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.
Make patient scheduling a priority
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.
However, 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. But these all add work to your already overburdened office staff.
Instead, leverage technology to improve patient scheduling without adding to your 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 truly bidirectional functionality — when you’re texting patients, make sure they can text you back. Also, if you’re sending a confirming appointment email, use two-way email so patients can reply.
Riverside Medical Clinic, the largest physician-owned practice in California, implemented WELL’s two-way appointment reminder system. In just one month they saw a 33 percent reduction in no shows along with an increase in appointment confirmations to an impressive 94.5 percent.
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 to 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 rather than to schedule doctor appointments online or via text messaging. Improving the operations of your call center by reducing call volume can dramatically improve patient scheduling.
Santa Monica Orthopaedic Group 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 an article for Physicians Practice, healthcare consultant Judy Capko advised providers to use data to identify trends and the root cause 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 include 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 patient appointments you have scheduled for the day. This saves your office staff a couple hours of phone calls and ensures patients arrive at their appointments on time.
Patient Nino Palmiro* was scheduled for a major surgery and received a text message from the hospital alerting him to 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. Every hour of unused operating room time costs roughly $3600 in 2018.
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 referral appointments system for patient scheduling
When your specialist offices receive a list of referrals, scheduling patients requires staff to call each patient individually — time consuming to say the least. Instead, use a referrals system that sends all 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 as well, 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