Flip No. 77

A Faster Answer: Do I Need to Go To the Doctor?

With the help of clinicians ’ assistants, patients can find out if they need care more quickly.

By Natasha Camp, Kim Fenton, Emma Gilchrist, Laurie King

Developed at Flip the Clinic Lab: Minneapolis

As a patient, it can be tough to know whether you need care from the clinic, or if your symptoms will resolve themselves. But calling the clinic for assessment doesn’t always result in a timely answer. Patient complaints sometimes Ping-Pong from an operator to a clinician’s assistant to a physician, who may find she doesn’t have enough information to make a determination. Then the clinic has to call the patient back and start the process again, leading to a days-long wait for an answer.

But what if clinics simply redeveloped their workflows to cut down on response time? One health center in Minneapolis realized that if they shift the interaction with patients away from an untrained operator to a pool of clinical assistants with the knowledge necessary to ask follow-up questions, they could close the loop more quickly. Instead of three steps before the patient gets a call back (operator —> clinical assistant —> physician), there would only be two. The clinical assistant would handle gathering information for and from a physician. And if clinical assistants did need to call back for more information from a patient, patients would be getting personalized follow-up calls from someone they’d already spoken to.

To figure out staffing needs, clinics could track the number of calls in their in-basket pools, then divide those calls between teams to get them answered more quickly. Tracking the number of phone calls that result in appointments per day. Tracking the number of calls that result in appointments over time could also help clinic to adjust their staffing needs appropriately.

Patients would get a more timely response to their question. Yes they should come in, or no they don’t have to.


  • Lacey Zanzie

    I feel like this is a great tool that clinics could use. I don’t know how many times I’ve called my children’s pediatrician, only to have the run around for hours before I get an actual response. There has also been a few times I’ve called the “nurse on call” after hours in attempt to get a hold of some sort of provider for an answer. This has been an even longer turn around, and never being able to speak with an actual physician.

    • Whitney Bowman-Zatzkin

      Hi Lacey, Thanks for this feedback. We have had quite a bit of discussion on this one. Front desk staff have asked to make sure a licensed medical professional handles determining what patients come in and the urgency, which many states require, and yet it is a rare office that effectively mitigates those handoffs.
      What do you do when you cannot get ahold of the nurse and it has been hours?

  • Michaela

    This idea would be great with many patients and healthcare providers. The patients would then feel like their concerns are being taken seriously and can get a timely answer to all of their questions. This might decrease patient’s wait times because patient’s that do not need to be seen in the office are not coming in. An ER at a hospital in St. Louis had the same type of concept when they established an ER consult website that allowed the patient to send information to the ER to know if they have to be seen immediately. It cut down the wait time in the ER significantly.

    • Whitney Bowman-Zatzkin

      This is really intriguing, Michaela. Thanks for posting. Do you know if they’ve captured that story anywhere? Have you used the site?