CCD Health

2024 Guide to Patient Scheduling at Radiology Centers

See proven best practices for patient scheduling to increase patient satisfaction, reduce abandoned calls, and increase your bottom line.

Effective patient scheduling is an integral part of managing your Radiology business. The right patient scheduling method can help you maximize productivity, minimize staff burnout, improve patient satisfaction rates, and reduce patient no-shows.

However, finding the best practices to schedule your patients is difficult—it’s often a complex process involving technology, creativity,  and experience. And even after all that, you’ll have to go through a trial and error process to find what works best for your Radiology center. This process can be frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive.

Here at CCD, we work with 4 of the top 7 Radiology brands in the nation. Additionally, we’ve worked with various Radiology centers over the past decade (250+), which has informed our extensive list of proven best practices. Use this 2024 guide to create a patient scheduling process that benefits your Center.

What is optimal outpatient appointment scheduling for Radiology centers?

Optimal outpatient appointment scheduling is a combination of tactics that allows your Radiology business to

  • Reduce waiting time
  • Decongest waiting rooms
  • Minimize no-shows
  • Improve patient satisfaction
  • Streamline staff processes

Some causes of the top scheduling issues include operational inefficiencies, underusing available resources, and misunderstanding of the balance between patients' demand and staff availability.

To achieve optimal outpatient scheduling, it can be helpful to map your process out in one flowchart to help pinpoint inefficiencies or places for improvement.

Appointment scheduling flowchart radiology outpatient centers-min

Four ways to achieve optimal outpatient scheduling

To achieve optimal Radiology outpatient scheduling, it's helpful to focus on the following four steps.

  1. Embrace patient self-scheduling technology. Implement a user-friendly self-scheduling software or app that allows patients to set and cancel appointments according to their needs.
  2. Minimize scheduling restrictions. Try to avoid appointments that can be executed at a specific time or day to prevent pent-up demand and excessive congestion.
  3. Create standardized appointment times. Once you evaluate the average time a patient needs for a consultation, you can set a standardized appointment duration (10, 20, or 30 minutes) to avoid delays and maximize your center’s efficiency.
  4. Closely monitor appointments. Create a system that monitors and analyzes appointment issues (tardiness or no-shows) and uses this data to optimize scheduling and service more patients.

6 Types of patient scheduling

In addition to the scheduling tips, there are six prominent ways to schedule patient appointments. The type of scheduling you choose depends on your patient’s needs, the technology available to your Radiology center, and your overall operation and staffing situation. The six types of  outpatient appointment scheduling include:

1. Time slot scheduling

This scheduling system provides your patients with various available time slots. After you schedule the appointment, you communicate with the patient via alerts. Your staff then monitors cancellations and can fill empty slots with other patients if possible.

2. Stream scheduling

To minimize waiting time and ensure full capacity, you can schedule each appointment for a specific time. The allotted time depends on the purpose of the visit. This approach ensures that there is always a “stream” of patients coming into your Radiology center.

3. Open booking

For this method, you give your patients a certain period (for example, from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM), during which they can keep their appointment. While this approach can decrease wait times and give patients more flexibility, it may not work well if you can't predict the demand.

4. Clustering scheduling

This method involves grouping patients with similar needs and scheduling their appointments for a specific block of time. For example, you can schedule all general wellness checkups for the morning and all vaccine appointments for the afternoon. This method is ideal if you are in a bustling center.

5. Double Scheduling

The double-booking approach involves scheduling two patients for the same slot. This can be helpful if the doctor can manage several patients simultaneously (perform a diagnostic procedure on one patient while listening to another). However, it may lead to patient frustration as they wait for the doctor to become available.  

6. Wave scheduling

Wave scheduling involves seeing several patients (four, five, or six) every half an hour in the order that they arrive. Since patients come in waves, someone is always waiting in the queue.  Meanwhile, emergency cases have priority over regular appointments.

This approach is excellent for busy centers with a steady flow of patients. It maximizes operation efficiency, improves staff productivity, and reduces wait time. However, you must communicate possible delays to the patients to avoid dissatisfaction.

Patient scheduling optimization: 8 best practices

Regardless of the scheduling method you choose, implementing these patient scheduling best practices will help you optimize your Radiology outpatient center’s operations and improve your bottom line.

