Patient scheduling is challenging. In many ways, it’s part science and part art. The goal is to maximize the productivity and utilization rates of clinicians, doctors and staff. But this important function also drives revenue and makes patient care more accessible. Effective patient scheduling decreases how long patients wait before they receive the care they need and maintains employee satisfaction among healthcare professionals.
Healthcare providers should remember that scheduling issues will never go away. There will always be something that goes wrong, such as last-minute cancellations or staff callouts. However, effective scheduling can improve patient satisfaction in all areas of patients’ engagement with a healthcare organization. To improve patient scheduling, find ways to boost productivity while lowering wait times. [Related article: How to Open a Medical Practice]
Choosing high-quality medical software, specifically front- and back-office medical technology such as medical practice management software (PMS), improves your daily patient scheduling. There’s a lot of attention toward patient-facing technology innovations but other advancements — particularly cloud-based healthcare information technology platforms — now facilitate and optimize the daily management of a healthcare facility.
With patient preregistration, medical software can collect important patient data before a patient even comes into the office. Additionally, smart features, such as automated insurance-eligibility protocols check to ensure a patient’s insurance remains valid before services are rendered. Patients can even fill out intake forms via a secure patient portal before coming in for their appointment. The result is reduced wait times and less crowding in waiting rooms.
Digital approaches also promote the archival needs of professional healthcare facilities. These tools empower office staff to organize and search for records without sifting through filing cabinets. Instead, medical records are retained digitally in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations. They also enable data sharing across multiple facilities. For example, organizations with multiple locations can see easily which providers are available on which days by glancing at a shared calendar regardless of their facility’s location.
Digitizing the patient scheduling process also streamlines the accounts payable division by providing searchable, archival payment history and patient information. Patient scheduling apps provide quick access to patients’ medical histories in a manner similar to a light electronic health records (EHR) system at a fraction of the cost. This is especially helpful for smaller clinics.
Whether with EHR or smaller patient scheduling apps, these technologies balance the needs of scheduling with the back-end operational needs of the office. Patients are empowered to take the following actions themselves:
These tools also empower staff to quickly change or edit the scheduled appointments. For example, if a physician calls out sick, staff can log in and change appointment dates to another day for patients. Most systems can auto-generate messages alerting patients of these changes and staff can follow up with phone calls to affected patients as well. Additionally, these systems come equipped with organizational features that color-code and provide drag-and-drop capability. These functions render them easy to use and learn (and teach to new staff).
According to the Journal of Family Medicine and Disease Prevention, before the pandemic, patient no-show rates were as high as 55 percent in the United States. Most medical software includes tools that keep your patients prepared for their upcoming visits through easily accessible patient portals. Fewer cancellations mean you can see more patients and drive more revenue.
Echoing the statistics above about stemming the tide of no-show patients, a prepandemic prediction by Accenture projected that 38 percent of appointments would be self-scheduled by 2019. That metric was displaced by the pandemic, but it still illustrates the importance of technology — and the following best practices.
Late cancellations and no-show patients are a fact of life for healthcare offices. Maintaining a well-constructed and pruned waiting list of patients, however, makes a difference in mitigating the revenue and operational effects of this unpleasant occurrence. If appointment slots open up, you’ll be able to distribute those openings to patients waiting for treatment.
Ensure that all available blocks of time are scheduled back-to-back so providers can see as many patients as possible. Consecutive appointments reduce overhead costs and improve team member satisfaction by letting staff come in late or go home early on days with lighter appointment loads.
Workflow management includes the nuances of office activities, such as scheduling, enrolling new patients and medical billing and coding. These tasks are often defined by repetitive manual labor, which introduces the opportunity for human error.
Luckily, most of these tasks can be managed by modern technology to save time for staff and improve accuracy. Implement a centralized dashboard that aggregates all tasks into a single overview so leaders and managers can identify bottlenecks and opportunities to improve operations further.
Not every patient needs to come into the office. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine may be the new normal. By reserving in-person visits for patients who require a higher level of care, healthcare providers save time and streamline the scheduling process.
Many of our picks for the best medical software excel at schedule management. These include:
Patient scheduling is challenging. However, by leveraging automation and the tips and technologies outlined in this article, healthcare professionals can improve the patient scheduling process. At the very least, they can make it easier for all parties involved to get the care patients need while minimizing the overhead that can burden staff.
Max Freedman contributed to this article.