes 1.5 minutes but you do that 40 times per day. So Total Task Time Per Day = 60 mins (1 hour). Then your annual cost of that process task will be = 5 x 40 = £10.400
This obviously isn’t rocket science but it helps you to put into context how “expensive” a process is and how costly it is relative to another process improvement.
8 easy and effective improvements you can start making today
Every practice and its practice management system is different but based on our discussions with thousands of clinicians, these are some of the typical areas where you can see some quick (process) wins:
- Self Booking / Online Booking
- Automated Confirmations & Reminders
- Online Forms
- Automated Data Capture
- Triggered Documents
- GDPR Compliance
- Streamlined Invoicing
- Integrated Payments
#1 Online Appointment Booking
The first step in your client journey that can potentially be improved by automation is your appointment booking process. Online booking has been popular for a while but we still see many clinicians who are hesitant to give it a try.
When enabling online booking, the entire process can be automated for both you and your client.
- Your client checks your online diary and books an appointment that is most convenient to them.
- They enter their information which is automatically added to their client record.
- You receive an automated message telling you that someone has booked an appointment.
- Your client receives an automated confirmation email or SMS (see next point)
- Your diary is automatically updated with the details of the appointment.
If you’d like to see what online booking can look like from the client’s perspective, take a look at this example site from our fictitious clinic Honey & Desk: http://honeydesk.selectandbook.com
For your clients, online booking can have the following benefits:
- Ease of booking – no need to ring up, remember your phone number or deal with busy phone lines. They can just go onto your website and book immediately.
- 24*7*365 booking – no need to wait until someone is in your clinic to answer the phones
Perhaps more importantly, the benefits from your perspective are:
- Increased first-time bookings – clients search for a clinician online and book immediately with you as opposed to your competitor because you have online booking and they don’t
- Lower operating costs (if you employ reception staff)
- Lower admin time (if you book your own appointments)
- Self-registration by your clients – they enter their details which means you don’t need to
Av # of Appts per Week / clinician = 40
Time required to book each appointment = 5 mins
Total Time (mins) to book appointments each week = 40 x 5 = 200 mins
Total Time (Hours) to send texts for the year = (200 x 52) / 60 = 173 hours
Total Annual Cost: 173 x £40 (hourly rate) = £6.9k
TOTAL COST/POTENTIAL SAVINGS = £6,933
#2 Automated Confirmations & Reminders
The process of sending out automated appointment confirmations and reminders to clients before their appointments has become commonplace in many private practices. Most systems will allow you to set up confirmations via email or SMS that are sent out when a client books an appointment. Additionally, you’ll also be able to automate a reminder that gets sent out a few days ahead of the appointment to make sure your clients don’t forget about their appointment with you.
A fully-automated system like this will help you:
- Improve the experience for your clients
- Reduce time and effort on your part
- Cut out the need for appointment cards (in most cases)
- Significantly reduce # of no-shows
COSTS/SAVINGS FROM TIME SPENT/TIME RECOVERED
Av # of Appts per Week / clinician = 40
Time required to manually send an appt confirmation/reminder text = 2 mins
Total Time (mins) to send texts for the week = 40 x 2 x 2 (confirmation & reminder) = 160 mins
Total Time (Hours) to send texts for the year = (160 x 52) / 60 = 139 hours
Total Annual Cost: 139 x £40 (hourly rate) = £5.5k
COSTS/SAVINGS FROM NO SHOWS
Weekly “No Shows” = 4 (out of 40)
Annual “No Shows” = 4 x 52 = 208
Reduction rate in “No Shows” as a result of confirmations & reminders = 40%
Reduced # of “No Shows” = 125
Saved “No Shows” = 208 – 125 = 83
No Show” Income that has not been lost = 83 x £40 = £3,320
TOTAL COST/POTENTIAL SAVINGS (TIME SPENT + NO SHOWS) = £8,820
#3 Secure Online Forms
During your time at work, do you find yourself repeatedly doing any of these things?
