August 1, 2018

The appointment schedule is often overlooked as a cause of negative online reviews and inefficient operations. Sure, improving it can be time-consuming and messy. But improve it you must.

Here are four reasons why:

1. Your online reputation.

Check Yelp or any of the other rating and review sites and you’ll find that time spent in the waiting room and ice cold exam rooms are among the most frequent patient complaints. Patient indignation rises further when it’s perceived that the long awaited visit was only five minutes long and the patient didn’t adequately get to tell their story. Double book, run behind, or make patients wait at your own peril.

Action Step: Assign someone the task of reading reviews on the most popular rating and review sites, at least weekly. Or, subscribe to one of several services that monitor the sites for you. Use the data points relative to wait times and scheduling to make improvements.

2. Reducing wait times.

Lo and behold this is indeed possible. A recent meeting with an orthopaedic group resulted in physicians, the PA, and the therapists discussing how much time they waste waiting for patients. The biggest culprit? New patient paperwork being completed at the appointment time. Delays as long as 30 minutes were reliably reported.

Action Step: Analyze wait time data. Use the tracking mechanism in your software that allows you to see the gaps between the scheduled appointment time, the patient’s arrival time, and the time that the patient was actually roomed. You may find that there are distinct differences in days of the week—Monday and Friday, for example. And, note the weather conditions daily. Once you have identified patterns and bottlenecks, meet with the team about how to fix them.

3. No show mitigation.

Knowing which days, times, and types of patients are most likely to no show is very useful information. Patients who, for example, don’t complete their forms on your patient portal are less likely to show up than the person who spent 15 minutes doing so from home. No shows annoy everyone from idle physicians to staff who took time to prep the visit paperwork to patients.

Action Step: As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Look at patterns and get a handle on the no show patterns that exist in your office. Record all no shows for post op appointments in the patient’s record. DO NOT DELETE no shows. In case of a poor outcome, it will be to your benefit to demonstrate patient negligence. We advise clients to followup and leave a message.

4. Physician harmony.

It is the smart practice that designs written scheduling protocols to respect different clinicians’ styles. When a new doctor, PA, NP or other provider joins your practice, ask him or her to outline what a good schedule would look like, explaining which types of patients should never be booked back to back. In ENT, three dizzy patients in a row will likely result in an unhappy doctor.

Action Step: Create ‘institutional memory’ in your practice with written protocols. It memorializes physician preferences and maintains them when a staffer covers the main scheduler when he or she is on vacation. Written, step by step procedures also make it much easier for a new person to step into their role. Will mistakes still occur? Sure, but there will be fewer of them and they’ll drive the team to further refine the written guidelines. Continuous improvement is important to practice success.