Quality of care is the first consideration when patients choose a healthcare facility, but a flexible and convenient patient experience has also become an important factor. Efficient and smooth patient appointment scheduling is one of the most important aspects of practice management and patient satisfaction. The pandemic has changed consumer expectations and patients are looking for a safe, efficient and convenient way to schedule appointments. Efficient patient scheduling also reduces no-shows, which can impact practice revenue.
The benefits of a well-organized patient appointment scheduling system are as follows:
Top-class appointment management software
Optimizes practice appointment management
Makes it easy to identify vacant slots
Minimizes no-shows and missed appointments
Flexible and convenient schedules
Optimizes physician time with the patient
Physicians and staff can access schedules any time and from anywhere
Manages specialist appointments and referrals
Ensure timely reminders and follow-up
Improves patient engagement and access by extending appointment scheduling hours
Easy to collect data to keep track of trends
Call center management: patients can call in to confirm or change their appointments
Eliminates record duplication
Here are six strategies for efficient patient scheduling:
Leverage Technology: Appointments can be confirmed by sending text or email messages. Patients can also be reminded about their scheduled visits through email, mobile app notifications or automated calendar reminders. Make sure that the automated texting works both ways so that patients can send replies. Automated notifications can include a reminder about the practice’s cancellation policy and fee. Responses to routine questions with keywords such as “confirm,” “cancel,” and “reschedule” can also be automated. Automation can reduce no-shows.
Prioritize Patients based on Urgency: Health needs vary in urgency. Higher priority should be given to patients with urgent needs, which means easing of rules so that they can schedule same-day or next-day appointments. Certain health issues like allergies or side effects of medication, don’t need a physical office visit and can be addressed through an online consultation. Patients can upload their complaints on the virtual platform and practice staff can evaluate the symptoms and schedule appointments for those who need an immediate consultation with a specialist.
Maintain an Active Waiting List: Creating an active patient waiting list is an effective way to minimize the effects of no-shows and cancellations. Patients can be sent notifications about vacant slots that open up so that those who want an earlier visit can schedule one. Slots that remain unfilled can be used to meet the requirement for same-day appointments that come up as the day progresses.
Keep Track of Trends: Identify patients who cancel their appointments frequently and why they do so. This can help schedule appointments to suit their convenience. Providing preferred time slots for prescheduled appointments can reduce no-shows and missed appointments. Tracking data can help adjust and schedule appointments at a time that will be more convenient for patients who tend to cancel often. Assessing data collected overtime can help you take steps to minimize patient wait times, reduce bottlenecks and improve care quality.
Consider Visit Duration: The time required for a visit would differ among patients depending on the seriousness of their condition and the level of care needed. For example, a standard wellness visit for a patient with multiple conditions would take longer than one for a person who is generally healthy. If your practice offers different treatments, fix time slots based on the duration needed for the treatment. In fact, considering these factors can help you determine when to schedule visit or whether it’s necessary to schedule it at all.
Patient Scheduling Services: When a patient fixes an appointment, administrative staff must handle the pre-registration which includes scheduling, insurance eligibility verification, and patient account establishment. Streamlining these process are the key to optimizing healthcare revenue cycle management. It is during the preregistration process that a patient account is created with medical histories and insurance coverage details. Outsourcing patient appointment scheduling to an experienced medical billing service provider is a viable option to manage these tasks efficiently. Equipped with advanced online software, a team of dedicated professionals will work with you to schedule appointments based on your requirements and manage appointment confirmation and re-scheduling. They can ensure a well-coordinated appointment scheduling process which can gain patient trust, boost practice efficiency, and positively impact the revenue cycle. Importantly, with experts handling this administrative function, you and your staff can focus on your core activities. Along with scheduling appointments, they also provide efficient support for insurance eligibility verification, claims processing, and denials management.
Today, AI-enabled software has set new standards for patient appointment scheduling. Advanced AI-enabled scheduling software can improve convenience for both patients and providers. AI can recognize patients with complex needs and determine their scheduling preferences and then either auto-schedules or recommends the most appropriate date and time, location, and provider. Optimized schedules can be set up for patients seeing more than on physician on the same day, saving time for both the patient and scheduling staff to schedule the next appointment.
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.
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.
While dealing with new patient appointment formalities, electronic medical records, or declining Medicare reimbursements, it may happen that the front office staff or physicians may not handle patient calls in a perfect way. Calls may even go unanswered. More and more hospitals are also relying on healthcare back office services such as call center support and insurance verification services to deal with such time consuming tasks. Patients phone their doctors for several reasons.
Some reasons include the following.
Patient appointments and directions – The call may be for patient appointment scheduling or to cancel the appointment. Often patients choose the 800 number as they are not sure to reach the concerned department directly. But if new appointment calls are placed on hold for a long time or routed incorrectly, there are chances for them to hang up and go on to the next hospital. Staff attending calls must be trained to first understand the root of the problem. Smooth handling of these calls can help prevent patient leakage to providers outside your network.
Medical emergency situations – Emergency call handling requires special training for staffs. In emergency situations, patients expect a quick answer and the appropriate action from the hospital. The representative who attends the call must be able to immediately understand the situation and must be capable of providing a solution – call an ambulance, direct the patient to the emergency room or urgent care facility, or refer them to a physician’s office. The right response in such critical situations can safeguard patient’s health, which builds loyalty and a better opinion about the practice.
Free clinical advice – Patients who are not up to date with the current healthcare system may regularly call the hospital for free clinical advice. Even if such calls are not emergencies, the staff must handle the call in a perfect way and find a solution for the patient’s needs – whether it deserves physician’s visit or whether to route the call. Referrals to physicians may help secure new patients, resulting in long-term revenue.
