Last year, Valley Medical Group, an 86-physician, multi-specialty practice in Amherst, Mass., started using a schedule automation program to help fill last-minute cancellations. A year later, the practice has enough data to conclude that the program has filled an average of more than 60 cancellations per month. It has also saved 16 administrative days of work, mainly through reception coordinators not spending time tracking down patients to fill the schedule.
On the patient side, the average appointment wait time for those who use the program, QueueDr, has been reduced by two weeks.
Physicians Practice recently spoke with Martha Mastroberti, Valley's healthcare informatics manager, and Patrick Randolph, CEO of QueueDr, to discuss the pros and cons of using technology to streamline practice operations.
Explain how cancellations worked before Valley Medical Groups' appointment schedule was automated?
Mastroberti: A patient would call in and cancel. Sometimes they would be cancelling for that day or sometimes the next week. The reception coordinators [were] trolling through the schedule all day long and they would notice a hole, then go to the waiting list and [try to] fill the opening. [The coordinators] would call people on the waiting list, unfortunately we only had about 40 percent of our patients that had given us their mobile numbers. So, we end up calling their home numbers, and they are all working. We would leave messages for four or five patients about the opening. Eventually we may get somebody, but then the first three people we called would call back and we would say "oh, never mind, that was filled; sorry." We would end up with unfilled schedules, and that's not good for anybody.
And after scheduling automation?
Mastroberti: When a patient cancels an appointment, the system looks for patients who are scheduled for the future who have the same provider and the same appointment type. The system sends those patients a text message asking if they want this appointment. The first person to respond is moved from the schedule to the [opening]. We don't touch anything. For the other patients, if they responded, the system sends a "sorry, we'll try you again soon" kind of message. Our patients are interested in using technology to schedule and manage their appointments.
What is the biggest improvement schedule automation has made?
Mastroberti: The efficiency of a patient cancelling. Nobody has to look at it, nobody has to be aware of it, and nobody has to think. The system is aware of it and goes out and fills those slots with patients. We have a lot of very busy providers— if you want your physical next week and I tell you I'm booking into June— but we have this system where you could potentially get called in early [and it] keeps patients engaged. (Editor's note: The practice can see who is coming into the open schedule spot once they system fills the opening.)