8 Ways to Improve Patient Scheduling

February 8, 2021 - by WELL Staff

How does your staff schedule care?

Effective patient scheduling is one of the most important elements of practice management — resulting in happy patients, increased revenue, and a streamlined medical office schedule.

Patient scheduling is a complex yet vital procedure. In 2020, healthcare providers spent $342.4 million on scheduling; by 2027, this investment will increase to as much as $690 million.

Over the past few years, and as a result of the pandemic in particular, patients have begun to shift their expectations. Convenient and immediate scheduling workflows and communication from providers has become the norm over traditional phone-based scheduling processes. 

Recognizing the need to improve patient scheduling in this post-COVID world, providers pivoted to technology – particularly mobile-based scheduling – to make the entire appointment journey for patients more streamlined, more convenient, and more safe.

Make patient scheduling a priority

The success of mobile-based patient appointment scheduling is all in the numbers. Not only do 73 percent of healthcare consumers prefer to receive medical updates through text, but 95 percent of texts are actually read and responded to within 3 minutes of being received. What’s even more impressive is the overall open rate of 98 percent, compared to a less impressive 16.97 percent for email.

A study conducted by the University of Utah in 2017 found that 39 percent of patients said one of the most important things in healthcare is the ability to schedule a timely doctor appointment. The best way to do so in today’s world? Through text.

Despite this, more than one in three adults with an urgent condition reported that they couldn’t schedule medical appointments when they needed them, a study cited in JAMA found. Researchers said that problems were usually the result of “unplanned, irrational scheduling and resource allocation” not an actual lack of resources.

How to schedule patients effectively

Some effective scheduling techniques include scheduling from noon, prioritizing appointments, and creating a patient wait list. Keep in mind, these all add work to your already overburdened office staff.

Instead, providers can leverage technology to improve patient scheduling without adding to a heavy workload. Here’s how:

1. Confirm appointments with text or email reminders

Automated medical appointment reminders reduce no-shows, increase appointment confirmations, and ultimately increase the number of patient visits through better slot-utilization.

When you select an automated appointment reminder software, be sure to look for one with bidirectional functionality — when you’re texting patients, make sure they can text you back. Also, if you are sending a confirmation email, use two-way email so patients can reply.

A great example of this is Riverside Medical Clinic, the largest physician-owned practice in California. After implementing WELL’s two-way appointment reminder system, they saw a 33 percent reduction in no-shows along with an increase in appointment confirmations to an impressive 94.5 percent in just one month.

2. Automate responses to routine questions

Your staff doesn’t need to respond to every patient message. With an advanced patient reminder system that includes keyword actions, you can send automated responses. This includes both routine patient scheduling phrases, such as “confirm,” “cancel,” and “reschedule,” as well as the less-than-obvious scheduling phrases, such as “I’ll be there,” “different time,” or “can’t make it.”

3. Improve medical call-center operations

Some patients prefer to speak to a live person to schedule appointments versus doing so online or via texting. By reducing call volume, you can improve the operations of your call center and dramatically improve patient scheduling.

Santa Monica Orthopaedic Group, for example, reduced call volume by 20 percent using WELL, allowing 85 percent of patients to reach a live person when they called to schedule an appointment.

4. Use data to identify trends and opportunities

In a Physician’s Weekly piece, healthcare consultant Judy Capko advises providers to use data to identify trends and causes of scheduling and patient-flow problems.

“This information is critical to digging deeper to evaluate specific incidences and determine what causes the bottlenecks and work-flow problems in your practice,” she said.

Data from patient scheduling software is a good place to start for tracking appointment times, arrival times, time to be seen by a physician, and other key metrics. Additionally, patient communication platforms may provide analytics on confirmation and no-show rates, and allow you to determine the ideal timing for sending messages.

5. Use broadcast messages to reach a group of patients

When a provider is sick or there is inclement weather, send a broadcast text message to all of the patients you have scheduled for that day. This will save your office staff hours worth of phone calls and will ensure patients arrive at their appointments at the right time.

Patient Nino Palmiro* was scheduled for a major surgery and received a text message from the hospital alerting him about construction in the area. Because of the alert, he left two hours ahead of time and arrived right on time.

“If I hadn’t received that text, I would have completely missed my surgery,” Palmiro said.

For Palmiro, the text was life saving. For the hospital, it prevented lost revenue. Rescheduling the surgery would have been costly. In 2021 alone, hospitals lost nearly $22.3 billion in revenue nationally due to the cancellation of elective surgeries, according to a Annals of Surgery study.

6. Use patient self-scheduling — especially to reschedule appointments

As many as 20 to 30 percent of patients cancel or reschedule their appointments. Calling patients to reschedule creates a lot of administrative work. Instead, implement a patient self-scheduling system that integrates with your patient communication platform. This way, when a patient texts, “I can’t make it,” the software can automatically suggest alternative open times.

7. Use automated patient recalls for scheduling patients in the future

You don’t want to schedule patients a year out from their annual screenings or physical exams. Instead of sending them a self-addressed appointment reminder card in the mail, use recalls sent in the patient’s preferred medium — texting, email, or phone. Ideally, the platform will integrate with your EMR to mark the recall as “scheduled” to close the loop.

8. Use a referral appointments system for patient scheduling

When your specialist offices receive a list of referrals, scheduling patients requires staff to call each patient individually. We know this can be quite time consuming. Instead, use a referral system that sends referred patients a message asking them if they would like to schedule an appointment. This way, your staff can save time by following up only with the patients who actually intend to complete the referral. With WELL, the scheduled patients will automatically receive appointment reminders — reducing no-shows and keeping your office staff free to do what they do best: care for patients.

WELL leverages technology to improve patient scheduling. It is a fully integrated patient communication platform that enables enterprise health systems, private practices, and vendors to communicate with patients securely across any channel, including text messaging, email, telephone, and live-chat.

*name changed to protect patient identity

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