Patient Scheduling: The Importance and 7 Beneficial Practices

by Patient Scheduling

Medical practices routinely schedule hundreds of appointments each week, including appointments for new patients and follow-ups for existing ones. Scheduling is critical for a successful practice, but it also can use up a lot of your staff’s time when not done efficiently. Online scheduling software increases the operational efficiency of your practice by reducing the time needed to schedule appointments.

Patient scheduling may appear to be a straightforward process, but it actually requires considerable planning, experience, and skill. The effectiveness with which staff members perform this task greatly affects patient care and the practice’s operation. An efficient scheduling process can thus alleviate stress on staff and help keep patients happier.

Keep reading to learn more about the importance of an efficient scheduling system as well as beneficial practices to improve how you schedule appointments.

Why Patient Scheduling Is So Crucial

Patient scheduling is critical to a practice’s success for these reasons:

Give Your Patients a Better Experience

Scheduling improves the patients’ overall experience by helping alleviate delays in getting care, which are a common source of frustration for patients. Relatient’s DASH scheduling software uses a rules-based approach to scheduling, which helps reduce wait times while ensuring the patient is getting to the right doctor and location. 

The DASH software actually leverages the same rules that schedulers use to determine the best appointment slot. This capability is essential for improving patient satisfaction, which is particularly important in a value-based system.

Improve Physician Utilization

Physicians routinely spend much of their time on tasks not directly related to patient care. They can plan their time more effectively when they use the right patient scheduling software. This software reduces cancellations and no-shows, which wastes a doctor’s time. Autonomous wait list management and templating software also help physicians to keep their schedules full without overbooking.

Increase Staff Productivity

Proper patient scheduling allows front-desk staff to avoid spending all of their time and energy on patient management. This allows staff members to focus on other tasks, such as handling patients who are already in the office while simultaneously reducing the number of calls that the practice receives. 

Better scheduling also increases productivity by reducing miscommunications, which is a common cause of appointment-related errors. Scheduling software provides this benefit by scheduling appointments directly with patients instead of requiring staff to enter data.

Decrease No-Shows

Scheduling software uses reminders to keep patients aware of their appointments, thus reducing no-shows. Patients are often late for appointments or fail to show up at all simply due to forgetfulness, which wastes the doctor’s time and uses income. 

A scheduling software with messaging automatically and sends reminders to patients, which can be instrumental in reducing no-shows while also enabling a patient to reschedule or cancel an appointment if needed. 

Patient Scheduling Software

The 7 Best Practices for Patient Appointment Scheduling

The following list provides 7 of the best practices for scheduling patient appointments:

1. Implement Patient Self-Scheduling

Current technology allows patients to schedule their own appointments directly through scheduling software. Leveraging your website and text messaging are both highly convenient since they don’t require the user to download an app or log in to a portal. Self-scheduling is thus an effective method of increasing patient satisfaction, while also allowing a practice to reduce the time it spends on booking appointments. 

This capability also improves patient acquisition since new patients can easily make their first appointment by themselves. Additionally, enabling patients to book online 24/7 means they can book after hours instead of having to leave a voicemail or send an email regarding future appointments.

2. Prioritize Appointments

Appointment prioritization generally involves scheduling the most urgent appointments first. Specific factors to consider include the level of care needed and the time that the appointment is likely to require. 

In addition to the time needed to perform specific procedures, it’s also important to identify patients who are likely to ask lots of questions. This approach helps ensure that patients receive a high level of care without wasting the doctor’s time.

An online scheduling like Relatient’s enables your medical practice to utilize the same rules your schedulers would use to let patients book their own appointment online. Without a rules-based scheduling platform, it is essential for front-office staff to use their knowledge and experience to determine the specific requirements of each appointment. 

3. Create an Automated Patient Wait List

Cancellations and no-shows are an inevitable aspect of any practice, so utilizing a wait list system is essential for mitigating their effect. 

Scheduling software often has the ability to send a mass communication to all current patients asking them if they want to take an open appointment. Some vendors also manage wait lists automatically for their clients. This capability eliminates the need to fill an open appointment by calling patients individually.

4. Confirm Appointments with Text and Email

Confirming an appointment is always a good practice as it provides patients with peace of mind in knowing that they still have their appointment slot. Using automated text and email is also a good opportunity to remind patients about upcoming appointments and prompt them to reschedule if they have a conflict. 

