Seeing is Believing: How Visual Clinic Helps New England College of Optometry Improve the Patient and Teaching Experience
Founded in 1894, The New England College of Optometry (NECO) is a private, nonprofit, and internationally recognized optometry school whose purpose is integrating innovative education with early and diverse clinical experiences to prepare today’s optometrists for tomorrow’s optometry. The college graduates 128 students annually for careers in optometry and its clinical network examines approximately 90,000 patients per year. The clinical network includes collaborative relationships and clinical affiliations with sites throughout the Greater Boston area, nationally, and internationally. In addition, NECO has two owned clinics that are collectively known as NECO Center for Eye Care. NECO’s owned clinics offer care in six optometric specialties.
NECO Center for Eye Care is one of the only facilities in the greater Boston area to provide specialty contact lenses, behavioral vision therapy, post-concussion treatments and low vision rehabilitation services in one practice. Around 16,000 patients a year come to these clinics from all over New England to see nationally known practitioners across a range of specialties.
An important aspect of the NECO’s mission is to provide exceptional eye care to patients, emphasizing a sensitivity to the health and social welfare of diverse communities. However, while both students and doctors had been providing patients with high quality care, NECO identified that there is always an opportunity to improve the overall experience and satisfaction of patients.
Realizing that patient flow through the office could be improved, NECO began working with Visual Clinic in 2019 with the goal of improving the patient experience and implemented Lean Flow Manager in both of its owned clinics. Visual Clinic is a custom visual management software company offering a number of solutions to help eye care clinics work more efficiently and profitably. Their best-in-class patient flow management software solution, Lean Flow Manager, provides clinics with real-time visibility into practice workflow and resource allocation to optimize capacity and provide a dramatically better patient experience.
Lean Flow Manager quickly proved an effective solution to not only improve the patient experience, but also became a useful tool in improving the delivery of a world-class education. NECO’s dedication to advancing the field gives future optometrists an unrivaled educational experience and helps prepare its students for tomorrow’s optometry. Additionally, the college’s forward-thinking faculty members are respected thought-leaders who are proud to be at the forefront of modern optometry, embracing technology and innovation in the profession.
A Better Patient Experience
Prior to implementing Visual Clinic’s Lean Flow Manager, Director of Owned Clinics and Outreach Services, Dr. Tim Bossie, OD, noticed inconsistencies in the duration of eye examinations appointments at the NECO clinics. The clinic wanted to be able to meet their goals of having appointments completed within 1 hour. These timing inconsistencies raised several questions such as: why were appointments taking so long? What was causing the delays? Where were the bottlenecks? How could the clinics reduce unnecessary wait times? These were just some of the questions Dr. Bossie wanted to answer in order to create more efficient processes while also resulting in a better patient experience.
Despite a widespread misconception that appointments at optometry schools simply take longer because the students are still learning, the fact is, patient care is being delivered by a doctor, and the student intern works alongside the doctor throughout the appointment. Dr. Bossie understood that their existing processes had room for improvement.
Like many eye care clinics, NECO was managing patient flow through their clinic with the use of an EHR system. The EHR tracking system required manual processes which impacted the accuracy of collecting and reviewing appointments times. NECO found more often than not that the examination timing was off because patients weren’t being moved at the appropriate time. Without accurate data points, how could they optimize the workflow? It was like flying blind.
That realization led Dr.Bossie and his team to investigate potential solutions to identify and address bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Lean Flow Manager, the cloud-based visual management software from Visual Clinic, allowed Dr. Bossie and his team to map and analyze the entire workflow, by clinic, provider, and specialty, so they could figure out how to optimize the delivery of direct patient care. Visual Clinic’s software visually displays not only where patients, students, and doctors are physically at any given time, but also where they are in the patient journey. Whether it’s on the large 60” screen in the conference room, or on each team member’s workstation or tablet, everyone in the clinic can instantly see the status of everyone else.
“With Visual Clinic, everyone can make sure they have an understanding of patient flow through the office,” says Dr. Bossie. “Having that data available at a glance has allowed us to not only become more efficient, but we’ve also seen a significant increase in productivity.”
Using the software to reduce bottlenecks allowed the clinics to streamline patient flow and thereby optimize the use of resources, which in turn led to greater productivity. By providing real-time visual oversight on the actual clinic flow during the session, the care team was better able to keep all patients progressing at the correct pace.
