Schedule Smarter

July 1, 2010

Do you feel tied down and beaten up by your schedule? Well, there are things you can do to schedule smarter and end the tyranny of double booking.

Do you feel tied down and beaten up by your schedule? Ask yourself, “How many days have I gone without lunch to squeeze in an emergent appointment?” Or, “How often do I leave work two hours after my “official” office hours are over?” Well, there are things you can do to schedule smarter and end the tyranny of double booking.

So where do you start?

Begin by thinking about your schedule from your patients’ perspective. When do your patients want to come in? Are you available during hours that are convenient for them? If your patients can obtain an appointment within 24 hours of their request, your no-show rate will drop dramatically, benefiting both your practice operations and revenue.

Smart scheduling doesn’t have to be complicated. Essentially, you just need to put yourself into your patients’ shoes. Are you open early enough for early-bird patients who prefer an appointment before they head to the office, or get their kids off to school? Do you stay open during the typical lunch hour? Many patients have flexible time in the middle of the day so they can use an extended lunch hour to see the doctor. Can you offer evening hours during the week?

Think about creating a scheduling template that provides some nontraditional office hours for your patients. For example:

Monday

8am-4pm

No lunch break

Tuesday

8am-6pm

Lunch break 1:15-2:15

Wednesday

10am-1:30pm and 3pm-7pm

Mid-day break 1:30-3:00

Thursday

10am-6pm

Lunch break 1:15-2:15

Friday

7am-2pm

No lunch break


Staggering staff hours

allows you to accommodate the long days without consistently paying overtime. Use the mid-day break to run errands or get through your inbox so you aren’t taking so much work home.

Now that you’ve updated your schedule to allow for more scheduling flexibility, it makes sense to make the scheduling process just as convenient. Consider how your patients currently schedule an appointment. Can they go to your Web site and find an open slot for an appointment? Or at least send in a request for one? Or do they have to wait interminably on the phone, while calls are answered in order?

More and more practices are jumping into Web interactivity and offering patients the convenience of scheduling an appointment at any hour of the day or night. Will all patients get online? Not right away, but imagine how differently your practice will function if you get 30 percent fewer incoming phone calls because 30 percent of your patients are using the Web to request an appointment.

How does smart Web scheduling work? Patients will be assigned a secure account on the practice’s Web site that allows them to enter some preliminary information such as preferred provider, reason for the appointment, preferred day of the week, and preferred time of day for their appointment.

One option is to use a Web portal where the patient’s appointment request is manually fielded by staff members who respond to the request with a specific appointment date and time via secure e-mail. The patient then opens the e-mail that directs them via a hyperlink to the Web portal where the patient can log in and accept the appointment or revise their request.

For even smarter, more automated scheduling, choose a Web application that searches available appointment slots and presents the patient with a potential date and time for their selected provider, which the patient can accept, or ask for other options. Behind the scenes you have identified specific appointment times which are available for patient self-scheduling, so the patient is presented with only those particular opportunities.

Smart scheduling starts with a template that is patient-centric and follows through with tools like Web-based scheduling for your patient’s convenience. That’s smart business!

Rosemarie Nelson is a principal with the MGMA healthcare consulting group. She conducts educational seminars and provides keynote speeches on a variety of healthcare-technology and operational topics. Drawing upon her diverse experience, Nelson provides practical solutions to help medical groups succeed in their practices. She may be reached at www.mgma.com/consulting/nelson.