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Open Access: Opening the Door to a More Efficient Clinic

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The best time to start a client in treatment is the moment they are ready.  Open Access strategies reduce the time between when a client is ready and when treatment begins to zero!

What it is, and is not

When used effectively, Open Access opens the door to a more efficient operating process by increasing the number of patients seen and reducing the number of “no-shows”. Essentially, Open Access is when organizations offer an assessment to clients on the same day it is requested. These clients are not required to have an appointment-they can simply walk into the facility. It is also sometimes referred to as Same Day Access or Walk In Services.

If your clinic uses Open Access, your clients start off with a better experience because their needs are met faster which makes them feel valued immediately. Open Access cannot be considered as an intake process. It must be viewed as an engagement process designed to match your clients with appropriate services. By connecting with your client and properly assessing their needs, your clinic reduces your no show and cancellation rates and retains more clients. When your clients feel engaged, they are more satisfied and less likely to decide not to show up for an appointment or cancel ahead of time.

Carefully Implementing Open Access

An Open Access system should not be implemented too quickly as it will be a big change for your clinic’s staff and clients. To get started, assess what works with your current program and what needs to change. Look at what the busy and quiet times are within your hours of operation. For example, if your clinicians are consistently busy Wednesday and Thursday morning, Open Access hours aren’t needed because patients are arriving for their appointments.

However, if your clinicians are consistently free due to cancellations and no-shows Monday morning and Friday afternoon, Open Access hours might be helpful.  Your clinicians can see patients if anyone needs their help or they can catch up on administrative tasks if no one shows up. With this system, clinicians are not waiting and potentially wasting an hour of their day that could have been spent helping another client.

After you have a good idea as to when your Open Access hours should be, you need to slowly start implementing it. Stop making appointments during this time; however, you must still fulfill any appointments that have been previously scheduled. When these appointments have been completed, you can fully switch to the new system. All your clients should be made aware of the new situation whether it’s by face to face communication, a phone call, or an email message. Your outgoing phone message and website should also be updated to make sure that everyone is aware of the change.

Open Access is a Marketing Advantage

When advertising the change to clients, do not refer to your Open Access hours as “first come, first served.” This could cause clients to assume that the earlier they arrive at your facility, the more likely they are to be seen. Clients might start arriving before Open Access hours start or it might cause a rush at the beginning of Open Access hours. Both instances would increase the amount of time those wanting to be seen by a clinician would need to wait. It would also increase their unhappiness and irritation with your clinic and with the current situation. Instead, you can use the wording, “we welcome clients from x time to y time.” This conveys the message that arriving at any point during that window will allow an individual to be seen.

Ironing Out the Wrinkles

Open Access is not a fool proof system. It is important for your clinic to also have a “plan B” to ensure that they can keep their promise of providing immediate access and assessment. Examples of a plan B would be to use clinicians who are free due to a cancellation or asking a supervisor to step in. A last resort can always be to set an appointment for the individual during the next Open Access hours with the promise that they will receive priority when they arrive.

If your clinic begins to use an Open Access system, remember to be patient and that it will take time before everyone feels comfortable with the new system. Expect confusion from your clients and questions or increased stress levels from your clinicians. Open Access is the key to opening the door to greater efficiency within your clinic. You just need to hang in there and it will all come together. 

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