- Scanning forms that your client has completed and uploading them to your practice management system
- Sitting with your client and going through pre-assessment forms during their session
- Waiting for your client to complete a paper-based form before their session can begin
- Transcribing answers from a paper form completed by your client to an electronic form in your practice management system
If you said yes to any of those tasks and fancy eradicating them, then adopting online forms could be a smart move. All of these tasks can be fully automated by sending out secure online forms directly via email. After receiving the form, your clients will be able to access it through a secure portal where they can share any needed information before they even step foot in your clinic. Once the form has been filled out, you’ll be notified and the form will be added to your client records – where you’ll be able to quickly review them before the appointment.
If choosing a fully-automated process like this, you’ll be able to:
- Simplify your registration forms, pre-assessment forms, consent forms as well as GDPR-related consent (for more info on GDPR, see our GDPR section below)
- Significantly reduce the time and effort required to scan, upload or transcribe any paper forms
- Cut down on the time the client needs to spend in your clinic
- Reduce the amount of paper (and storage space) required
Av # of Appts per Week / Clinician = 50
New:Follow-up Ratio = 1:5 (i.e the ratio of new sessions to follow-up sessions)
Av # of New Appts/Clients per Week / Clinician = 10 (50 / New:Follow-up ratio)
Time required to complete forms for each “new” client = 10 mins
Total Weekly Time (mins) to complete forms = 10 x 10 = 100 mins
Total Time (Hours) to complete forms for the year = (100 x 52) / 60 = 87 hours
Total Annual Cost: 87 x £40 (hourly rate) = £3.5k
TOTAL COST/POTENTIAL SAVINGS = £3,466
#4 Automated Data Capture
To take things one step further, some of the more advanced practice management systems will allow you to take specific information that clients have shared in online forms and automatically import this straight into their client summary.
This usually works for information such as:
- Address and location information
- Contact information for the client (phone, email)
- Contact information for next of kin
Automation like this will allow you to save the time you currently spend capturing this information either on paper or verbally whilst the client is sat in reception or in front of you. With the click of a button, this information will be imported directly into your system, saving both time and the possibility of transposition errors.
Depending on how your client onboarding process works the time-saving costs here are likely to be the same as those for Secure Online Forms.
#5 Triggered Documents
Not every system out there will offer triggered documents but some (including Writeupp) provide the ability to automatically generate a document(s) based on a chosen event, like a new appointment.
If you’ve booked an appointment and wanted to send a letter to the client, their carer/guardian, their GP or anyone else, you could set up document templates that will automatically trigger and populate with the client’s details from their record. All that’s left for you to do is print the letter and post it.
As with many of the other automation improvements, this can help you reduce the time you spend writing and personalising letters to clients, guardians, carers and/or other clinicians.
Av # of “Standard Letters” per Week / clinician = 10
Time required to draft letters (pull name, address etc) = 5 mins
Total Weekly Time (mins) to complete forms = 5 x 10 = 50 mins
Total Time (Hours) to complete forms for the year = (50 x 52) / 60 = 43 hours
Total Annual Cost: 43 x £40 (hourly rate) = £1.7k
TOTAL COST/POTENTIAL SAVINGS = £1,733
#6 GDPR Compliance
GDPR can be a major source of anxiety for many practitioners. Luckily, most major practice management systems have found ways to simplify the process.
DISCLAIMER: If you’re unsure about your responsibilities in relation to GDPR please consult your professional body or a data protection specialist.
Here are some common features that can help you reduce the time and cost involved in meeting your GDPR responsibilities going forwards:
|Provision of Client ID||The provision of a Client ID can allow you to protect your client’s privacy by displaying their ID (instead of their name) in your diary, documents, notes and emails and thereby avoiding the need to transmit PII (Patient Identifiable Information)|
|The capture of privacy consent (Article 13 of GDPR)||Streamlining the capture of privacy consent allows you to send an automated GDPR consent form via email (or in person) that will direct your client to a secure portal where they can give their consent.|
|Fulfilling access requests (Article 15 of GDPR)||One of the most onerous and time-consuming tasks of meeting your GDPR responsibilities is an Access Request. This can happen at any time and requires you to provide every piece of data that you hold about a client and present it within a 30-day deadline.|
Most sophisticated practice management systems will therefore offer a one-click download feature that allows you to download every facet of data into a Zip file that you can then send out. Not only can this significantly reduce the time and worry associated with collecting the data, but it can also help with the fear of accidentally missing any data or files in the process.
|The right to be forgotten” (Article 17 of GDPR)||Based on “the right to be forgotten”, every client has the right to request that you delete all of the data you have on them. A good practice management system should also feature a secure record deletion mechanism that allows you to delete a record in its entirety whilst also maintaining an auditable, non-identifiable log that the record has been deleted.|
NOTE: There are professional and ethical factors that relate to Article 17.