Another major reason for patient calls can also be regarding the type of insurance plans your hospital accepts. Well-trained patient access representatives can use such calls to verify eligibility and authorization up front, and this will help to avoid claim denials later.
What Needs to Be Taken Care of?
Patient wait times
Patient call recording capabilities
Ongoing coaching and training to your staff
Just like outsourcing medical billing tasks, most healthcare centers also outsource their patient call center function to reduce the challenges of handling phone calls and improve patient satisfaction. Professional support can help facilities reduce cancellations, improve call response time and call routing accuracy, improve patient satisfaction and loyalty, increase reimbursements and staff productivity.
Several reports also suggest that hospitals calling patients after discharge is a good quality improvement and patient satisfaction strategy. It also helps hospitals identify areas that need improvement and help them ensure care continuity and safety to patients even after they have left the hospital.
A new study by Rutgers researchers has found that patients are more likely to get their influenza vaccine when medical appointment scheduling is done by the physician’s office. In other words, asking patients to schedule their own appointments does not work as well as if their doctor did it for them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older – with few exceptions – get their annual flu vaccination. According to the CDC, flu-related hospitalizations since 2010 ranged from 140,000 to 710,000, while there were an estimated 12,000 to 56,000 flu-related deaths. About 20,000 children under age five are hospitalized each year because of influenza complications, with cases leading to death. These estimates indicate the importance of getting vaccinated.
The Rutgers study, which was published in the journal Behavioral Science and Policy, was based on an evaluation of 886 patients at a medical practice. The patients were put in the three groups in order to assess the vaccination rates for viral influenza. The study found that:
16 percent of the patients who had appointments made for them showed up for the vaccine
Only 5 percent of those who were asked to make their own appointments showed up for the shots
Only 2 percent of those who got no instructions kept their appointment.
Vaccination rates for viral influenza increased three times when physicians take a proactive stance and pre-schedule flu shots for patients.
The researchers also found that pre-scheduling did not attract patients to the doctor’s office who were planning to get vaccinated at work or at their local pharmacy. The most effective strategy to encourage more people to show up for their flu shot and reduce the risks of influenza was to get the physician’s office to do the patient appointment scheduling.
There are four types of influenza viruses – A, B, C and D – for which physicians recommend annual vaccination. In the U.S., human influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics of disease during winter. Influenza type C infections usually cause a mild respiratory illness. Influenza D viruses primarily affect cattle. As the virus keeps modifying genetically, flu vaccines are needed every year. For the 2016-2017 season, the CDC recommends use of injectable flu vaccines – inactivated influenza vaccine (or IIV) or the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV).
Last year, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health found that many parents have negative beliefs about flu vaccine. The survey found that fifty-nine percent of parents whose child did not receive the flu vaccine said it was less important than other childhood vaccines. Experts say that health care providers can play an important role in addressing parents’ negative perceptions and fully explain importance of the flu vaccine for children. The Rutgers study’s findings go further by highlighting the importance of physician led medical appointment scheduling to increase vaccination rates. Today, busy practitioners can rely on experienced outsourcing companies to manage this important but time-consuming task of managing patient appointments online.
With the shift to value-based care, the focus is on increasing patient engagement and satisfaction. Efficient medical appointment scheduling plays a key role in increasing patient access to healthcare and optimizing resource utilization in medical practices.
Patient Appointment Scheduling – What Physicians Should Know
Scheduling appointments should be a smooth process for patients who need access to in-person care. According to the Karo-sponsored 2014 Great American Survey, many practices mentioned patient satisfaction and patient growth as priorities. However, it was found that many providers have not been successful in improving the use of tools in these areas, especially for online scheduling. Physicians need to reassess their processes and make changes to meet patient needs. In fact, efficient online medical appointment scheduling is one of easiest ways to improve patient satisfaction and growth, and reduce manual tasks in physician practices.
Health IT Analytics recently reported on how the uneven utilization of the hematology-oncology clinic of Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina posed problems for providers as well as patients. The facility used big data analytics to develop predictable schedules and reduce frustrating delays for patients. Lack of a proper patient scheduling process had led to many issues:
The popular 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM window for appointments was full, though many of the 43 treatment chairs in the infusion center would remain unused at other hours of the day
Resources were stressed to the maximum during peak hours, increasing stress among pharmacists and nurses
Patients faced inordinate delays in getting care
The result was that staff members had few patients to care for and little to do during the rest of the working day. The hematology-oncology clinic eventually found the solution by employing advanced software to analyze its big data and using the results to improve its existing patient scheduling procedures. They achieved better utilization of resources by maintaining their appointment rate throughout the day. Staff is less harried and the pharmacy can handle requests in a timelier manner. Most important, patients got timelier treatment.
Outsourcing Solutions for Patient Appointment Scheduling Challenges
Busy signals, technological glitches, or difficulty in finding a time suitable for themselves and the provider – these some of the issues that patients may face when they call a provider’s front desk to make an appointment. Patient appointment scheduling services are a feasible option to address these challenges. Companies that offer these services utilize advanced online appointment scheduling software that allows patients to select appointments with their preferred providers, schedules visits for multiple doctors/facilities, confirm scheduled visits quickly, reschedule visits, get email notifications, and much more.
Such solutions are win-win situation for both patients and providers. Patients can see the right specialist for their specific problems and practices can improve resource utilization, improve access to care, and provide patients with customized solutions.