Leveraging these best practices won’t just help with your patient scheduling optimization; it will also help with patient satisfaction and give your center a competitive edge.

1. Send text and email appointment reminders  

Implement an automated appointment reminder system to follow up with your patients. This will help avoid missed appointments and allow patients to cancel early instead of last minute if they can’t make the appointment. 

It’s also a best practice that shows your patients that you both care about them, which helps increase satisfaction rates.

2. Outsource to a healthcare call center 

Delegate scheduling to a team of experts. With this type of partnership, you can free up your staff to focus on important Radiology work while your experts handle scheduling. You can also offer phone services during after-hours, thanks to extended working times at call centers. 

Plus, by working with a team that specializes in healthcare and works as an extension of your center, you can guarantee that your patients are getting their questions answered promptly.

3. Prioritize appointments 

Schedule your patient appointments according to the condition, level of urgency, type of care needed, and expected consultation time. You can increase patient satisfaction if you choose a scheduling method that both prioritizes emergency care and leaves space for the patients who booked their appointments ahead of time (such as wave scheduling). This is because both parties (emergency and regulars) feel prioritized with their care. 

The optimized patient schedule also ensures your staff can balance the load without feeling overworked.

4. Implement a strategic patient scheduling process

Use available technologies to predict patient behavior and combine different scheduling types. Scheduling partners like CCD Health work with Radiology outpatient centers and conduct Business Intelligence deep-dives to find opportunities for scheduling and overall center improvements. 

By working with a specialized call center, you can also employ workforce management techniques to help your patient scheduling process. An example is having the right schedulers at the right time and skill set to serve all of your appointments. 

5. Automate your patient recalls

Find a system that automatically notifies patients when it’s time for them to schedule their next appointment. This is another easy way to show your patients that you care about their health, and it takes the burden off of the patient to remember that they need to schedule an appointment. Bonus if the system includes a link for the patient to self-schedule their next appointment.

By making the scheduling process easier for the patients, you can also guarantee that you won’t lose patient business simply because they got too busy and forgot about creating time for their checkups.

6. Use staff more efficiently 

Find ways to increase your staff's capacity without increasing the burden and causing burnout. One way to do this is to make note of changing seasons with your patients and identify patterns. If a particular month or quarter has more patients scheduled, you can plan accordingly. This way, your patients won’t have long wait times, and your staff will be equipped to handle the influx of appointments.

7. Standardize your processes and systems

One way to simplify your Radiology outpatient center operations is to adopt a standard for everything in the back office. This includes patient data collection, schedule calendars, reminders, and other processes. This way, if you need to scale things up for a busy season, you can easily train new staff without worrying about losing quality.

Additionally, you will easily be able to go in and look at data related to patient schedules or patient data for complete visibility and transparency into your clinic’s operations.

8. Introduce a queueing system 

Introducing a queueing system decreases walkaway times, missed appointments, wait times, and patient complaints. This way, when a patient cancels an appointment, the system automatically offers the slots to other patients in the queue.

A system like this will also ensure that your appointments stay steady and allow your patients to choose a time slot that might work better with their ever-changing schedule.

Importance of using a HIPAA-compliant answering service to help with scheduling

Consider HIPAA if you partner with an answering or scheduling service to alleviate workforce pains. Since the scheduling process involves collecting patient information, it must be HIPAA-compliant. Otherwise, the clinic risks facing penalties. If you plan to use an answering service to help with appointment scheduling, it must ensure full HIPAA compliance.

A HIPAA-compliant answering service implements all the specifics and nuances of HIPAA compliance and keeps patient data safe. Outsourcing partners that provide answering services to Radiology outpatient clinics employ specialists well-versed in data security requirements.

Work with CCD Health for all your patient scheduling needs

Patient scheduling optimization requires combining technology, expertise, and best practices. No matter how well you build your scheduling process, there is always room for improvement. If you partner with patient scheduling experts at CCD Health, we will use a combination of business intelligence, workforce management, and scheduling expertise to help optimize your schedule.

Contact us to learn more about how you can implement the same scheduling best practices we’ve used with 4 of the top 7 radiology brands in the United States.

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