Same-day appointment scheduling helped drive a 5% increase in primary care volume this year at Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network, Christopher Cheney reports for HealthLeaders Media.
After months of preparation, AHN launched in January same-day appointment scheduling for more than 150 primary care physicians and 20 specialties—including surgical practices. Patients can ask for a same-day appointment if they contact AHN by 11 a.m.
About a year into the endeavor, roughly 15% of primary care appointments and 2% to 3% of specialty appointments are same-day visits, according to AHS SVP for clinical access Kenyokee Crowell. Overall, according to Cheney, the system has scheduled 145,000 same-day appointments since launching the initiative.
According to Crowell, patient satisfaction is 96% for same-day primary care appointments and 92% for same-day specialty care appointments. While the inventory of same-day appointment slots varies by specialty, location, and day of the week, Crowell noted that Mondays are typically the highest-volume days, accounting for between 25% and 40% of same-day appointments.
Meanwhile, new patient and existing patient volumes rose 7% and 5%, respectively, this year—an increase Crowell credits to the same-day appointments. "The increase started exactly when the same-day appointments rolled out for the organization, so we feel the same-day appointments have contributed to that increase," she said.
Launching the initiative—and keeping it in play
According to Crowell, the program's success is due in large part to careful preplanning and continuing revision.
For instance, Crowell explained, during the pre-launch process, "We looked at that primary care data, we looked at Epic, and we met with each of our physicians and administrators for the different service lines to try to put together an algorithm. … It was not a cookie-cutter approach. The algorithm tended to be a little bit different depending on the specialty and, in some cases, by market."
AHN also found it critical to engage deeply with physician practices. "This was not a spreadsheet exercise—the analytics are great and the numbers are great, but they only tell a portion of the story," Crowell said. "You need to talk with the people who know their business best, which are our physicians."
The implementation stage included establishing appointment inventory that reflected patient behavior, Crowell added. "Once we had an idea of what we thought the need would be, we needed to take an inventory of appointment slots off-line, so they would be available for same-day appointments in the future," she said.
According to Crowell, that appointment inventory remains open to change even post-implementation. "The biggest lesson that we learned is that this is not a program that you can research, develop, launch, and put it on the shelf," she said. "It is a very active process to continue to tweak it" (Cheney, HealthLeaders Media, 12/7).
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