The ability to confirm appointments via text or email is vital for providing patients with a positive experience. An optimized scheduling system is essential for providing a practice with a more predictable workflow, so a schedule that’s routinely too full or not full enough is a strong indication that the process for confirming appointments may need a makeover. 

5. Use Automated Patient Outreach, Recare, and Recall

A patient recall system ensures that patients will return for their regular checkup appointments. It also keeps a practice’s schedule consistently full and may conduct automatic communications with patients via text message. 

Common uses of this feature include follow-up instructions, referrals, and post-appointment surveys. All of these communications serve to bring back patients who may not have had a regular care appointment in years.

6. Automate Responses to Routine Questions

Many of the questions that patients ask frequently have only one answer. A system that answers these questions automatically can save a good deal of time for front-desk staff. 

An advanced patient reminder system can provide these responses based on keywords such as “cancel”, “confirm”, and “reschedule.” It can also include responses for less common phrases such as “can’t make it” and “different time”.

7. Ensure You’re Addressing Providers’ Rules and Preferences

In addition to the general requirements of scheduling, individual healthcare providers often have their own rules and preferences. For example, practitioners could have a rule that says they only see patients who need surgery to treat broken bones. On the other hand, a preference is typically more flexible, such as a desire to only see new patients in the morning and existing patients in the afternoon. 

Deploying a patient scheduling system successfully requires the software to address all rules and preferences of different healthcare providers. The DASH scheduling platform offers this capability, which distinguishes itself from many of its competitors. 

Practitioners may be reluctant to implement such a system because they feel they will be giving up control over the patients they see. However, the right scheduling software like DASH can streamline a practice’s workflow without changing its criteria for seeing patients (and even enable the same rules to be followed with patients self-scheduling online themselves)

Increase Staff Productivity

Advantages of Automated Patient Scheduling Software

Online scheduling software can make your professional life easier while increasing revenue, reducing burnout on already overworked staff, and providing time to focus on other important activities and quality of patient care.

Here are a few more advantages of utilizing an automated scheduling software:

Make Life Easier

The most obvious benefit of a patient scheduling system is that it reduces the practice’s workload. The traditional method of making appointments is highly time-consuming because each patient must call the practice to discuss the appointment, which may require multiple calls to connect with a patient. 

This approach increases the workload’s complexity, resulting in a greater chance of miscommunication. For example, a staff member who takes down a phone number, e-mail, or address incorrectly will have no way of contacting the patient to reschedule the appointment or discuss it further.

Decrease Front Office Distractions

The ability of scheduling software to automatically respond to patients’ FAQs prevents staff members from being distracted from their core duties. This task doesn’t require a person to get involved, so it isn’t an efficient use of staff time. Delegating this responsibility to software allows team members to accomplish more each day without burning out.

“Always On” Service

Unlike employees, software can work 24/7. This capability is particularly useful for tasks that don’t require direct human involvement, such as answering simple questions or scheduling a yearly checkup. 

In addition to saving time, scheduling software can save a practice a significant amount of money by providing “always on” access to its appointment system instead of paying staff overtime to work after office hours.

Reduce the Expense of Scheduling Patients

Patient scheduling software also saves a lot of time and money by eliminating the need to mail appointment reminders. The Alternative Board, a management consulting firm, reports that 60% of small business owners want to spend less time on paperwork. The same survey also shows that 39% of these respondents feel that paperwork is the biggest waste of their time.

More Data, Improved Insights

The ability to provide a practice with behavioral data is a major advantage of scheduling software that practices often overlook. Analyzing this data can provide physicians with a greater understanding of their patients and help them find ways to improve their utilization and service. 

In particular, DASH scheduling software can help a practice measure no shows, capacity utilization, third next available appointments (TNAA), self-scheduling abandon rates, new patients, appointment rates using insurance, and more.

Summary

Scheduling software like DASH performs many appointment-related tasks that don’t require human intervention. This capability allows a practice’s medical staff to focus on patient-centric tasks that can’t be easily automated. The time that this software saves reduces a practice’s costs and improves patient satisfaction. Relatient provides two services that can assist practices in achieving these goals, including a self-scheduling waitlist and appointment reminder service.

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