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How to design your practice to improve the patient experience

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GP practices are increasingly multifunctional. No longer is the patient experience one of coming in, sitting in a waiting room, and having a single appointment with a doctor. Internal referrals to nurses, pharmacists, or other healthcare professionals are likely to become more commonplace. Patient flow is set to become a hot topic in primary care.

While it might be politically incorrect to compare a GP practice to a fast-food outlet, GP practices could learn from a McDonald's or self-service diner. Drive-ins have a natural flow to them, as do self-service restaurants:

  • Order
  • Receive
  • Pay

In the GP practice, this flow would equate to:

  • Check-in
  • Clinical practice (appointment and referral)
  • Check out (pharmacist/make a follow-up appointment)

Designing your practice to be more flow-friendly will improve your efficiency, make patients feel more comfortable, and increase the effectiveness of treatment.

Here are six considerations when designing your practice for a modern-day patient experience.

1. Start outside

Patients need to park. If your car parking facility is inadequate, patients are more likely to be late or not turn up. A practice which relies on street parking is most at risk of no-shows.

Think about how you can design parking for maximum effectiveness. For example, have you got a covered drop-off zone? This would allow elderly patients to be dropped off while the relative or carer finds a parking space.

2. Let patients know where they should go

Signage has never been more important. Make sure that your in-practice signage does the job it should. From the entrance throughout the practice, let your signs direct your patients. If you segregate patients by type, or have specific clinics on specific days, make sure your signage supports the process.

3. Streamline your check-in

One typical bottleneck in a GP practice is the check-in. Queues quickly develop. Hold-ups are inevitable.

One practice we know uses technology to reduce this, allowing patients to use an in-house screen to check-in. A little like choosing to go to the self-service check-out at Tesco versus the manned till.

A more modest improvement might be to use an airport-like walkway to direct patients to the check-in. Another practice we know has a member of staff directing patients and helping the check-in process by walking down the queue.

4. Have an 'overflow' appointment room

During a typical day, a GP is likely to have one or two more complex patients that take extra time. Others may benefit from shorter appointments. An overflow appointment room will allow greater flexibility for patients to be seen by a doctor at peak times.

5. Plan the clinical area for patients

Plan a clinical area which enhances the patient experience and reduces in-appointment time. GPs are more likely to send a patient from their appointment room to a nurse or other clinical exam room. If the next destination is over the other side of the building, a patient has to get dressed, make his or her way back for where they came (the waiting room), and then get undressed again for the next part of their visit.

By planning the clinical area with multi-appointments in mind, a patient is moved from one healthcare professional to another within the clinical area of the practice. There is no need for the patient to move between two separate areas, and the patient experience is one which reinforces care as a single, coordinated process.

6. Plan multiple rooms for each GP

A practice design being used increasingly is that of a GP covering multiple appointment rooms. These rooms are smaller than the traditional appointment room. Instead of being ushered into a waiting room, patients are instead shown into one of their GP's appointment rooms. The GP comes in from the opposite end of the room, when he or she has finished with the previous patient.

This arrangement allows a 'just-in-time' approach to patient flow. The need for a waiting room is removed, and cross-infection in the waiting room situation is eliminated.

How patient flow-friendly is your practice? Have you modified layout or internal processes to improve the patient flow? If so, what have you done, and what impact has it had?