Patient scheduling can be challenging. On the one hand, you want to maximize your care team’s productivity and see as many patients as possible. On the other hand, you want to avoid long patient wait times and give each patient the attention they deserve? How do you balance these two objectives?

Consider implementing these five best practices for patient scheduling.

5 Best Practices for Patient Scheduling

1. Have patients self-schedule

In 2019, over a third of patient appointments are self-scheduled and roughly two-thirds of health systems offer self scheduling, according to Accenture. Patients are increasingly comfortable with apps and patient portals, so it makes sense to provide an intuitive online self-scheduling system. This can increase patient satisfaction and reallocate time that front-office staff spend scheduling, confirming, and re-scheduling appointments by phone.

2. Implement an appointment reminder system

The easiest way to minimize no-shows is to have an automated reminder system that texts or calls patients at set intervals before each appointment. Give patients the ability to cancel or reschedule by responding directly to the reminder. Make sure to include your cancellation policy in the message so that patients are aware of your policies and any fees collected for last-minute cancellations or no-shows.

3. Schedule appointments in consecutive blocks

Many practices find that scheduling appointments in blocks allows staff to use their time more effectively throughout the day. Try scheduling morning appointments from noon backwards and afternoon appointments from noon forwards. Staff can use unfilled time to catch up on documentation, hold team meetings, or complete other administrative tasks without interruption. You can also reduce overhead by having staff come in late or go home early on days with lighter appointment loads.

4. Double book appointments cautiously and strategically

Roughly 30 percent of appointments go unused, according to athenahealth. Analyze when you often have cancellations and overbook those time slots to balance provider loads throughout the day. Make sure to consider the types of appointments you double book. For example, it may be easier to handle a new patient visit and a walk-in at the same time than two new patient visits. Double-booking is a common practice and doesn’t need to create long wait times or overloaded physicians. Make sure to analyze existing scheduling data and proceed cautiously and strategically.

5. Schedule team members to work at the top of their scope

Always make sure your care providers are working at the top of their scope. If your physicians seem to be struggling to stay afloat with their daily patient load, consider where other members of your care team could step in. For example, a nurse might review patient instructions at the end of a visit so physicians can move on to their next appointment. Your staff are observant experts in this area, so bring it up at your next team meeting and get their input.

Implementing Patient Scheduling Best Practices

Smart patient scheduling is one of the easiest ways to increase revenue, balance your care team’s workload, and ensure that patients are treated efficiently while getting the attention they deserve. But the variability of health care institutions means there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solve your scheduling issues.

Rather, use these best practices for patient scheduling to guide an analysis of the changes that would produce the biggest results for your practice. Your staff are your most valuable experts. Try sharing these tips at your next staff meeting and guide a solutions-oriented scheduling discussion with your team.

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