Part 1 – Providing Acute Access: Does Your Practice Excel or Could it Use Some Improvement

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We had the opportunity to connect with 150 or so practice managers/administrators this week, looking at ways to improve acute access as part of MedicalGPS’ service improvement programEndeavor for Excellence: Start Where the Patient Starts.  This week’s webinar, “Acute Access: TIPs and Techniques to Improve”  explores ways to improve the patients perception of acute access, as well as ways to actually increase schedule capacity, allowing patients to obtain an urgent-care-type appointment right away for an acute illness or injury. 
Below are six (6) take-aways from this week’s webinar.  We will cover the first three (3) in today’s Thinking Thursday TIPs, and then we’ll cover the remaining three TIPs (4 through 6) in next week’s Thinking Thursday’s TIPs.
1. How Acute Access Questions are Presented to Patients
2. Acute Access : Receptionist Helpful Correlation
3. Managing the Patient’s Perception
4. Managing Access
5. Engaging Providers
6. Optimizing the Patient Appointment Schedule

1. How CG-CAHPS Questions are Presented to Patients
At MedicalGPS we work with our clients to customize their M3-Patient Experience survey questionnaire.  One of the most popular questions nearly every client chooses to utilize is the Acute Access question, as is used on the CG-CAHPS survey.  The Acute Access question is actually a two part question, as shown below.
9. In the last 6 months, did you contact this provider’s office to get an appointment for an illness, injury, or condition that needed care right away?
  • Yes
  • No

When the patient answers “no”, the next question is skipped and never presented to the patient.


 10. In the last 6 months, when you contacted this provider’s office to get an appointment for care you need right away, how often do you get an appointment as soon as you needed?
  • Always
  • Usually
  • Sometimes
  • Never
Whenever the patient answers “No” to the qualifying question, question #9 in this example, the next question, question #10, is completely omitted from the patients question set. Whenever the patient answers “Yes” to the qualifying question (#9) then question #10 is asked.
An answer of “Always” is considered the Top Box answer and is counted toward the practices Top Box score.
Should the the patient answer “No” to question #9 and question #10 in not answered, please know that any unanswered, or skipped questions are completely ignored and do NOT impact the practices Top Box score — good or bad.

2. Acute Access : Receptionist Helpful Correlation

Statistically speaking, there is a moderate correlation between the patient’s perception of the receptionist being helpful and the patient’s perception of acute access, as shown above.  With a correlation coefficient of .44, whenever the receptionist uses good interpersonal skills, such as those we talked about in the last two Thinking Thursday TIPs, the patient is more likely to see the receptionist as helpful.  Furthermore, even when the receptionist cannot book an appointment on the exact day and at the time that the patient really wants, by offering options to the patient, and doing so in an empathetic, compassionate manner, the patient’s experience is made to be as good as it can be.  Receptionists using excellent interpersonal skills will result in the patient perceiving both the Receptionist Helpful and Acute Access in the best light possible.


3. Managing the Patient’s Perception
When it Goes as Planned 
Receptionist:  “I would be happy to schedule an appointment for you, Mr. Jones!  When Would You Like to be Seen?”
Patient: “First thing in the morning”
Receptionist: “I have a 9:00am tomorrow with your doctor, Mr. Jones.  Is that a convenient time?”
Patient:  “Yes, thank you!”
When it goes as planned, to make the experience as good as it can be, and just maybe, exceed the patient’s expectations, do the following.
  • Cheerfully, use the patient’s preferred name
  • Smile while talking
  • Use positive tone inflection
  • Demonstrate empathy
When there is NOT an open slot on the appointment schedule that meets the patient’s preferences
First, Apologize. . .
Receptionist:  “Mr. Jones, I am so sorry!  Dr. Wilson’s first available appointment is not for two weeks.”
Patient:  “I see, what do you recommned, I really need to get in right away”
Use the same positive interpersonal skills as mentioned above (an empathitic approach is even more important now), then . . . offer some options.
1. Double-book (per provider’s guidelines)
2. Request Work-in appointment

3. Offer an open slot on another provider’s schedule, if appropriate.


Just know it will be necessary to gain the patient’s trust so that they feel confident in the “other” provider’s ability to take care of their issue.
Receptionist:  “Mr. Jones,  I see here that Susan Smith, our Advanced Practice Provider, has two openings that will work perfectly for getting you in right away.  Dr. Wilson works closely with Susan and they collaborate on an on-going basis to ensure that the best of care is always provided.  There are two openings on Susan Smith’s schedule; we can see you this afternoon at 3pm, or 9am tomorrow morning.  Is there one of those appointments that work best for you?

Patient: “Yes, I’d like the 3pm appointment this afternoon, please.”


Should it happen that options 1, 2, or 3 do not work for the patient, it may be possible to leverage a relationship with another care facility that is part of your organization and located near your practice, or perhaps there is an urgent care facility near your practice that would welcome the opportunity to care of the patient.  In either case, prearrange with both facilities so that the sharing of patients flows smoothly.

We hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 of our blog series: Providing Acute Access: Does Your Practice Excel or Could it Use Some Improvement. Be sure to subscribe to our Email Updates on the right side 👉 of this page, and keep en eye out next week for Part 2.

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