Managing the Emergency Patient
The schedule is the road map of the day and must be carefully constructed to avoid the chaos of running behind, running out of sterile instruments, not having enough support staff, not getting out for a lunch break and not making production goal. Knowing where to put an emergency patient in an already burgeoned schedule is challenging to the business coordinator and a source of irritation to the clinical staff. The best way to eliminate this unwanted stress is to decide in the morning meeting where it would be feasible to insert an emergency patient. The second step in this process is to define what conditions constitute an emergency patient and what the general course of treatment will be and the estimated cost so that the patient is informed of what is to happen during the visit and is prepared to pay for services.
Driven by demographics and by the procedures that the dentist routinely performs, such as extractions and endodontic therapy, emergency patient numbers can range from one a day to ten or more a day. Though viewed by the team as an interruption, the emergency patient should be looked upon as an opportunity to educate and gain a new active patient.
Creating a system to manage this type of patient is imperative to prevent the clinical area from turning into a roller derby as staff literally run to the lab to get instruments, throw together trays and search for a clean handpiece. Having to change the order of the day and move other patients to overflow rooms is chaotic.
The emergency patient time is indicated by having a room or overflow room available for ten to twenty minutes or two units of time that includes staff time to get a periapical x-ray on the screen, health history and an intake form with the list of symptoms ready for the dentist to review. A sample intake form can be on the website as a downloadable form or as a Word document in the computer system. For simplification it should list the following information:
Emergency Patient Intake Form
We will be taking one or two x-rays and will be examining the area of pain. We will make an estimated diagnosis and address the pain issue. We do not keep drugs in our office so a prescription will be given if necessary. The cost of the treatment will be $_______. We accept all major credit cards and cash. The payment is due at the time of service. An appointment is available today at 11:00am. Would you like to schedule that now?
When the patient arrives fifteen minutes early for paperwork (if it’s a new patient), the business coordinator will visually assess the patient’s level of comfort and if necessary direct that the patient be taken into the treatment area. During the course of examination the patient is introduced to the practice and the treating staff and is educated to return to the office for a comprehensive examination and necessary x-rays. This patient may be currently unemployed or without insurance, but if treated with care will return to the practice soon or when more economically sound.
An emergency new patient would be coded as a limited examination, not a comprehensive examination. Although many software programs will list the emergency new patient as a new patient in the practice statistics, it is not a true new patient until the patient returns or completes a comprehensive examination. It is categorized this way because often emergency patients are transient and once out of pain do not return to the practice for recommended follow-up treatment.
Managing the emergency can be a positive way to treat and educate patients to better health if coordinated correctly. Need help with scheduling a productive and harmonious day? Perhaps it is time to harness the most important system in your practice by getting help. Call McKenzie Management for Front Office Training or Office Manager Training today.
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