Using Centralized Scheduling Effectively for Patient Appointments
Centralized scheduling is an important part of patient appointments, especially for any medical, specialty, or hospital groups that have multiple providers and locations. It requires managing a great deal of complex rules and preferences, so unfortunately, there are a lot of practices struggling to effectively use this scheduling method.
If you are having a difficult time getting the most out of centralized scheduling, there are several areas of improvement to consider. Optimizing your centralized scheduling enables you to streamline the scheduling process, maximize the number of patients your practice sees in a day, improve the patient and provider experience, reduce onboarding time, and generate more revenue.
What is centralized scheduling, and how can you get the most out of it? Learn more below.
What Is Centralized Scheduling?
A centralized scheduling system is one where there is a single, dedicated scheduler (or scheduling system) responsible for handling all appointments in the practice, even across multiple locations.
When there is a centralized scheduling system in place, that system has to keep up with the schedules of all providers, ensuring that all information regarding appointments flows through a single checkpoint so that patients are scheduled, checked in, seen, and checked out efficiently. It also involves centrally managing rescheduling and cancelling appointments.
Centralized vs. Decentralized Patient Appointment Scheduling
While a centralized scheduling system uses one system (or one group of people) to handle all appointments, a decentralized scheduling system is quite different. In a decentralized scheduling system, certain staff and team members are responsible for managing the appointments of their individual providers.
They might be familiar with the schedules of their specific location, and they could customize the appointment slots to meet the needs of their providers. Some practices even use a hybrid system, combining a centralized scheduling system and a decentralized scheduling system.
Before deciding on the scheduling method that is right for you, it is critical to think about the benefits and drawbacks of using a centralized scheduling system.
Advantages of Centralized Scheduling
There are several significant advantages of using a centralized scheduling system to handle patient appointments. Some of the biggest benefits include:
- More Efficient Workflows: When there is only one scheduling system in place, it is easier to manage. Medical practices often break up a centralized scheduling appointment system into smaller sectors, where each individual focuses on one sector of the system. A few areas include new appointments, acute visits, appointment cancellations, and rescheduling. Everyone has a role, and everyone focuses on their specific task.
- More Control: Instead of having many people focusing on the schedules for their assigned providers, a centralized scheduling system makes it easier to control the individual parts of the schedule. Instead of worrying about disagreements among different provider scheduling teams, there is one person in place to complete tasks during the day.
- Track Metrics: It is also much easier to track metrics regarding individual providers when there is one scheduling team. Multiple tools can track metrics and measure the success of certain workflows.
These are just a few of the biggest benefits that come along with using a centralized scheduling system.
Considerations When Using Centralized Scheduling
There are a few things to consider when using a centralized scheduling system, such as:
- Less Flexibility: A centralized scheduling system is not as flexible as a decentralized one. If it is difficult to keep the system simple for all providers, changing or inserting features for certain practitioners can be a challenge.
- Less Awareness: Sometimes, there is a centralized scheduling system for multiple locations. Not every location handles things the same way, and there may be reduced awareness in some areas.
- Potential Losses: If the goals are not made clear and if processes are not audited from time to time, there is the potential to lose a significant amount of money if scheduling efficiency is lacking. That is why it is important to keep track of all metrics related to centralized scheduling.
Fortunately, if you leverage a solution that addresses these areas with rules-based scheduling and the system is implemented efficiently, you can usually avoid each of these potential drawbacks.
How to Implement a Centralized Scheduling System
If you would like to get the most out of your centralized scheduling, it is important to follow the right steps for implementing the system. A few important steps to follow include:
1. Define the Intent of the Scheduling System
First, you need to specify why you are implementing a centralized scheduling system in the first place. What are the primary and secondary goals of implementing this system? Some of the reasons you might want to use a centralized scheduling system include provider utilization, more efficient operations, or reducing wait time.
You may also want to increase the calls you handle during the day, manage call volumes more effectively, and implement an automated waitlist. If you clearly state your goals, you will have a better chance of achieving them.
2. Involve Various Staff Members (Different Levels and Teams)
Another important step is to ensure that a variety of team members are involved in the implementation process. This should include staff across different departments and at different levels in your organization.
