3 Easy Steps to Revamp Your Appointment Scheduling System

Your practice is already operating at capacity. Every day’s schedule is jam-packed with appointments—and new patients, reschedules, and same-day emergencies. Once the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014, it’s quite likely that your practice will start seeing even more new patients. So with a potential patient load increase on the horizon, will your office schedule be able to accommodate everyone?

Before you decide to make a major change, such as add a provider to your practice or stop accepting new patients, consider a simpler solution—modifying your appointment process. Beyond the actual technology and software requirements, your practice needs a clear system for prioritizing its patients. And your staff must be trained to follow that process in order to make scheduling easier for everyone.

With just a bit of thoughtful analysis and staff preparation on your part, revamping your appointment-scheduling system can be completed in three simple steps:

1. Evaluate Your Current Process

Communicate with your staff members who book the appointments and gather their insights about the current system. What works well? What frustrations do they experience?

Then to help you pinpoint your particular scheduling issues, have your front office staff supply each patient with a time log when he or she checks in. Nurses and medical assistants should note start and end times, as well as the type of visit, on each patient’s sheet during the appointment. After collecting these sheets for a week, you’ll have a better sense of how much time to allocate per appointment.

In addition, you should ask your staff to track the number of emergency or same-day appointments, as well as any no-shows or last-minute cancellations each day. These occurrences may be monitored for a week to establish an initial frame of reference. But you may also want to monitor them on an ongoing basis so you can reevaluate your scheduling process over time.

2. Create a Realistic Timetable

Squeezing a longer appointment into a too-short time slot will put you and your staff behind schedule. Based on your recent appointment evaluations, set reasonable time periods for each type of appointment—new-patient visits, follow-ups, procedures, and so on—as well as a minimum length for all types of appointments.

Meet with your employees and review the amount of time that should be allocated for each type of patient visit. Make sure your scheduling software allows you to block off your minimum appointment length, and then advise your staff to adjust the default times for specific types of appointments as needed. And to encourage staff compliance with these new guidelines, point out how adhering to the appropriate times will keep your patients happy and benefit everyone’s workflow.

3. Urge Staff to Schedule Emergency Appointments Wisely

Based on your daily average number of emergency appointments and cancellations, block off a chunk of time within each day’s schedule for same-day visits. For example, if you average three emergency appointments and one last-minute cancellation per day, then you should set aside two open time slots per day for same-day patients. And it’s a good idea to block these off at the end of the day. That way if those time slots aren’t filled on any given day, you can wrap up the workday earlier.

Make sure your staff understands that these open times are for emergency appointments only and cannot be filled until that day or after a designated time on the previous day (such as 4 p.m.). Routine patient appointments should be scheduled for a future date.

Clearly communicating these changes—and their benefits—helps the whole office run more smoothly and work as a unified front when it comes to scheduling appointments. Revamping the process now will allow you the freedom and flexibility to take on new patients whenever the opportunity arises.


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