Why You Should Flip Your Clinic

Ryan Gray, MD
Ryan Gray, MD

Ryan Gray, MD, is a former Air Force Flight Surgeon. He is now helping premed students overcome obstacles on their journey to become physicians at the Medical School Headquarters.

“Flip the Clinic†is an open experiment that involves breaking the traditional health care mold. Clinic flippers are using a new strategies and techniques to empower patients and engage them in their health care while maximizing time with practitioners.

“Flip the Clinic” is an open experiment that involves breaking the traditional health care mold. Clinic flippers are using a new strategies and techniques to empower patients and engage them in their health care while maximizing time with practitioners.

Flipping the clinic was inspired by Sal Khan of Khan Academy, who “flipped the classroom” by reversing the normal flow of instruction (lectures happen online, at home; homework is done in the classroom where the teacher can provide individual assistance and answer questions). The “Flip the Clinic” project was born when staff at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a health advocacy organization, got the idea to apply Khan’s methods to the doctor’s office.

By definition, a “flipped” clinic is people-centered, nourishing to patients and practitioners, joyful (not feared, dreaded or loathed), transparent and expansive (values people and places outside the clinic that also impact health).

RWJF, in its efforts to improve health care for all, has collected numerous “flips” that have been submitted by practitioners all over the country. Practitioners are asked to submit their ideas, pilot them and log the results. Because the project is in its early stages, few results have been logged. But, here are a few idea examples:

· Flip No. 90, “Patient-Driven Appointment Prep,” suggests that practitioners create an app to prompt patients/caregivers to think about and record answers to questions such as “how is treatment affecting my life?” and “what symptoms am I experiencing?” in advance of medical appointments. The idea is to give patients/caregivers a cheat sheet to help them maximize their appointment time and remember important points to discuss with their practitioner.

· Flip No. 47, “Scheduling a Pre-Visit Phone Call,” suggests that a phone call to a patient before a routine check-up could save time and ensure that a patient’s needs are met during the appointment—leading to a higher-quality office visit.

· Flip No. 5, “Connect Patients with Resources That Resonate,” suggests that “information should be prescribed as readily as medication” and emphasizes patient education as an essential part of any treatment plan.

I know what you are thinking: This sounds great, but how can I make this work with limited staff, financial resources, time, etc.? It’s not clear exactly how each flip will play out, but in theory, practitioners will realize improved patient understanding, positive health outcomes and/or increased efficiency. And, to sweeten the deal, practitioners may even feel a greater sense of engagement with their patients and their job in general.

Still not convinced? Here are some more reasons why you should “flip your clinic”:

1. Empowered patients are healthier patients. Many flips have to do with helping patients to take charge of their health care. Why? The more involved patients are in their health care, the healthier they tend to be.

Whether it is to get patients to prepare for visits, ask the right questions or practice better self-care, patient empowerment flips seem to be some of the easiest and cheapest to implement.

2. Improved communication = improved doctor-patient relationships. Improving communication is a central theme in many flip ideas, and it goes a long way toward helping doctors and patients avoid misunderstandings, generate empathy and maximize their time together.

When patients and doctors actually know each other and can openly share information, patients are more likely to follow treatment plans and have a clear understanding of their condition. Flip ideas include Twitter campaigns, communication guides, groups on social media, online communication plans, giving patients “think-time” at the end of appointments to mull information, etc.

3. Properly leveraged technology can boost efficiency. By using technology, practitioners can save everyone’s time. Maybe your practice can incorporate data from a patient’s personal tracking device into an office visit? Or, maybe your patients could benefit from a new app that allows access to their electronic health record? No matter what office problem you have, there is probably a way that you can leverage technology to solve it.

High-tech flip ideas include emailing patient questionnaires in advance of check-ups, using tools such as Healthify to assist with health screenings, creating apps to help patients make the most of office visits, etc.

Ready to get flipping? Check out the “flips” page at fliptheclinic.org. I guarantee that you’ll find a host of cool ideas to get you inspired. In fact, the suggestions are so easy and impactful that your biggest challenge probably will be deciding where you want to start!