Original Research

TEAM approach reduced wait time, improved “face” time

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An experimental care delivery model shows how staffing and role adjustments can enrich the health care experience for patients, staff, and physicians.




Purpose In 2013-14, 2 clinics in the Watertown Regional Medical Center (WRMC; in southern Wisconsin) launched a new delivery model, “TEAM (Together Each person Achieves More) Primary Care,” as part of a quality improvement project to enhance the delivery experience for the patient, physician, and medical assistant (MA). New work flows, roles, and responsibilities were designed to reduce cycle time, increase patient time with physicians and staff, and reduce patient wait times.

Methods The new model increased the ratio of MAs to physicians from a baseline MA:MD ratio of 1:1 to 3:2, and trained MAs to assume expanded roles during exam-room entry and discharge, including assisting with documentation during the patient visit. A process engineer timed patient visits. The process engineer and a human resources associate conducted surveys to assess the level of satisfaction for patients, physicians, and MAs.

Results Cycle time decreased by a mean of 6 minutes, from 44 to 38 minutes per patient; time with staff increased a mean of 2 minutes, from 24 to 26 minutes per patient; and waiting time decreased from 9 to 2 minutes per patient. Qualitative interviews with patients, physicians, and MAs identified a high level of satisfaction with the new model.

Conclusion The higher staffing ratios and expanded roles for MAs in the new model improved workflow, increased the face time between patients and their physician and MA, and decreased patient wait times. The TEAM model also appeared to improve patient, physician, and MA satisfaction. We faced many challenges while implementing the new model, which could be further evaluated during wide adoption.

In recent years, we observed that our physicians, nurses, and medical assistants (MAs) appeared to be spending more time on administrative and clerical tasks—including tasks in the exam room with the patient—and less time engaged in direct patient care.1,2 We recognized these factors contribute to burnout and threaten staff retention and anticipated that a new model would improve physician time spent in direct patient care, decrease the demands of administrative tasks, and increase patient, physician, and MA satisfaction.3-6 Burnout, known to affect more than half of US physicians, has a negative impact on quality of care and patient safety and satisfaction.7-11 Improving workflow has been shown to reduce burnout.12

Watertown Regional Medical Center (WRMC) is a small, financially stable integrated delivery system in rural southern Wisconsin, composed of a 90-bed hospital, 10 primary care clinics (7 owned and 3 affiliated), and 24 employed physicians in 9 specialties. Two clinics within WRMC launched a new delivery model, “TEAM (Together Each person Achieves More) Primary Care,” to improve the delivery experience for the entire team, defined as the patient, physician, and MA. New workflows, roles, and responsibilities were designed to reduce cycle time (the total amount of time patients spent in the clinic from check-in to check-out), increase the total time a patient spent with staff (physician and MA or in point-of-care testing and radiology), and reduce the total time a patient spent waiting.13

We describe here WRMC’s experience in developing and implementing workflow improvements as a means of reducing burnout and improving satisfaction.

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