“It definitely allows us to give a better experience to our patients,” said Dr. Anita Gulmiri, OD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Optometry in the Specialty and Advanced Department, and Residency Director of the Cornea Contact Lens Residency program at NECO. “Having the data available at a glance at all times, allows us to be more mindful of how long we were taking for certain tasks, leading to a much more efficient use of our patients’ time.”
And patients are noticing: NECOs average online reviews have consistently improved with the integration of Visual Clinic.
Visualizing Student Progress
Another aspect of Visual Clinic that NECO found highly beneficial was the ability to implement the software to support the clinical teaching curriculum to ensure that optometry students were learning how to be both highly skilled and highly efficient doctors. As a teaching facility, there are steps in NECOs workflow that vary from what one would see in a typical patient care environment. Visual Clinic worked closely with the team to customize the software to meet the specific needs of the two teaching clinics which support six different appointment types and up to 20 doctors supervising 50-60 students at any given time.
“When we were starting to implement Visual Clinic, we were focused on patient satisfaction, clinic flow, and optimizing the amount of space that we have in order to create the most efficient processes we can,” said Dr. Bossie. “It came as a welcome surprise, then, how much data we could generate for clinical teaching as well.”
Prior to Lean Flow Manager’s visual display, it was challenging to have an understanding of which examination rooms both student interns or doctors were utilizing. The improved visibility with Visual Clinic, has reduced confusion around examination room usage and positively impacted office communication. For example, instead of student interns waiting around in the hallway to speak to a doctor when they exit an exam room, a student can now locate when that doctor will be available and determine whether he or she has time to perform another task in the meantime. The result is that students feel more engaged as part of the patient team. And because it’s so visual, all students see how everyone else is doing, increasing the efficiency of both faculty and students and serving as a natural motivator.
“From a clinical education standpoint, I am able to see each individual student, by year, and evaluate their progress on a daily basis,” said Dr. Gulmiri. “I can see how long each step is taking and whether or not they’re meeting their goals. Having these irrefutable metrics is a powerful teaching tool that leads to students self-correcting previously unidentified negative behaviors and tells me where additional support may be needed.”
Seeing the bold graphic displays in action when students tour the clinics during the interview process underscores NECO’s commitment to leveraging technology to improve the experience for both patients and students and helps attract the best and brightest candidates to the program.
Visionaries in Eye Care
New England College of Optometry is more than a pioneering optometry school. They are leaders in research and innovation in the ever-changing field of optometry. The NECO Industry Collaborative, an annual event that brings together leaders from every sector of the eye care industry to share expertise and ideate solutions to enhance patient care, together with the NECO Innovation Center ensures NECO faculty stays up to date with the latest technologies to provide quality, compassionate eye care. The implementation of Lean Flow Manager and the resulting measurable improvements has generated an overwhelmingly positive response from industry partners, NECO Board members, doctors in other practices and potential applicants alike.
Dr. Gary Chu, an adjunct associate professor who currently leads the NECO Industry Collaborative, as well as the NECO Innovation Center, is passionate about bringing eye care’s future to life, and values his continuing cooperation with Visual Clinic. Dr. Chu is currently researching the efficacy of telehealth and whether telehealth outcomes in eye care can be shown to be as reliable as in-person visits or if some pathologies might be missed using remote diagnostics. To inform the discussion, more data and more measurable outcomes are necessary. With input from Visual Clinic President Dennis McCafferty and his team, these data points are being collected and researched. “I am continually impressed with the amount and quality of data Visual Clinic can provide, because of their smooth integration with various EHR systems,” said Dr. Chu.
Looking Ahead to a Bright Future
While solving the immediate challenge of improving the patient experience at NECO’s two owned clinics, the college reaped other important benefits as a result of Visual Clinic the solution. Visual Clinic’s robust offering, Lean Flow Manager, not only improved productivity and the patient experience in the teaching clinics, it also led to the elevation of the educational experience that will benefit graduating classes for years to come. NECO also plans to implement Visual Clinic’s Total Rx Capture software in the near future to facilitate the handoff between doctors and opticians and increase the capture rate of optical retail sales opportunities. The continuing collaboration between Visual Clinic and NECO to further research and innovate in eye care promises to contribute to a bright future for the entire industry.
“We are believers in Visual Clinic,” said Dr. Chu. “And we look forward to seeing what additional benefits we will gain from this critical partnership.”
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