Checklist: 6 Features to Look for in a Patient Scheduling Solution

New research indicates that providers are increasingly turning to technology to solve the most pressing patient access challenges of today: how to balance operational efficiency with fewer resources, and make sure patients are seeing the right physician at the right time through patient scheduling. 

Patient scheduling solutions, like intelligent online patient self-scheduling software that features customized patient appointment reminders, can significantly improve the overall scheduling process for both staff and consumers alike by streamlining operations and reducing administrative burden. 

Before selecting a scheduling solution, providers should make sure it fits their goals—such as filling vacancies, boosting provider utilization, and retaining patients—as well as integrates seamlessly with their core EHR or practice management systems

Key features to look for in a patient scheduling solution should include: 

Greater visibility across the network and appointment types   

When providers have multiple locations, differing hours per day, specific patient requirements, and specialization in different areas, it takes a high degree of internal knowledge to sort out when it is—and is not—acceptable to schedule a patient. Without a comprehensive and central view of all providers’ availability, it can take several phone calls to make sure the patient is placed on the correct schedule at the correct time. 

A centralized scheduling solution brings enterprise-level visibility into what was previously siloed and connected by verbal permission-seeking. Moving to a smarter patient scheduling solution will automatically filter and display the correct visit types and specialists available across the entire organization. With this centralized view, staff can better balance patient loads and cut down on the time it takes to schedule a patient. 

Simple, but flexible, scheduling templates 

While standardization is a good strategy for applying uniform rules across multiple groups, it can also be too inflexible when it comes to provider scheduling templates. Each provider should have the ability to set the duration needed for certain appointment types, from new patient visits to existing patient follow-ups. The template should also integrate physician preferences across specialty and insurance mixes to ensure patients are making it onto the right schedule from first initial contact. 

Analytics to determine optimal provider utilization and future capacity 

After scheduling templates are created, they should be revisited regularly as more data is collected on the actual duration, utilization, and demand of visits. A smart patient scheduling solution will not only capture these data points, but also use them to reassess—based on physician behavior and utilization—how to fill last-minute slots. The more data points being collected by the system, the more it will allow providers to adjust resources based on real interactions, which continues to refine how and where patients can be scheduled. 

The new data will also give insight into the type of services providers may consider augmenting or reducing to better serve their patient population. 

Rules-driven logic that finds appropriate appointments without manual searching 

Traditional scheduling (without intelligent scheduling automation) is a several-step process that begins with staff knowledge, relies on paper notes or decision-making trees, and then ends with a manual search of a calendar to find holes in schedules. The process is complicated, as each patient must be manually run—in real time—through an equation that factors in their visit type, the appropriate providers for that visit, those provider’s personal preferences, and finally, when the patients themselves are available to be seen. 

A responsive calendar does the navigating for the scheduler—be it internal staff or a patient navigating via online patient self-scheduling solution—and shows only the correct openings for that specific patient’s needs. Rules-based logic transforms a process that was previously kept in hard copies, or checked via several phone calls, into a simple click of a button. 

Automatic workflow to fill vacancies, rebook cancellations, and reduce no-shows 

While the reason why last-minute appointment cancellations occur can be varied, experience shows that 5-10% are cancelled in the 24 hours prior. This leaves hard-to-fill vacancies that could typically only be filled by motivated patients calling on their own in the morning to ask if any slots had opened. However, an intelligent patient scheduling solution would address this with a multi-pronged approach. 

Through the use of automated appointment reminders that allow for rebooking ahead of time, an automated wait list, and intelligent overbooking, these costly last-minute fluctuations can be reduced significantly. 

Multiple channels for scheduling that make it easier for patients to schedule appointments, especially after hours 

Patient scheduling solutions should make it as easy as possible to make an appointment, through any channel the patient chooses to engage, at any time, regardless of staffing. Most consumers are used to online storefronts being available no matter when they look, and instant success in connecting with the resources they need without needing to make a phone call. Healthcare should be the same in availability to effectively connect patients with care, whether by chat, text, or online portal. 

The first step in improving the patient scheduling process is moving from a high-touch, human workflow to an intelligent solution that navigates provider preferences and available times, fills no-shows, creates a wait list, and shares this view across the organization. Learn the full seven strategies for redefining patient access in Winning the Patient Access Game: 7 Ways Provider Groups Can Deliver More for Less with Centralized Scheduling