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Experts Offer Tips to Avoid Closing Practice to New Patients

Improvements to practice management processes can ease waits, accommodate new patients

THURSDAY, Feb. 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Despite being crowded, it may be a mistake to close a primary care practice to new patients, according to an article published in Medical Economics.

Physician experts and practice management consultants were interviewed for the article. The experts say that word of closing a practice to new patients can spread throughout the community and may make it difficult to later attract new patients, or the action may be misinterpreted, causing existing patients to leave.

But, the article continues, physicians need to be aware of the limits of what their practice can accommodate. The experts suggest that if it takes more than two weeks for existing patients or a month for new patients to get an appointment, the practice may be stretched too thin. The average panel for a primary care doctor is about 2,500 patients, but adjustments to practice management processes can fix patient waits and ensure time for new patients. These alterations include: having a scheduling model that allows for a set number of urgent work-ins each day; making use of medical assistants, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants; expanding office hours; and using virtual care, including telephone, electronic health records, and patient portals.

"Medicine is a team effort and physicians need to rely more on their staffs to engage patients with data collection, coaching, and even prescribing," said William T. Manard, M.D., from the St. Louis University School of Medicine, according to the Medical Economics article.

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