8 Tips for Efficient Patient Scheduling

A good front line means a strong bottom line.


Patient scheduling is the front line of a medical practice. While on the surface it seems like a simple task, there is more to scheduling than filling in blank time slots. Good scheduling can increase patient flow by two or more patients per day, which means a stronger bottom line for your practice’s financial health.

Clinic-ology stresses using best practices throughout your entire practice and this starts when a patient calls to schedule. After all, every new patient appointment starts a new revenue opportunity. And since the majority of a typical healthcare practice’s expenses are set beforehand, it’s critical that patients are efficiently scheduled to maintain and optimize the revenue your practice generates.



This is a two-way street! Efficient and effective patient scheduling keeps your healthcare practice running smoothly, benefiting physician utilization while also potentially reducing patient wait times both for an appointment and when arriving at your clinic. And since a great patient experience can lead to patient referrals and retention, efficient patient scheduling can also help build your healthcare practice.


Every healthcare professional tasked with scheduling knows some patients will arrive a few minutes late. Other patients require immediate emergency attention. And appointments may frequently consume more minutes than scheduled. Any of these occurrences can throw off an entire day’s schedule. However, using best practices in scheduling can help mitigate delays, whatever time of day they occur.


Although you may not be able to control how on-time a patient is for an appointment or whether he shows up at all, there are steps you can take to help keep your patient schedule fluid and able to adapt to changes to get the schedule back on track.


1. Use a proven scheduling system. Since the patient schedule has such a big impact on productivity and efficiency, dedicating resources to develop and implement a good scheduling system makes sense. Once the scheduling process is in place, staff training on the new system is critical. Many practices find computerized scheduling is more efficient than a manual system. However, if you decide to transition to a computerized system or upgrade the one currently in place, be sure to establish scheduling guidelines and policies before you switch or upgrade.


2. Group appointment types.

Organizing appointments by type — flu vaccinations is one prime example — can increase efficiency, revenue and physician and patient satisfaction.

  • First, pull the range of appointment types your practice used in the last 60 days to understand the specific appointment types needed. Include the Comments/Notes sections when used for more precise information.

  • Then, have the entire practice team review all appointment types and agree on the most important type per physician or provider.

  • Finally, assign one scheduler to update appointment types in the system for future patient scheduling.

3. Prioritize appointments.

Since patient visits vary in how much time and level of care is needed, both should be considered when scheduling patients. You may find many patient issues can be addressed with a phone call or email and don’t need to be scheduled at all. The team member who handles incoming calls should evaluate each one to determine whether the patient issue requires a visit or can be addressed by a nurse call. This will help ensure that the patients needing the highest level of care have greater access to same-day appointments, when needed. This also helps revenue since treating more complicated or significant medical concerns increases the profitability of your practice


4. Confirm appointments.

For solo and small group practices, confirming appointments is time consuming but necessary. However, if staff coverage doesn’t extend to confirming all appointments, narrow the kinds of appointments to confirm — usually appointments for new patients or for those requiring large time blocks. And since every practice wants to avoid no-show patients, consider using all the patient reminder tools available, including automation. Text, email and telephone should all be used to confirm appointments. After all, a missed appointment is a missed opportunity to generate revenue.


5. Use noon as your schedule starting point.

Establishing 12 p.m. as your scheduling standard results in optimal productivity. Schedule morning appointments from noon backward, and schedule afternoon appointments from noon forward. This helps ensure that the majority of the day is scheduled out, without gaps that may be difficult to match with patient availability. If early morning or late afternoon slots remain unfilled, schedule staff meetings or training for those times, or allow hourly staff to arrive later or leave earlier thereby reducing costs.


6. Create a wait list.

Maintaining an appointment waiting list keeps a practice on its toes and ready to fill slots vacated by late cancellations. The waiting list should be easily accessible and include the reason for the appointment, along with all patient contact methods. Automation allows for a mass notification to be sent out to an entire wait list as soon as an unexpected opening occurs. Significantly quicker than grabbing the phone and calling down the wait list, a mass notification asks the patient to call the office if she is available to fill the vacated appointment, so your front office team is not tied to the phone.


7. Allow patients to schedule or re-schedule appointments online.

Studies show that the average time for scheduling an appointment by phone is eight minutes. That time can quickly add up throughout the day. Implementing an on-line system where patients schedule their own appointments can help fill lingering open slots, especially since over one-quarter of appointments self-scheduled online are for the same or the next day. However, online scheduling is new to healthcare, and while it offers greater convenience on both the practice and patient ends, it may affect the ability to group appointment types. If your healthcare practice decides to try online scheduling, consider all the features your practice requires before choosing an online scheduling platform.


8. Take advantage of technology.

There are many software platforms available to assist healthcare practices with nearly everything, including scheduling. However, selecting the appropriate scheduling platform takes care. Will your practice use it mainly as appointment reminders? Or should it also allow patients to schedule their own appointments through a web-based front-end portal? Incorporating technology into patient scheduling workflows allows clinicians and front office staff to focus more on a greater patient experience and makes it easier for patients to cancel ahead of time. It can also help patients to stay on target with care plans.


Clinic-ology adheres to best practices in patient scheduling — and all processes essential to healthcare practices. We can assist with staff training, both self-paced and as a team, or in selecting the scheduling processes and platforms that best fits your practice size and patient list.



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