How to Improve Patient Access with Same-Day Scheduling

When people are sick, they want to see their doctors ASAP. But what if your schedule is booked from the minute your office opens until the minute it closes—or perhaps it even extends into after hours? If you’re constantly double-booked, working late, or running behind, what can you do to improve patient access?

It’s a strategy that’s been around for over a decade, but advanced-access scheduling could be just the answer. This model (also called open-access, same-day, or patient-centered scheduling) is tricky to implement successfully, so read on to find out how it works—and how to make it work for you.

How Same-Day Scheduling Works

Advanced access simply means that your office staff will offer patients an appointment on the same day they call, regardless of whether the reason for their visit is routine, urgent, or preventative. The main rule you must follow is “Do today’s work today.”

The two primary elements of this model are continuity and capacity. Under this system, patients are able to see their own physicians instead of being bumped to a different provider. And the physician’s schedule has room to accommodate patients’ needs, rather than starting off the day completely booked as soon as he or she walks in the door.

The Benefits of Same-Day Scheduling

When you have delays and long wait times, your patients’ quality of care and satisfaction plummets. And more staff resources must be focused on managing the backlog and triaging patients. When patients have to schedule their appointments weeks in advance, they’re less likely to see their own physicians and more likely to forget their appointments, resulting in a discontinuity of care and more no-shows.

Enter same-day scheduling. The benefits of this model include reduced wait times for routine appointments, an increase in patient satisfaction, and an increased percentage of patients who see their own physicians. Some clinics have also seen a decrease in the number of daily visits, as well as a reduction in a patient’s cycle time through the office, but with a corresponding increase in face-to-face time with the physician.

The bottom line? This system increases both quality of care, in the form of greater continuity and more productive visits, and revenue, via higher compensation for the physician and net gains for the clinic.

Steps to Make the Transition and Tips for Success

Keep in mind that transitioning your practice to same-day scheduling will require a shift in mind-set. If you’ve been working with a traditional model of booking appointments weeks in advance, or relying on the “carve-out” method of leaving a few open time slots for urgent cases, this approach to scheduling will create a big change in your office paradigm. All patients, whether they have routine or urgent needs, should be offered an appointment that same day. At the beginning of any given day, a physician’s schedule will be about 65 percent open. The 35 percent of the schedule that is already booked will be made up of appointments with those patients who chose not to be seen the same day or follow-up appointments that were previously scheduled.

But before you can start offering same-day appointments, you’ll have to work through your backlog of current appointments, which may require seeing more patients per day for six to eight weeks. The transition can take time. Success stories show that it can be months—or even a full year—before wait times for routine appointments are reduced to one day. Choose a reasonable target date, and then you and your office staff should commit to not preschedule any appointments beyond that date.

The key is to evaluate the ideal panel size for each physician and manage it accordingly. Do all you can to preserve continuity of care so physicians exclusively see their own patients, except in times of extreme demand or physician absence.

Reduce your number of appointment types and standardize your time slots, only doubling them when absolutely necessary. You’ll also want to develop a contingency plan. If demand on a given day is higher than the schedule allows, can you extend appointment hours? Can another team member step in to help the physician? And finally, make each visit as efficient and robust as possible, reducing wasted time and unnecessary future visits.

Because same-day scheduling relies on the theory of supply and demand, it works. Believe it or not, the demand is often equal to the number of patients seen daily. With this equilibrium, you’ll stay busy, your office will run more efficiently, and patients will be seen right away—meaning you, your staff, and your patients will all be happier.


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