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.