Call Cleveland Clinic, Get an Appointment the Same Day: How's That Possible?

Cleveland Clinic staff members answer phone calls with the question of whether patients would like to be seen today, and the health system accommodates approximately a million same-day appointments each year.

The routine Cleveland Clinic greeting is "mind-blowing" in itself, wrote Forbes contributor Micah Solomon, a customer experience and patient satisfaction consultant. Staff members answer phone calls with, "Thank you for calling Cleveland Clinic. Would you like to be seen today?" If the call comes in after 4 p.m., they adjust the greeting to, "Would you like to be seen tomorrow?"

James Merlino, MD, Cleveland Clinic's chief experience officer, has said there are no ifs or buts about the question. "Anybody calling [Cleveland Clinic] for an appointment for any specialty can be seen today," he said.

Cleveland Clinic had to navigate some operational "hurdles" — a word Dr. Merlino called an understatement — to build the capacity and manage patient flow to fulfill this commitment. Same-day appointments also require a sophisticated triage process, in which patients are taken through a series of questions over the phone. Depending on the patient's answers, a Cleveland Clinic telephone agent determines who the patient should see and ensures the appointment is made that day.

Mr. Solomon used the example of calling Cleveland Clinic and saying, "I have a headache. I want to see a neurosurgeon." Dr. Merlino wasn't discouraged by this request. He walked Mr. Solomon through the steps a phone agent would take.   

"So, Micah, [in the example above] you may not see a neurosurgeon for your headache, but you may see somebody who is a headache specialist or you may need to talk to a nurse who can better triage what you need. But we will get you to the right provider at the right time.

If you call and say, 'Look, I was in the emergency department last night with a headache and they did a CAT scan and they say I have a brain tumor. I need to be seen by a neurosurgeon today,' you will see that neurosurgeon today. If you call in with a headache [and] you say certain things which are warning signs — answering yes to 'is this the worst headache you ever have in your life?' is one — you will immediately be transferred to a nurse who will do a more assessment and then guide you to an emergency department."

Dr. Merlino says Cleveland Clinic uses this process to host "about a million" same-day appointments each year. In the report, he joked that the next step in timely healthcare delivery may be answering phones with the greeting: "Thank you for calling Cleveland Clinic. We've already solved your medical issue; is there anything else we can help with?"

More Articles on Cleveland Clinic:
Cleveland Clinic's 2013 Total Profit Exceeds $900M
Cleveland Clinic 1st to Earn Joint Commission's Medical Home Certification
Dr. Toby Cosgrove Releases Book: "The Cleveland Clinic Way"


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