Proven Methods for Scheduling Doctor Appointments for Your Practice

by Blog, Patient Scheduling, Patient-Centered Engagement

Efficiency is paramount in the doctor’s office. Your doctor, nurses, and staff are extremely busy, so it’s important to identify ways to streamline daily operations, such as scheduling doctor appointments. In this article, we discuss scheduling methods for your practice so that you can compare the benefits and drawbacks of each option. That way, you can select the best method to meet your needs. 

7 Popular Methods For Scheduling Doctor Appointments At Your Practice

Examples of common methods used for scheduling doctor appointments include time-specified scheduling, top of hour scheduling, wave scheduling, modified wave scheduling, integrated scheduling, double-booking scheduling, and clustering scheduling.

Learn more about the different methods for scheduling doctor appointments below:

Time-Specified Scheduling

As the name suggests, time-specific scheduling is when you schedule appointments at a specific time. Most offices use this method in order to minimize the amount of time patients spend waiting for the doctor. 

The allotted time usually depends on the reason for the visit. New patients and complete physicals are generally longer than urgent visits for an established patient. One potential concern with this scheduling method is that patients might not always show up, which can create gaps in the schedule.

Wave Scheduling

In this method, a practice schedules three or four patients every thirty minutes. Then, the practitioner sees each patient in the order in which they arrive. Patients are seen in waves, meaning there is always a patient waiting to be seen. 

This scheduling method is best for doctors who have a lot of patients to work into the schedule. Occasionally, you might see ill patients before those with routine appointments. However, some patients may become frustrated when they realize another patient is granted their appointment slot. So, you’ll need to message and communicate any delays to ensure patient satisfaction with this scheduling method.

Modified Wave Scheduling

With this scheduling method, patients might be scheduled for the first half of every hour while the second half is kept open for special circumstances. Practices could use this for visits that run long or to reserve a time slot for patients who walk in without an appointment. 

This is best for medical groups with unpredictable visit lengths or practices with patients that often walk in without a previously scheduled appointment. Just realize that there can be downtime if no patients arrive during the second half hour.

Scheduling Doctor Appointments

Double-Booking

As the name suggests, this method for scheduling doctor appointments means booking two patients for the same slot. There are several situations where this might be helpful. For example, if a patient is undergoing a lengthy diagnostic procedure, the doctor might see another patient during the procedure. Or, if the scheduler only allows 15-minute time slots, the doctor might double-book one slot per hour to see five patients per hour instead of four. 

Unfortunately, patients often get frustrated if they realize that someone else has been scheduled in the same time slot, and this can overload doctors and nurses.

Clustering Scheduling

Clustering is another helpful scheduling method in which practices group together patients with similar complaints. It can help doctors stay in the right frame of mind as they go through the day. 

For example, you may group together patients coming in for general wellness checkups. Then, the doctor might focus on seeing patients with mental health concerns. Finally, he or she might finish the day with injuries and illnesses. This method might not work well for patients with busy schedules, but doctors who like to stay in one frame of mind for a long period of time might benefit from this type of scheduling method.

Integrated Scheduling

Finally, integrated scheduling, also known as long-short scheduling, involves opening up appointment slots for either long exams or short follow-ups. Often, you schedule one appointment type in the first half of the day and another appointment type for the second half of the day. 

Similar to clustering, the benefit is that doctors are able to stay in the right mindset, and it eliminates guesswork for the scheduling staff as they can foresee what the flow will be like during that time. The downside is that short appointments might run long, causing the doctor to fall behind quickly, which can result in frustrated patients.

What About Scheduling Appointments Online?

Online scheduling, also known as self-scheduling, allows patients to schedule their own appointments without having to call the office. Patients are often asked to download an app to their phones or visit an online portal to schedule an appointment by finding an opening in the schedule. 

While this might lessen the workload on the front desk staff, many patients do not like to download an app or use an online portal, so usage levels are typically low. It can also be time-consuming to send emails and messages to encourage signing up and logging into the portal. Another downside is that solutions to scheduling problems must be mobile-optimized and integrated with the EMR or PM system of the practice, which can be a challenge.

