5 Best Practices for Effective Patient Scheduling

Blog Posts  |  14 February 2024

Written by: Paul Wiley, Vice President, Veradigm Provider Sales and Co-Founder/CEO of Opargo

It is crazy for me to wrap my mind around, but I have spent the majority of my 20+ year career focused on scheduling – one of the most expected but least understood aspects of any analog or online experience. Having run technology driven scheduling solutions for airlines, hotels, cars, trains, car service dealerships and healthcare practices, I’m always amazed by the required balance of complexity and ease of use to deliver an excellent customer experience. And no matter the industry, scheduling is hard. But healthcare patient scheduling takes it to another level!

The Operational Difficulties of Patient Scheduling

Patient scheduling can be one of the most challenging aspects of healthcare operations management. Patient needs range from preventive visits to chronic healthcare management to urgent issues requiring immediate attention. And while we think calling an office or going online for an appointment is no big deal, things like who is the optimal provider for this visit, when is the right time for a type of treatment, insurance verification, when was the most recent visit, are there pre-visit or post-visit requirements that need to be coordinated, and so much more.

These are just a few of the factors that make it expensive and inefficient for staff to handle scheduling manually. Staff shortages exacerbate the issue: According to the 2022 MGMA DataDive Practice Operations report, practices face significant difficulties hiring and retaining key patient-facing and clinical support staff. This is why online scheduling in healthcare is so critical today.

Fortunately, advanced scheduling solutions are available to help practices better manage patient intake, enhancing their ability to see patients in a timely manner while avoiding double-booked appointments and dealing efficiently with cancellations and no-shows.

The Importance of Improved Patient Scheduling

Improved patient scheduling is critical due to its who and what it impacts – patients and their ability to receive the care they need.

The causes of poor patient access are numerous. Between post-COVID staff shortages and surging patient demand, only 24% of medical groups managed to improve patient access in 2023; 38% reported that patient access had worsened. These findings come despite notable efforts from practices to improve the situation. According to an October 2022 MGMA Stat Poll, 66% of medical groups added or improved their patient self-service tools in 2022, and 59% of those who hadn’t done so were considering upgrades for the coming year.

In addition, the latest American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) report on physician supply and demand predicts severe physician shortages over the next 15 years—predicting a shortage of 37,800 to 124,00 providers by 2034. This shortage will be due, in part, to a growing population of patients aged 65 and older, a group that is steadily requiring more, as well as more complex, care. Another factor is the aging physician workforce, which includes more and more physicians nearing retirement age.

Whatever the cause, longer patient wait times clearly have a negative effect on patient experience. Longer wait times can negatively impact the patient’s condition. Most importantly, delays in patient access can negatively impact patient health outcomes.

How can practices address this pressing—and growing—need? One significant pathway to improving patient access is by improving patient scheduling. Keep reading to learn how!

5 Best practices for patient scheduling

1. Prioritize patient appointments

Forecasting which patients have the greatest need to be seen is an invaluable strategy for improving patient scheduling. By utilizing artificial intelligence and predictive analytics in your scheduling process, you can take the guesswork out of forecasting. These tools allow you to identify which patients might need more care, or even require the unpredictable care more commonly needed by younger and older patient populations. You can then proactively adjust your practice’s scheduling time blocks to ensure you can accommodate predicted patient volumes.

2. Implement patient self-scheduling options

While phone-based medical appointment booking generally takes more than 8 minutes. Self-scheduling also gives patients the digital convenience they desire, allowing them to book appointments when convenient, even outside regular business hours. The result is improved patient access, improved patient satisfaction—and improved patient retention for your practice. And this is no longer a “nice to have” feature of a practice. Patients are going elsewhere for care if they can’t quickly and easily book an appointment online with a provider.

3. Utilize wait lists to fill gaps

Maintaining a wait list for practice services helps your practice to fill scheduling gaps due to cancellations or patient no-shows. This provides opportunities to offer earlier appointments to higher-priority patients—getting patients seen more quickly, improving patient access, and improving practice revenue.

