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RX: Change Hours

Melissa Topey • Aug 27, 2014 at 2:40 PM

A local doctor has found doing the right thing for patients and staff can pay off.

Dr. Brian Baxter watched as his staff became stressed handling a large caseload of patients during office hours and staying late to finish up.

Baxter, a family practice physician, talked to his staff and learned they wanted more flexibility in their work schedules. At the same time, he knew some of his patients were not able to come in for medical care because they could not afford to miss work.

Baxter, who considers his staff and patients part of his family, wanted a solution. Then he read an article in a recent Medical Economics Journal that discussed the problem of meeting patient needs while meeting staff needs at the same time. The journal presented a solution — extended hours.

Office staff were skeptical about how extended hours could help.

“We decided to give it a shot,” said office manager Chris McLaughin.

The staff found that extended hours allowed patients to come into the office before or after work during the week, as well as Saturday appointments, so patients did not miss any time at work.

“Most companies work with a skeletal staff, and they can’t let people off to go to doctors,” McLaughin said.

They also found there was less of a rush to move patients in and out of appointments, McLaughlin said.

Baxter and his staff found the hours also allowed for more flexibility in the work schedules, with a day off for nurse practitioners Julie Lehrer and Carrie Kiepert, who both have families. Between Baxter, Lehrer and Kiepert, they cover the day.

“This helps the ladies so they can take a day off. Medicine is just so intense, they need to have a day off,” Baxter said.

Lehrer has two children. Kiepert has five children, including 16-month-old identical twin girls.

“A day off allows me to be home with twins,” Kiepert said. “Do household chores, spend time with others, like my parents, who are retired.”

The extended hours have not cost the practice any additional money as they are meeting the scheduling needs with existing staff, McLaughin said. “Things are flowing wonderfully. Patients are happy,” McLaughin said. “Economically it makes sense.” An expert who has published, said Baxter’s office is innovative and did a lot of things right. Crain Communications executive Charles Lauer, publisher of the company’s Modern Healthcare news weekly for more than 25 years, applauded Baxter’s moves. “In general, offices and hospitals do not do a very good job in customer service. Their hours are not convenient for a working person. You are providing a service,” Lauer said. “This is wonderful. This physician is enlightened.” He also liked that Baxter’s staff felt comfortable enough to speak out about what they needed. “You should never be intimidated in a work environment to talk. What kind of a work environment is that?” Lauer asked. “That hurts morale.” An increase in staff morale means an increase in production, Lauer said. “Which means an increase in revenue,” Lauer said.

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