Knowing how to streamline patient appointment scheduling benefits both health care providers and patients. It allows an office to run efficiently, manage a steady flow of appointments, and provide excellent experiences for patients.
So if you are running a health care office, use these tips to improve your scheduling practices and usher more happy patients through your doors.
Offer Multiple Scheduling Options
Streamlining your appointment process begins with making it easy for your patients to schedule. Don’t restrict your clients to only one scheduling method as different people prefer different communication tools.
- Offer online scheduling. When patients schedule online, it decreases the stress on human resources in an office. So make it easy for patients to sign up for and use patient portals to schedule and manage their appointments.
- Prepare for scheduling calls. Even with the rise of digital platforms, many people still prefer to call a business to schedule or get information. (Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University found that patient portals did not decrease the number of incoming calls to healthcare practices.) Don’t rely solely on digital schedulers and be prepared to manage incoming calls.
- Provide in-office appointment kiosks. Give patients the power to schedule their appointments on their own while in your office. Use interactive signs or touch-screen kiosks to allow patients to schedule their appointments in your waiting room.
- Schedule multiple appointments at once. If patient or client is going to need multiple appointments, don’t wait to schedule. Streamline patient appointment scheduling by planning ahead and scheduling right away so there is less back-and-forth between your office and the client.
Send Patients Scheduling and Intake Emails
Once a patient makes an appointment, make it easy for them to remember and prepare for it.
- Send welcome and reminder emails. When patients schedule, ask for their email address and immediately send a message with the details of the appointment. Also, set an automated series that will send a reminder 3-5 days before and on the day of the appointment.
- Send forms and paperwork. In your welcome email, include copies of the forms and paperwork patients will need to have upon their arrival. This better prepares patients and leads to a more streamlined intake process when they arrive.
- Advise on what to bring to the appointment. In the welcome and reminder email, also include a list of what the patient needs to bring. Advise them on bringing standard information (health insurance cards, ID, etc.) as well as materials or information specific to their appointment (glasses, medical devices, health records, etc.).
TIP: Email is a great tool for following up with clients because it can be automated. But it is still a good idea to call and remind patients about their appointments a day or two before the scheduled date.
Create Clear Patient Scheduling Policies
To streamline patient appointment scheduling, you need to have policies that allow you to stay on schedule and avoid gaps and rescheduling.
- Create strict policies that deter last minute cancellations and late arrivals. Set up medical appointment scheduling guidelines and policies that include penalties for patients who arrive late or cancel.
- Tell patients policies when they schedule. As soon as a patient schedules an appointment, let them know about your policies. Don’t rush through the details. Be clear about the policies and how they work.
- Repeat policies during appointment reminders. In both your reminder calls and emails, restate the cancellation policy so patients are well aware of the penalties for canceling and showing up late.
Keep Your Staff On the Same Page
Good communication with your patients will help you streamline patient appointment scheduling, and so will strong communication with your staff.
- Use a standardized system. Document a patient scheduling process so your staff knows exactly how to work the system. Set clear guidelines for appointment durations, provider availability, and emergency appointment requests.
- Assign a primary appointment scheduler. It may help to have one or two people trained on the system to act as primary schedulers. This mitigates the risk of errors in scheduling processes.
- Track room availability. Internal communication can streamline patient appointment scheduling and management. Use digital signage to track a patient’s status (waiting, in exam room, with doctor, etc.) so the entire team can easily see what is happening in the office at any time.
Keep Patient Waiting Time Down
A waiting room filled with patients will prevent a healthcare office from having a streamlined scheduling process. As appointments run later and later throughout the day, it creates problems for both staff and patients, so you must keep waiting times down.
- Don’t double book. While it might be tempting to plan ahead for no-shows, avoid overbooking. Use your scheduling policy as a means to decrease cancellations, and as a standard, only book as many clients as you can see in a given amount of time.
- Schedule according to anticipated appointment time. Depending on patient need, some appointments will take longer than others. Familiarize your team with the amount of time that is needed for specific appointment types. And, do your best to set aside the appropriate amount of time for appointments instead of scheduling each appointment for the same amount of time.
- Leave time for emergency appointments. Leave open appointments in your calendar so you can be available for emergency appointments. This allows you to not overload providers while still being available for patients who have last minute needs.
TIP: There will be situations when decreasing patient wait times is out of your control. In those situations, ensure that your waiting room is designed to decrease perceived wait time so the wait feels shorter for patients.
Make It Easier on the Providers
Having providers who are not overbooked and overworked will help you streamline patient appointment scheduling. So, do what you can to make the schedule easier on providers.
- Group similar patients or appointment types. If you work in an office where patients regular visit for the same need, group them together. It’s easier for a provider to perform five physicals in one afternoon than switch thought-processes to see five patients in a row who all have different needs.
- Schedule downtime. Don’t overload providers with so many appointments that they never have time for a break. Leave time for rests between appointments.
- Factor in a provider’s out-of-office time. When a provider is going to be out of the office, don't just note the calendar on the days they are gone. Make a note in the weeks leading up to and the weeks after their time-off. This allows you to schedule follow-up appointments at times that work for both the provider and their patients.
Improve patient appointment scheduling and provide better overall experiences at your office.
The patient appointment scheduling systems outlined in this post will make life easier on your patients and staff. But these medical appointment scheduling tips are just one way that you can improve patient perception and develop lasting relationships.
Learn even more ways to impress patients by downloading our free ebook on providing exceptional experiences during the entire outpatient process.