The Art of Patient Scheduling at Your Medical Practice

August 10, 2013

Here are some tips that will streamline the scheduling process allowing the physician, patient, and front office to perform at an optimal level.

How many times have you gone to a physician appointment only to have to wait 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes or even longer past your scheduled visit time? Why bother with a schedule if the physician is never on time? Perhaps the patient in front of you came in for one reason, but then asked about four more ailments, putting the physician behind schedule. Perhaps the first patient of the day did not come in 15 minutes early to fill out the appropriate paperwork, resulting in the physician having to spend extra time with the new patient. Perhaps there was an emergency phone call that pulled the physician away from their office visits to tend to a newly admitted patient in the hospital.

Whatever the reason - and there are literally dozens of them - maybe it's time to step back and look at how the patients are placed on the physicians schedule. Yes, scheduling patients is a true art form. Talented office staff who regularly receive feedback from their physicians, understand the delicate balance required to appropriately schedule patients. If you have really complicated cases, scheduling them back to back to back is only setting the patient up for dissatisfaction, and the physician is guaranteed to fall behind throughout the day. They'd like to get home to see their families at the end of the day too. When the daily scheduling is not optimal, this becomes more of a dream than a reality.

Here are some quick, easy tips to share and follow that will insure a smoother day for everyone:

• Block out sections of the calendar and schedule those as "new patients." Give them a little more time than a normal patient visits.

• If you have a chronic late patient (15 minutes or more) this time slot is a good one for the physician to take a few minutes to catch up on notes. So, tell Mr. Smith his appointment is at 2:15 (you know he'll show up at 2:30) and block those 15 minutes for the physician. They will thank you profusely!

• Mr. Smith is coming in for a complicated diagnosis, Mr. Jones is scheduled right behind him with multiple diagnosis. Mr. Black is following these two with a new diagnosis on top of a current one. This is an excellent opportunity to add about 10 more minutes to each of these appointments. If you can prevent scheduling appointments like this back to back, it will also help the physician out. The better way would be to schedule each of these three at the top of each hour. If they each take 30 minutes to be seen, you will now have a 20-minute slot, and a 10-minute slot, or three 10-minute slots for much less complicated issues.

• Another trick a good scheduler knows is to ask specific questions regarding the appointment. If the patient can see the nurse or physician assistant instead of the doctor, schedule the patient on those schedules. The doctor can stop in, say hello and ask the patient if there is anything else. Just a quick 5-minute or 10-minute conversation should suffice. The patient gets the attention they need, and they had some face-time with the physician.

By really listening to the patients and understanding what their needs are, a good scheduler can lighten the load on the entire practice. The patients are happy they don't have to wait, the physicians are happy they are not running behind, and the level of customer service has increased.