Learning how to schedule patients effectively is crucial for a successful practice.
Practices might schedule hundreds of patient appointments each week. There can be many different types of appointments depending on the specialty. For example, it could be a new patient appointment, follow-up appointment, telehealth visit, nurse visit only, and the list goes on.
Effective patient scheduling is more than you might think. It requires much planning, experience, patience and skill. Proper scheduling has a huge impact on patient care, staff satisfaction and ultimately the operation of the entire clinic.
Patient Scheduling Process
There are many things to consider in regards to effective patient scheduling.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at what makes the patient scheduling process so important:
1. It will decrease no-shows and cancellations. Sometimes patients are late for their appointment or often times they do not show up. Mostly because they forgot. Which wastes the providers time. Installing the proper scheduling software will help by sending reminder messages to the patient, allowing the patient to confirm, reschedule or cancel an appointment.
2. Patients want to have an experience that is beyond their expectations with your office. Proper scheduling will reduce wait times, alleviate delays in patient care, and get the patient to the appropriate provider at the correct location as fast as possible.
3. Providers need to keep busy with patients to keep income flowing. Even though patient care is of utmost importance, there are many other tasks not related directly to patient care that must be done. Effective scheduling allows the provider time to make good use of their day.
4. Effective scheduling allows the front desk staff time to focus on other tasks, such as helping patients that are in the office. When scheduling is done well, it increases productivity due to a reduction in miscommunications, which is the main reason for errors.
Top 7 Ways To Make Patient Scheduling More Effective
1. Customize Time Slots
Time slots will have to be created for all the different treatments and types of patients that come into your practice.
This could be things such as new patients, existing patients, follow-ups, nurse visits, injection only, and so on. You will need to have enough time in the schedule to complete the visit, yet not keep the other patients waiting.
It is important that the scheduling person is informed of all the types of visits and the duration of time for each.
If you have patient scheduling software the times and types will be built into the software. Some even have the ability to let the patient do their own scheduling.
2. Cluster Appointments
In some cases it is wise to cluster appointments. Your practice can decide how this should be done and what works best. This type of scheduling involves grouping patients with similar appointment types or treatments, and scheduling them all in the same block of time.
3. Appointment Reminders
It is good practice to confirm patient appointments. It reminds patients of the day and time of the appointment, and gives them the opportunity to reschedule or cancel. A great scheduling system is vital to a practice by providing an expected workflow for clinicians.
Text and email are great tools for confirming appointments which can be done through software. It gives patients a positive experience with your office. It’s best to give patients 1 word choices to answer such as; confirm, cancel, or reschedule.
4. Cancellation Policy
Every practice should have a cancellation policy in place and should be shared with your patients at the time of their first appointment.
The waiting room is also a great location to have the policy clearly visible. This reinforces the policies each time the patient is in your office. You can even place them in patient rooms, especially if this has become a problem in your office.
For cancellations the office has to decide in what time frame a patient must cancel. Examples would be 24 hours or 48 hours before their scheduled time and you can choose to charge a small fee or the entire appointment fee. If a patient misses one appointment or has an extenuating circumstance, you may want to waive the fee.
Whether you enforce the policy or not, you will at least have one if it is needed.
5. Late Arrival Policy
The office has to decide what is considered “late” when creating a late arrival policy, is it 15 minutes past the appointment time or 20 minutes? Then, what to do about the late arrival is another decision.
But most important is having good patient communication to let them know what has happened and what is being done.
It is better to have patients aware of the policies and not have to use it, then not to have any policy in place.
Hopefully, this will help patients arrive on time, make sure that they show for their scheduled appointment.
6. Track Patient Cancellations
When a patient cancels, make sure to keep notes on the reason why they are cancelling.
Also which patients cancel on a regular basis.
Using patient management software can help you with this.
Review these patients and look for trends. Do they cancel only their afternoon appointments, maybe early mornings are not good. Check if it’s always the same day of the week. If the patient cancels more than twice for the same reason, try to offer a time that will work for them.
It may help to call a patient who has missed an appointment 15 or 20 minutes after their scheduled time. But avoid scolding, show concern and care, and at that time you can reschedule their appointment.
7. Active Waiting List
It is wise to keep an active waiting list to use when you need to fill in for a cancellation or any other reason that arises. This is list of patients that would like to be seen sooner than their scheduled appointment, but nothing was available to fit their schedule. You can text, email or call patients to see if they are available.
How To Schedule Patients Effectively
Implementing some or all of the above suggestions will benefit everyone on a day to day basis. By reducing costs, putting less stress on clinicians and staff, and allowing for an increase in patient satisfaction.