Patients don’t like to wait.
On the contrary, they expect to receive timely appointments and quick delivery of care from any practice. In a University of Utah study, 39 percent of patients said that the ability to schedule a timely appointment is one of the most important things in healthcare.
However, the reality is that 1 in 3 adults with an urgent condition couldn’t schedule medical appointments when they needed them, according to a study cited in JAMA. The cause: “Unplanned, irrational scheduling and resource allocation.”
Without a patient scheduling strategy in place, it’s more likely that your staff are misspending resources and premium clinical hours on creating appointments, sending reminders and following up with patients, which means you’re losing revenue big time. And you’re not alone. Data shows that 52 percent of practices spend at least 10 hours weekly to confirm and schedule appointments and return emails and calls from patients. That’s 520 hours wasted each year!
So, the challenge then is to plan and execute an effective patient schedule and resource allocation strategy. Here are some tips you can include in your strategy and start implementing right away.
1. Standardize Processes and Systems
If you haven’t done so yet, start standardizing the processes and systems already in place in your practice. This could mean using patient scheduling templates or streamlining your workflows.
2. Introduce a Queuing System
Use an automated queuing system, so in-person patients know in real-time the available slots. This will reduce walkaway times, missed appointments and patient complaints while improving utilization of resources and optimization of your schedule.
3. Establish a Good Scheduling System
Good scheduling increases the flow of patients and, as a result, your practice’s income. Here are some recommendations:
- Confirm appointments
No-shows are costly, that’s why you should always confirm appointments. But, this is time-consuming and labor-intensive for your staff to do, so if you can afford it, invest in a good medical software that can do this automatically for you.
- Develop an appointment reminder system
Establish a cancellation or rescheduling policy, if you don’t have one in place. This typically spells out a certain period within which patients can cancel or reschedule their appointments, any cancellation fees, etc. Because they have more control over their appointments, patients are more likely to show up on schedule.
Doing this alone can help you recover would-be lost revenue. According to an Annals of Surgery study, there was as much as $22.3 billion lost due to canceled elective surgeries. Imagine how much more you’ll earn if you can reduce cancellations!
- Use a patient waiting list
A waiting list gathers the names and other information of patients who would like to avail of an earlier slot than their scheduled appointments. It’s basically a buffer for any late cancellations or no-shows so that there’s a steady flow of patients to your practice.
- Prioritize appointments
Each patient will require a different level of care and visit duration. Staff will use this information to determine whether a patient really needs to see the doctor (or if telemedicine or phone consultation will do), where they’ll be placed in the schedule and how much time will be allotted for their visit.
- Set appointments in blocks or types
Schedule patients using midday as the starting point. So, from noon, schedule appointments backward and then schedule from noon to the afternoon. The trick is to group appointment types or like activities together and/or schedule them consecutively. If you have team meetings or need time to catch up on admin tasks or paperwork, you can schedule them early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
4. Automate Manual But Repetitive Tasks
Technology can improve patient scheduling, relieving staff of repetitive manual tasks. Your staff can save time and improve accuracy of tasks, such as enrolling new patients, billing and coding, and scheduling, using software. Plus, patients love how convenient it is to use online portals and apps.
So, use a software or online scheduling system that allows patients to book appointments easily anytime, anywhere. You can use this for booking checkups, X-rays, physical therapy, etc. as well as for appointment reminders or rescheduling, and waitlist management.
But remember to upgrade your scheduling system only when guidelines and policies are clearly established. And do a cost-benefit analysis before buying anything.
Here are several ways technology can help your practice.
- Patient portals
Most medical software includes a portal patients can access to prepare for their upcoming visit. For instance, they can fill out intake forms securely here.
- Patient pre-registration
Software can automate the collection of important patient data and check for insurance eligibility.
- Self-scheduling system
Many patients reschedule appointments and this system suggests alternative schedules automatically. Plus, it works with your communication platform. This means patients can simply text “I can’t make it!” and your self-scheduling software will send them alternative open times so they can reschedule their appointment.
- Automated reminders and routine responses
Medical software can remind patients for any upcoming appointments through calls, text, or emails sent at specific intervals. An appointment reminder system with bidirectional functionality even allows patients to reply. If there’s an available slot, the system can also send out mass text messages to notify those in the waitlist.
In addition, software can also allow you to create automated or instant responses to common questions (or FAQs), so that you’re free to answer only those questions that truly require your attention and expertise.
- Appointment prioritization
With a software or an online patient scheduling system, you can have patients fill out forms when booking an appointment. With this information, your staff can determine what the patient requires for their appointment and prioritize patients accordingly.
- Broadcast messages
Technology allows you to send mass messages to your patients if there are any changes in schedule or other important information (like traffic, weather update, etc.) you’d like them to know. This frees up your staff from hours spent on phone calls and recoups lost revenue.
- Referral appointments system
Instead of calling each referral one by one, your staff can use your medical software to send them all a message automatically and confirm if and when they want to be seen by the doctor.
- Trends and opportunities
Medical scheduling software can track key metrics, including arrival times, appointment times, etc., and includes reporting features from which you can glean insightful information, such as bottlenecks and other workflow problems. With this data you can discover potential root causes of issues in your patient scheduling system, make the necessary adjustments, and rinse and repeat. In short, software provides you with information on what’s working and what’s not so you can course correct.
Improve Your Patient Scheduling Now
It’s time to turn a losing situation around. Don’t allow your patients to wait and lose vital revenue that can keep your business profitable.
Brainstorm with your staff and develop a patient scheduling strategy immediately. Include the tactics that make sense for your practice and start implementing them ASAP, so you can begin seeing significant improvements in patient experience, reduced clinic costs and increase in revenue.
If you’re a solo practitioner and feel overwhelmed, start small. Choose a part of your practice that’s easy for you to manage because when it comes to patient scheduling every little improvement counts.