COSTS/SAVINGS FROM CONSENTS
Av # of Appts per Week / clinician = 50
New:Follow-up Ratio = 1:5 (i.e the ratio of new sessions to follow-up sessions)
Av # of Consents per Week / clinician = 10 (50 / New:Follow-up ratio)
Time required to complete GDPR consent for each “new” client = 2 mins
Total Weekly Time (mins) to complete forms = 2 x 10 = 20 mins
Total Time (Hours) to complete forms for the year = (20 x 52) / 60 = 17 hours
Total Annual Cost: 17 x £40 (hourly rate) = £693
COSTS/SAVINGS FROM ACCESS REQUESTS
Av # of Access Requests per year = 4
Total Weekly Time (hours) to fulfill a single access request = 10 – (this is highly variable and depends on the quality of your record keeping)
Total Time (Hours) to fulfill access requests for the year = (4 x 10) = 40 hours
Total Annual Cost: 40 x £40 (hourly rate) = £1.6k
COSTS/SAVINGS FROM “RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN” REQUESTS
Av # of Access Requests per year = 2
Total Weekly Time (hours) to fulfill a single access request = 2 – (this is also highly variable and depends on the quality of your record keeping)
Total Time (Hours) to fulfill access requests for the year = (2 x 2) = 4 hours
Total Annual Cost: 4 x £40 (hourly rate) = £160
TOTAL COST/POTENTIAL SAVINGS = £2,453
#7 Streamlined Invoicing
Most of us don’t enjoy invoicing. It’s tedious, repetitive and time-consuming but since we all need to get paid, it’s a necessary part of our lives.
Thankfully, in most good practice management systems there are ways to streamline the invoicing process. Such as:
- Automatically generating branded invoices based on your clinical activity
- Easily identifying paid/unpaid invoices and bad debts
- Pinpointing appointments that have not yet been invoiced
- Easily adding online payments to the invoice
By streamlining the invoicing process, you’ll be able to:
- Reduce time spent on invoicing and speed up your workflow
- Minimise errors
- Maintain high quality and organised financial records
- Stay on top of cash-flow
- Reduce paperwork
#8 Integrated Online Payments
Issuing an invoice is one thing but getting paid is sometimes more challenging, particularly if you don’t take payment at the time of treatment. Online payments are a great way to minimise the time wasted and frustration caused when trying to get paid.
In short, they’re a simple way to embed a payment link directly into your invoice or your online booking process. This allows your client to pay directly from their invoice using their credit/debit card or pre-pay when they book an appointment online. The payment gateways that underpin this capability will differ by practice management systems but the more common providers are companies like Square, Stripe and Paypal.
If you would like learn more about online or cashless payments the following article explains in detail what they are and why you should be using them:
By offering these types of payment options, you can:
- Reduce any customer-facing time spent getting payment i.e. before/after treatment
- Improve your client experience by making it super easy to pay
- Minimise any manual reconciliation that might be required when auto verifying that payment has been received and reflecting this in your chosen practice management system
Cost-saving calculation: Av # of Invoices raised per Week / Clinician = 40
Time required to take payment = 2 mins
Total Time (mins) to take payment each week = 40 x 2 = 80 mins
Total Time (Hours) to take payment for the year = (80 x 52) / 60 = 69 hours
Total Annual Cost: 69 x £40 (hourly rate) = £6.9k
TOTAL COST/POTENTIAL SAVINGS = £6.9k
To help you move forward, here are some final thoughts to consider:
- You don’t need to tackle everything at once
- Think of the journey as an evolution, not a revolution
- Map out a clear direction of travel for the journey
- Work with your system(s) providers whose goal is to support you
- Be mindful that not everything will work out exactly as you anticipate and that okay