Believe it or not, patient scheduling is one of the most important elements of effective practice management in the healthcare industry.
While patient wait times have been a long-standing concern for medical providers, your medical center should focus on improving your patient scheduling processes as healthcare providers continue to see a rise in patient consumerism.
Now more than ever, patient scheduling procedures can cause friction between providers and patients, as patients are no longer content visiting a facility with long wait times with many other available options.
If your medical office has long wait times, you may find it hard to attract and retain patients. Because of this, it's critical your medical practice innovates and explores ways to maximize revenue and productivity without sacrificing patient satisfaction.
It's important to keep your medical center’s schedule consistently full (with minimal no-shows) without overbooking yourself to ensure maximum productivity without excessive wait times.
While this may seem like an impossible task, there are steps that you can take to improve scheduling efficiency. Here’s a look at patient scheduling best practices we’ve used to boost productivity and improve patient satisfaction at healthcare centers across the US.
8 patient scheduling best practices in 2021
Implement these eight tips to improve patient scheduling, lower patient no-shows, and optimize your medical center's operations.
1. Send text and email appointment reminders
If you have not done so already, implementing an automated appointment reminder system is critical in order to minimize the number of no-shows. An appointment reminder system will text, email, or call patients at set intervals before their appointment.
When you send reminders to your patients, make sure you include:
- Physician’s name
- Appointment time and date
- Necessary steps to take before the appointment (such as fasting or drinking liquids)
By using text and email appointment reminders for your patients, you can drastically improve confirmation rates while reducing missed appointments and late arrivals.
Multi-channel appointment reminders can also be helpful to use a two-way reminder system that allows patients to respond to texts or emails to quickly and efficiently confirm, cancel, or reschedule appointments. Such systems improve customer satisfaction and make it easier for patients to control their appointments, improving the likelihood that they will show up on time.
2. Outsource to a healthcare call center
As our world becomes increasingly digital, an obvious way to modernize patient scheduling is to provide 24/7 scheduling services. Allowing patients to schedule and reschedule appointments with as little friction as possible can provide a variety of benefits to your patients and your practice.
By outsourcing support services to a healthcare call center, you can:
- Save costs with an outsourced provider
- Schedule according to seasonal demand and fluctuations
- Expand your customer services to cover more hours each day
- Increase operational efficiency with business intelligence
Using a healthcare call center can also help maximize revenue, as 26% of appointments made online are for same-day or next-day slots. This can help to fill gaps in your schedule, ensuring you are always busy.
Having the ability to self-schedule appointments can also boost customer satisfaction. For medical centers that struggle to keep overhead costs down while providing timely, satisfactory patient support, the scalability and efficiency of a call center can alleviate your pains.
3. Prioritize appointments
Patient visit lengths can vary greatly, depending on the level of care needed.
To ensure you don't over- or under-book your medical office and that you don't have unreasonable wait times, you should prioritize appointments during patient scheduling. Considering the level of care a patient may need based on the reason for their visit is critical and should influence where place patients, and how much time their visits should be.
You should also consider using this time to decide if a patient truly needs to be placed on the schedule. A minor issue such as needing to have a medication refilled may be able to be handled by a nurse or doctor via a short phone consultation.
Taking this approach can help increase patient satisfaction by making it more convenient for patients with smaller, marginal issues while ensuring that in-person appointments are reserved for patients truly in need of in-person care.
By prioritizing appointments, you can save time and resources for your practice and fill your in-person schedule with revenue-producing appointments. This can also boost patient satisfaction by saving patients time that they otherwise would have spent driving to, and waiting in, your office.
4. Implement a strategic patient scheduling process
Unfortunately, even your best efforts will not be able to fully prevent late cancellations and no-shows. However, you can help mitigate the effect that cancellations and no-shows can have on your practice through double-booking patients with a high possibility of not showing up, and maintaining a waitlist of patients who would like to get in earlier than their currently scheduled appointment.
When trying to minimize downtime at your medical center, you can utilize predictive analytics and machine learning to pinpoint at-risk patients and then double-book. To identify which appointment slots and patients are at risk of missing appointments, examine patient no-show history.
CCD’s Business Intelligence department found that patients with at least one previous no-show are 16x more likely to miss another appointment. Just as airlines double-book seating, doing so at your medical offices can help prevent downtime and idle resources during your daily schedules.
If you decide to implement a patient waitlist, you can implement a patient scheduling system that provides you with the ability to send out a mass text to patients on your waitlist notifying them of your immediate open slot. This can save you a lot of time by quickly notifying a large group of patients of the availability and prompting them to call you rather than you calling patients one-by-one.
5. Automate your patient recalls
Having a patient recall system in place that sends patients a text or email notifying them when it’s time to make another appointment helps ensure rechecks while keeping your schedule fuller.
When used in conjunction with a self-scheduling system, automated patient recalls help your patients easily stay on top of their exams and necessary appointments.
Instead of sending out appointment reminder cards that easily get lost or forgotten, a reminder text or email that includes a link that lets patients self-schedule an appointment will keep patients on track while helping to consistently fill gaps in your schedule.
6. Use staff more efficiently
When medical centers experience fluctuating demand depending on the time of day, week, or even year, it’s hard to ensure that your staff is being fully utilized and productive. Medical centers looking to improve patient wait times and make scheduling easier is to ensure that you’re utilizing your staff as efficiently as possible.
If it seems as though your physicians are overwhelmed and patients are constantly complaining about long wait times, you should consider whether there are ways in which you could be increasing your care team’s capacity to reduce your physicians' burden.
For instance, could a nurse review patient instructions for medications and follow-up care at the end of the appointment? If this is something your physicians are currently doing, allowing this task to be handled by a nurse would let your physician move on to their next appointment. Making sure your office is running as efficiently as possible can help relieve scheduling problems.
7. Standardize your processes and systems
Standardization is key to scaling your appointment scheduling and support services. When you streamline your appointment scheduling workflows, consider how you can templatize your scheduling templates, appointment urgency, and entire workflow from appointment scheduling to follow-up.
When scheduling patients at your outpatient medical centers, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Initial patient information to collect includes:
- First Name
- Middle Name
- Last Name
- Date of Birth
- Daytime Phone
- First visit? Y/N
Appointment information for first and subsequent calls:
- Physician Name
- Reason for appointment?
- Level of urgency: 1 (Not urgent), 2 (Semi urgent), 3 (Very urgent)
What your calendar should look like:
- Tab for calendar dates
- Color code the booked appointments by the name of a doctor
- Include information such as appointment type, level of urgency, and patient information
Any changes made to internal patient scheduling processes must be communicated to all parties involved, and documented in your internal knowledge base.
8. Introduce a queuing system
When patients cancel an appointment, an automated queuing system displays real-time available slots to other customers trying to book an appointment.
By doing this, you can decrease walkaway times and missed appointments, wait times, and patient complaints--helping you to better utilize your resources, improve patient satisfaction, and optimize your schedule management.
Lower your patient no-show rates
Ultimately, there is an art to patient scheduling, and it may take you some time to find the perfect balance that will ensure you are maximizing productivity while minimizing wait times. Feel free to contact us for more advice on patient scheduling best practices, and make sure to download our guide on reducing patient no-shows.
These 8 steps can make your staff and patients’ lives easier. Improve the overall care and quality available of your facility and provide the best patient care possible. To learn more about improving the patient experience and satisfaction through excellent care, read our blog on decreasing patient no-shows through machine learning.