4. Use an automated patient recall program

Patient scheduling software can help practices send automatic, personalized reminders to patients for routine care appointments. An automated patient recall program can generate more patient appointments, filling the practice schedule while simultaneously working toward improved patient outcomes. And this is done without the need of manual report pulls or phone calls by practice staff.

5. Track appointment metrics

When selecting and setting up patient self-scheduling tools, it’s essential to choose a solution with robust analytics that can monitor and analyze scheduling activity over time. Such tools can allow the practice to track workflows and tailor them to evolving patient needs. Some potential scheduling KPIs to consider for evaluation include:

  • Patient wait time as related to different symptoms
  • Daily no-shows and schedule churn
  • Practice and provider utilization according to resource type

Benefits of improved patient scheduling

Improving patient scheduling can benefit both patients and practices.

Practice benefits

Improved scheduling helps practices provide more timely patient care. Timeliness in care—defined as the ability to provide care in a timely manner after identifying a healthcare need—is one of the top categories of healthcare outcome measurements used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). This is because scheduling difficulties, and the associated lack of timely care, can negatively impact patient safety. Research shows that timely care delivery can help reduce morbidity and mortality for chronic conditions as well.

Practices also benefit from improved scheduling because it enables better resource use, helping maximize productivity. Widespread staff shortages mean practices have to do more with less, and manual scheduling is inefficient. Manual scheduling processes demand precious staff time, requiring hours every week for scheduling and confirming appointments and returning patient calls and emails.

On the other hand, online scheduling automates numerous administrative tasks, saving staff time by decreasing the burden of required phone calls and data. Automation can improve workflows and patient communication and even help offset staff shortages. It gives practice staff more time to focus on patients.

Patient benefits

Practices that offer patients online, digital, self-service scheduling options can provide a better patient experience as well as improving staff efficiency.

More than that, online scheduling is what today’s patients want! Online scheduling is a familiar option for most patient-consumers in today’s retail- and technology-driven world. According to a recent Experian Health report, 76% of patients surveyed said the most important digital service practices could provide was the ability to book appointments online or via a mobile device.

Online scheduling can meet patient expectations for a convenient, digital-first experience. Among Gen X respondents, 64% said they would switch providers to gain access to online scheduling. 58% of Millennial respondents agreed.

Unlike manual scheduling, online scheduling gives patients access to book appointments 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If a patient cancels a previously booked appointment, the newly opened time slot becomes available to other patients in near real-time, helping to minimize scheduling gaps.

Potential revenue benefits

Patient scheduling is one of the most important practice tasks—but it is also one of the most time-consuming when performed manually. Disorganized patient scheduling can eat staff time and drive up practice costs; however, efficient patient scheduling can help practices maximize revenue.

Too often, inefficient scheduling also results in schedule gaps, leading to wasted resources and lost revenue. One study estimated that 67,000 no-shows cost healthcare practices about $7 million, or about $105 each. To prevent reduced operational efficiency and reduced revenue, practices must account for empty schedule slots daily or weekly. Increasing scheduling efficiency can help a practice operate with a better-filled schedule.

Scheduling automation can also identify and recall patients for needed care, recapture canceled appointments, and increase patient access—increasing the number of scheduled appointments and leading to greater revenue.

Veradigm Predictive Scheduler

Predictive Scheduler from Veradigm is an advanced scheduling system that combines artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to help your practice forecast patients with more pressing needs. Predictive Scheduler then creates a schedule that prioritizes patient visits, helping ensure appointments for those with pressing needs while working to minimize the impact on other scheduled patients. This powerful solution can transform operational inefficiencies, paving the way to providing high-quality care and improving patient outcomes.

With Predictive Scheduler, your practice can:

  • Increase scheduling efficiency
  • Improve patient care
  • Increase practice revenue

To see how your practice’s schedule might be optimized, contact Veradigm for an Optimization Readiness analysis. Veradigm Optimization Readiness assesses 12 to 24 months of practice and provider historical data to provide insights into improving scheduling inefficiencies, showing how Veradigm Predictive Scheduler could benefit your practice. Contact us today!

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