Luckily, there is an easier way. Relatient focuses on using patient-centered technology by pushing key information to patients using their phones. Furthermore, Relatient is compatible with numerous major practice management systems, including Allscripts, athenahealth, Cerner, Epic, NextGen, and others. There is no app to download, and Relatient is accessible from anywhere, making it easier than ever for patients scheduling doctor appointments.

Measuring Appointments and Tracking Appointment Metrics for Patients

In order to ensure a smooth scheduling process for patients, practices must track their metrics to see how efficient their appointment scheduling systems currently are as well as track related revenue. 

If you want to get the most out of your appointment scheduling system and maximize your revenue, you need to focus on the metrics that are important for patient scheduling. A few of the most important metrics are detailed below.

No Shows

One of the essential methods to track in order to determine the success of your scheduling system is the rate of no-shows. By monitoring this, you can find patterns in which patients are likely to cancel or not show up at all. 

Then, you may be able to double book certain time slots, particularly if they have a higher cancellation rate than others. By doing this, you can increase the number of patients you have to fill those open appointment slots, even if they are unexpected, to make up for this lost revenue. 

Measuring changes in your no show rate also helps you identify if your scheduling or self-scheduling solution is positively impacting efficiencies at your practice.

Appointment Cancellation Rates

In addition to tracking no shows, you should track how frequently your patients are cancelling their appointments and why they are doing so. The goal of this metric is to figure out why your patients are cancelling and what you can do to reduce that cancellation rate. 

If you ask your patients to fill out a form related to the cancellation, just make sure that the information you collect is valuable. 

Provider Utilization

You also need to track the utilization rate of each individual provider. That way, you can see which providers are scheduling more appointments than others. Then, if you have a high volume of patients who are scheduling for acute visits, you may be able to schedule them with a provider who does not have a full schedule. This can help you to optimize your appointment scheduling system significantly.

Lower utilizations may also be indicative of a provider who has stringent rules. Those may be worth reviewing with them to identify any adjustments that could help increase their utilization.

Self-Scheduling Appointment Bookings

Another metric to track is the number of patients who are scheduling their own appointments. Then, you should compare this to the number of patients who are calling to schedule an appointment. 

If you find that you have a large number of patients who are not scheduling doctor appointments online, you may want to promote this more — on your website, onsite at your locations, and in email communications to your patients. That way, you can reduce the workload on your front desk staff, make it easy for patients to book 24/7 and increase your patient bookings.

Average Patient Appointment Time

Average patient appointment time is yet another helpful metric to determine the efficacy of your scheduling system. If you find that providers are regularly getting out of the room sooner with certain patients, you may want to automatically schedule those patients in a shorter appointment slot. You may also want to open these appointments up to double booking so you can increase the number of patients you see, and therefore your revenue.

Third Next Available Appointment

The last metric most medical groups are tracking regularly is called “third next available appointment” (TNAA). TNAA is essentially a measurement of the delay your patients experience when attempting to schedule an appointment with a specific provider. 

Tracking this metric can be challenging, and there are several steps and considerations involved in calculating TNAA, including: 

  • Sample all physicians on the same day.
  • Count the number of days between the patient’s appointment request and the third next available appointment for that physician.
  • Calculate the average number for all physicians sampled, including weekends and days off.
  • Exclude blocked off slots for urgent visits.

A poor third next available appointment can lead to higher no-show rates, lack of patient satisfaction, and delays in care. Primary care practices should strive for a TNAA measurement of zero days, while specialty practices should aim for two days or less.

These are just a few of the most important metrics you need to pay attention to if you wish to get the most out of your appointment scheduling system. By focusing on these, you should be able to optimize your scheduling practices to maximize the number of patients you see every day and increase practice revenue. Furthermore, there are software solutions you can use to track these metrics automatically. 

Improve Scheduling Doctor Appointments with Patient-Centered Software

If you want to optimize your appointment metrics, including your third next available appointment, then use patient-centered software. Avoid app downloads and skip portals to strengthen your relationships with your patients and simplify things for them. Look at your scheduling methods carefully, and optimize them to meet the needs of your practice, providers, and patients.

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