Everyone has a different perspective on the practice because everyone has a slightly different job. People need to understand how this change is going to impact them so that they can plan their jobs accordingly. That way, it is easier for you to anticipate issues, mitigate risks, and address any problems that might arise immediately.
3. Set Standard Appointment Times and Durations
You also need to set standard appointment times and durations. What time do providers get to the office? How long will their appointments last? There may be some situations where variances are necessary. For example, new patient visits are usually longer than return visits. Annual physicals might be longer than acute visits. Make sure the criteria for variances are made clear.
4. Develop Scheduling Parameters
You should also set rules, guard rails, and parameters when it comes to implementing a centralized patient scheduling process. Set up your workflows to address potential use cases, appointment types, and provider preferences. Even though this planning process can be time-consuming in the beginning, it will help you down the road.
Some scheduling implementation questions that your contact center, executives, patient access team, and schedulers will need to consider include:
- How should same-day appointments be handled?
- When do patients need specialty care?
- What scheduling considerations need to be made for new patients?
- How do you handle providing a recommended provider to patients when scheduling?
- Do you verify insurance when scheduling?
- Do you manage an appointment waitlist? If so, how?
If you set this system up properly, it will be easier for your staff to schedule appointments in a way that keeps providers as well as patients happy.
5. Do a Risk Stratification
Risk stratification is the ongoing process of assigning a particular risk status to all patients in a practice. This step will make it easier to manage population health and chronic care issues. Make sure patients are risk-stratified so schedulers will have an easier time matching patients with appropriate appointment lengths.
There may also be situations where some providers are more comfortable managing chronic care patients than others, so performing this step will make it easier to assign patients to the proper providers. Even a simple risk stratification system can be set up relatively quickly. Just make sure to identify this information on patient profiles so it is easier to schedule them in the future.
Effective communication is critical. It is important to communicate with all staff as early as possible so they can provide input as the centralized scheduling system and workflows are being integrated into the existing systems. Then, continuously collect feedback from your team – including schedulers, providers, and eventually, patients – as the central system is rolled out. Meetings should take place regularly, and feedback should be considered carefully.
Furthermore, it is beneficial to use self-scheduling to enable patients to reschedule or cancel their appointments easily using an email or text message platform. The right system lets you leverage the same workflows, preferences, and rules as the centralized scheduling system. Therefore, you can use both systems together to provide the best experience possible for patients and even help optimize your staff’s time.
For example, enabling self-scheduling allows patients to book appointments online even when the practice is closed. That means your team doesn’t have to go through voicemails and return numerous calls after a weekend or evening.
7. Use Rapid Cycle Change Strategy
Rapid cycle change strategy is critical during the implentation period. It might be prudent to have a “champion” stakeholder practice with the centralized system as it is rolled out. There could be bugs in the system at first, but rapid cycle change strategizing helps address them quickly, and it will only affect one provider or group within the practice.
Here’s how it works. One or two providers (or even a single location or market, depending on your group’s size) might volunteer to use the system first, identifying bugs before the system is rolled out throughout your entire practice. That way, you minimize the potential impact of these bugs, and you help ensure that the vast majority of providers are happy with the system.
As the system expands, the number of supported providers will expand as well, but the chances of finding more bugs will be minimal.
8. Perform Regular Monitoring & Measurement
Finally, continuous, active monitoring is key (even after the system has been fully implemented). Feedback needs to be collected from all staff members and providers so that the system can be improved as quickly as possible.
It is also important to track key metrics, data, and analytics. That way, you’ll be able to see what is working and what is not. Determining key metrics from regular monitoring and collecting feedback will help ensure your organization is on the same page at every level.
At Relatient, we provide access to a customized dashboard with analytics and reporting. That way, it is relatively easy to track the most important metrics and act accordingly. We can collect feedback, compile this on a dashboard, and make changes that can improve the scheduling process.
Get the Most out of a Centralized Scheduling Solution with Relatient
Even though there can be challenges with rolling out a centralized scheduling system, there are numerous benefits as well. A centralized scheduling system makes it easier to provide care for patients sooner, analyze metrics, manage provider rules and preferences, automate a waitlist, and address problems as they arise.
If you would like to get the most out of your scheduling system, work with Relatient’s team to implement a customized scheduling system tailored to meet the needs of your practice.
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