One of the many services that medical billing and coding companies offer, patient appointment scheduling aims to create a more efficient patient experience and ease workflow for physicians.

Patient scheduling is not an easy task: the main challenge is how to schedule the number of patient appointments using special time slots based on fluctuations in patients and patient treatment times. If too few patients are allotted to a time slot, medical resources will remain unused. On the other hand, if too many patients are assigned to a time slot, some patients will be forced to wait. Thus, lack of proper coordination affects both providers and patients. Optimizing a practice’s appointment schedule is necessary to improve provider productivity and revenue, and boost patient satisfaction. Here are some tips to improve patient scheduling:

    • Track data to detect trends: Medical scheduling software allows you to track patients from arrival to departure and receive real-time updates on co-pays and cancellations. Studying trends will provide a better idea of specific scheduling and patient flow problems. Physicians Practice recommends analyzing two weeks of data to identify trends and key reasons for scheduling and patient-flow problems that affect practice workflow. Examining scheduling patterns will reveal the time each patient spent in the office vs. length of the appointment, how many patients were booked within a day before their visit, how many were double-booked, and where the physician fell behind schedule and the reasons for this.
    • Fix a baseline: Practices need to fix a baseline as to what they consider “on schedule”. Patient wait time is an important indicator of whether things are going according to schedule – whether work flow is efficient, space utilization is optimal, or patient service is affected.
    • Schedule appointments consecutively: Experts recommend scheduling morning appointments from noon backward and afternoon appointments from noon forward. This can help minimize the number of empty appointment slots over the day. If morning or afternoon slots are vacant, these can be used for some other productive activity as holding staff meetings.
    • Prioritize appointments: Not all patient issues require face-to-face time with a provider and can be addressed via a phone consultation or email. Prioritizing appointments will ensure that only patients who need the highest level of care can schedule same-day appointments if needed. Some longer slots can be reserved for patients with multiple care issues.  This strategy will also increase the number of appointments that drive revenue.
    • Send out reminders: Appointment reminders can help minimize no-shows. In fact, good communication promotes patient satisfaction and prevents empty slots in practice schedules. Options to send out reminders include automated reminder systems, text messages or email. Automated systems for confirmation enable patients to cancel or make a request to reschedule. Patients also need to be made aware of the practice’s cancellation policy and fee for missed appointments, if any.
    • Extend office hours: Extending office hours to accommodate more appointment time slots. Factors to consider include:
      • The method used to schedule patients
      • The type of patients who will be seen during extended hours – new or just established patients
      • Whether some appointment slots will be left open to ensure same-day access
      • Whether there is sufficient support staff to facilitate the additional hours and the additional costs involved
    • Double booking: Double booking must be handled carefully. Adding just a few patients a day is acceptable and manageable. But if it gets out of hand, this strategy can lead to heavy backlogs at the end of the day. Better utilizing other members of the care team can help physicians see more patients. For instance, nurses can be trained to take on more clinical-support responsibilities.

The patient appointment scheduling solutions offered by experienced medical billing companies enhance the patient experience, decrease no-show rates, and improve practices’ return on investment. Efficient appointment scheduling also improves care coordination and convenience for the patient and provider, minimizes waiting times, reduces non-compliance, and improves patient retention.