What Hospitals Should Know about Patient Appointment Scheduling

by | Last updated Jun 26, 2023 | Published on Apr 3, 2019 | Appointment Scheduling

Patient Appointment Scheduling
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Long wait times can be a major factor for patient dissatisfaction in healthcare. It could have a negative impact on their healthcare experience and may lead to a negative online review. Poor management of patient appointment scheduling in hospitals is a key factor that leads to longer wait times for patients. According to the 9th Annual Vitals Wait Time Report that reviewed the state of patient wait times,

  • 84% of respondents stated that a reasonable wait time was somewhat or very important to a quality patient experience
  • 30% of respondents said they have left appointments because of long wait time

The report also highlighted that while the average wait time for five-star hospitals is about 13 minutes, for one-star hospitals the average wait time is just over 34 minutes.

Physician shortage can also drive wait times, delaying patient access to care. Wait times will also differ based on geographic locations -in Milwaukee patients have to wait 14 minutes for their doctor’s appointment, while in Texas it is under 27 minutes. Long wait times can be defined as those greater than 30 days. Online appointment scheduling tools are now available to help manage patient intake and ensure appointments are not double-booked or inefficiently scheduled.

Open-access Scheduling Helps

Open-access scheduling practices help doctors create more same-day appointments and thus maintain a strict timeline. Many leading healthcare practices have met success with this open access. An AAFP article has discussed the success story of The Mayo Clinic’s Primary Care Pediatric/Adolescent Medicine team. With open access scheduling, the team reduced the wait time for routine appointments from 45 days to within two days, reduced the number of daily visits on average, also all of the physicians were equally successful in working down their appointment backlog. At the same time, the Alaska Native Medical Center was able to reduce their wait time for routine appointments in family medicine and pediatrics from over 30 days to one day and they have increased the percentage of patients who matched with their own physician, from 28% to 75%.

Unnecessary appointments can be reduced to a great extent by making the most of a singular appointment and scheduling follow-up appointments judiciously via phone calls, email, and secure messaging. Many providers also install appointment scheduling software to make the care process easier and more convenient. However, what remains a concern is when practice managers should remind patients about their upcoming appointments.

3-3-3 Reminder Strategy

A recent AAPC blog highlighted the data from 20 million appointments collected by Solution Reach which found that a reminder sent immediately after making the appointment has little effect on the patient arriving for the appointment. Instead, this survey recommends a 3-3-3 reminder strategy.

First Reminder – Three Weeks Ahead of the Appointment

The survey has proven that when the message is sent three weeks prior to the appointment, there is a higher confirmation rate of 79% that the patient will be keeping the appointment. It was noted that

  • The reminder given one week before the appointment only resulted in a 73.3% confirmation rate
  • Reminder given two weeks prior to the appointment resulted in 77.7 % patients confirming their appointments, and
  • 6% patients confirmed their appointments for a reminder given four weeks before the appointment

Second Reminder – Three Days Ahead of the Appointment

After providing the first message three weeks ahead, the patient probably will be ready to meet his/her doctor. By sending the second reminder in 3 days, the patient will be able to know if any change needs to be made in the actual appointment date. Within those three days, the patient can make arrangements like changing any other schedules and getting time off from work for the appointment.

Third Reminder – Three Hours Ahead of the Appointment

After a reminder sent three days before appointment, the third reminder given hours before consultation prompts the patient to actually attend his/her already-confirmed appointment. In case the patient has forgotten the appointment, this message would help them to reschedule their plans and reach the doctor at the last minute, and not to cancel their appointment.

Implementing this type of three-step reminder strategy can reduce patient no shows. Professional medical billing companies assist practices in streamlining their appointment scheduling process with standard appointment times and categorization of appointments as personal, seeing a care team member, or with an un-established patient. They make use of interfaces that are easy-to-use and help patients view all available appointments.

Julie Clements

Julie Clements, OSI’s Vice President of Operations, brings a diverse background in healthcare staffing and a robust six-year tenure as the Director of Sales and Marketing at a prestigious 4-star resort.

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