The Need for Speed: How to Get Back to Patients Quickly

So here I am, it’s Monday and Inboxes are full of messages that need replies.

We’ve all been there. You visit your doctor’s office for a routine check-up or to address a concerning health issue, only to leave feeling frustrated because you didn’t get the information you needed, or the doctor seemed to be in a rush. As a patient, it can be disheartening not to feel heard or valued during a medical visit. On the flip side, as a medical professional, it’s important to maintain a healthy office flow while also providing quality care. So, how can we bridge this gap and ensure that patients receive the attention they deserve, while medical professionals can keep their office running smoothly? The answer is simple: getting back to patients quickly.

The importance of effective communication

So here in lies the problem. Easy solution, right? Between a full examination schedule and 30 messages just in the morning, what we want to do in our heads doesn’t happen in real life. Throw in interruptions (that need to be answered) every 5 minutes and there is no time left to communicate to anyone. I find it interesting that lack of communication is given as a primary delay in medical visits; now that we have computers and better routes of communicating, I say delays in answering medical questions, refilling prescriptions, and filling out prior authorizations for new medications is due to one thing: lack of adequate staffing. Take for example Chick-Fil-A customer service. Clearly a top choice by many customers even though they aren’t open on Sunday. “My pleasure”, running your meal to your car, and entering your orders correctly the first time (by computer tablets of course) doesn’t come without hard work and intense training. I recently stopped by a Chick-Fil-A that for whatever reason was understaffed and there was no order entry, no running to the car with your hot meal and no one to greet you 3 times before you actually pick up your food. Why? that day was understaffed and there is only so much a single employee can do. Of course, compare customer service at McDonald’s and you feel like a bother to request an extra packet of ketchup. My point being, you can work a full day with very efficient systems and still not answer all medical questions without adequate staffing. I agree that by establishing clear lines of communication between staff and physicians, information transfer will be more efficient, and patients will feel more valued, but it takes people to make that happen.

In our office, St. Francis & Warren Clinic are instituting a centralized call center to help with this demand. I had first hand experience today with a medical assistant on a secure chat who helped me deliver answers to questions and even calling in a prescription that I don’t think would have been successful in the “old days”. Even though it takes one encounter at a time, I love the feeling of making progress.

Making use of technology

Technology has played a significant role in transforming the healthcare industry. One of the most significant advantages of technology in medicine is the ability to communicate with patients and relay pertinent information quickly. From automated appointment reminders to secure patient portals, technology has made it easier to keep track of necessary information and deliver it to patients promptly. Most medical offices nowadays use a portal system of some kind to allow patients to see labs and ask questions about their care. Warren Clinic uses MyChart and at first I was skeptical about its usefulness. Once used to the system, it works well to let patients know the basics and whether or not they need further care with an appointment. Who knows what artificial intelligence (AI) will bring to this aspect of medical care? I’m sure more than we realize–who would ever have imagined that cell phones are a MUST to most socioeconomic classes? I take that back, to ALL.

Minimizing paperwork

It’s no secret that paperwork can be tedious and time-consuming. Unfortunately, electronic health record systems haven’t solved this problem. I believe Tulsa has >50 EMR systems….none of which talk to each other. Getting requests for prior authorizations for a medication that you really need is usually secured by waiting on the phone for hours. The key to success is getting the attention of insurance companies and health systems alike, but it’s taking time, some would say too much time!

Empowering patients

Medical visits can be overwhelming and complicated, leading to unnecessary delays. Patients often fail to understand the terms we use and often don’t know the questions to ask. By empowering patients with information, they can be active participants in their healthcare, reducing uncertainties and promoting more efficient visits. Educating patients on their health status, treatment options, and ongoing medical care can help reduce avoidable wait times while ensuring that patients receive the care they deserve. We as a medical community have talked about patient empowerment for many decades now and the concept may be a requirement in order to reign in the cost of medical care. You know the old saying….talk is cheap.

It’s clear from my discussion that health care can no longer be administered by the “Lone Ranger”. Team-based healthcare involves various healthcare professionals working collaboratively to promote quality patient care. By incorporating team-based care, healthcare professionals can work more efficiently, reducing delays in medical visits, and improving patient satisfaction. Who’s on the healthcare team: patients, nurses, receptionist, hospital administration, insurance companies, pharmacies, physicians, mid-level providers, and some I’m sure to have left out.


By getting back to patients quickly, medical professionals can promote quality patient care while also maintaining a healthy office flow. The key to achieving this balance is to establish clear communication and streamline information transfer using technology and team-based care. By minimizing paperwork and providing patient education, medical professionals can reduce wait times and promote patient satisfaction. Remember, getting back to patients quickly isn’t just beneficial to patients; it can also improve office productivity and physician satisfaction. This commitment to improving patient care may require more staffing, but it’s well worth the time and effort.

Now it’s your turn! Use the following bullet points as a guide to “share with the class” how you deal with time delays in medical practice. Remember, we usually copy what we’ve previously seen as successful in navigating our own path. What’s yours?

  • How has medical technology improved over the past decade when it comes to making medicine faster?
  • What changes have you noticed in the way healthcare providers are utilizing technology to speed up the delivery of medicine?
  • What advice would you give patients who need medications quickly but without sacrificing quality?
  • Have you ever created a “hack” or workaround to make medicine arrive faster for a patient needing immediate treatment?
  • What do you think is necessary to continue making significant progress in the field of delivering medicines faster and more efficiently?

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