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 not easy—it’s often a complex process involving technology, creativity, and experience. And even after all of 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 a wide variety of Radiology centers over the past decade (250+), which has informed our extensive list of proven best practices. Use this 2023 guide to jump-start your optimal patient scheduling to create a schedule that works to your benefit.
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 of the causes for the top scheduling issues include operational inefficiencies, underusing available resources, and misunderstanding of the balance between patients' demand and staff availability.
In order 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.
Four ways to achieve optimal outpatient scheduling
To achieve optimal Radiology outpatient scheduling, it's helpful to focus on the following four steps.
- 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.
- Minimize scheduling restrictions. Try to avoid appointments that can be executed at a specific time or day in order to prevent pent-up demand and excessive congestion.
- 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.
- 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 your patient appointments. The type of scheduling you choose depends on your patient’s needs, the type of 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 of time (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 together patients who have similar needs and scheduling their appointments for a certain 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 particularly busy 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, there is always someone waiting in the queue. Meanwhile, emergency cases have priority over regular appointments.
This approach is great for busy centers with a steady flow of patients. It maximizes operation efficiency, improves staff productivity, and reduces wait time. However, you would need to 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, but they will 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 head off potential missed appointments and allow patients the opportunity 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 in a timeline manner.
3. Prioritize appointments
Schedule your patient appointments according to the condition, level of urgency, type of care needed, and expected consultation time. If you choose a scheduling method that both prioritizes emergency care and leaves space for the patients who booked their appointment ahead of time (such as wave scheduling), you can increase patient satisfaction. This is because both parties (emergency and regulars) feel prioritized with their care.
Additionally, the optimized patient schedule ensures that your staff feels like they 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 of this is having the right schedulers at the right time with the right 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 there’s a particular month or quarter that has more patients scheduled, you can plan accordingly. This way, your patients don’t have long wait times, and your staff is 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 find that 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 full visibility and transparency into your clinic’s operations.
8. Introduce a queueing system
Decrease walkaway times, missed appointments, wait times, and patient complaints by introducing a queueing system. This way, when a patient cancels an appointment, the system will automatically offer the slots to other patients in the queue.
A system like this will also ensure that your appointments stay at a steady stream, plus it gives your patients an opportunity 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
If you decide to partner with an answering or scheduling service to alleviate workforce pains, make sure to take HIPAA into consideration. Since the scheduling process involves collecting patient information, it must be HIPAA-compliant. Otherwise, the clinic risks facing penalties. If you are planning to use an answering service to help with appointment scheduling, it has to 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 who are well-versed in data security requirements.
Work with CCD Health for all your patient scheduling needs
Patient scheduling optimization requires a combination of 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 our own 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.