In an ideal world, patients show up on time for appointments, and schedules are planned to the minute. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes patients are running late, and sometimes doctors are late because they get sidetracked with an urgent call that requires immediate attention. And of course, some patients forget their appointments.
All of these scenarios are as real as they are costly. An open, unused time slot can cost an eye care practitioner $200 on average.
Considering that no-show rates are as high as 30%, you can calculate the revenue loss you are likely to absorb just by ignoring the importance of active patient scheduling.
With so many high-tech tools (free and paid) at your disposal, you may wonder how such a costly problem exists. A missed appointment not only makes a dent in your revenue; it is even more dangerous for patients as it could mean the difference between catching an illness early on or too late. An inefficient patient scheduling system can raise stress levels for you, your staff, and your patients.
Tips for Scheduling Patients Efficiently
Setting up an effective patient scheduling system is key to excellent patient engagement and a healthier bottom line. The following tips will help you streamline patient scheduling:
1. Allow Patients to Self-schedule
Did you know it takes at least eight minutes to schedule an appointment by phone?
Encouraging your patients to self-schedule through online portals will improve practice efficiency, enhance the patient experience, and reduce the possibility of no shows.
Recent research has indicated that the majority of patients prefer to self-schedule their appointments through online portals. The same study also pointed out that almost 31% of respondents would be more likely to choose a new provider if the provider offered online scheduling options.
By encouraging patients to do self-scheduling through the online portal, you’ll increase patient engagement and help your staff save hours while filling up open slots on autopilot.
2. Send Appointment Confirmations and Reminders
This best practice is non-negotiable. Sending manual or automated reminders to patients ahead of time will offer three benefits – firstly, it’ll increase patient satisfaction and help reduce no-shows; it’ll improve your efficiency and productivity. No-shows are costly and inconvenient, especially if your eye care practice is busy, and you have a long waiting list. However, if you don’t like calling patients to confirm and remind them of their upcoming appointments, you can consider using a tool for sending automated reminders. Research shows that appointment reminders can effectively increase show rates. This can mean the difference between an eye care practice that survives and one that thrives!
3. Monitor Cancellations
Making notes on individual patients will help you track the ones that cancel regularly and their reasons for doing so. It could be that some patients are not comfortable in the mornings, while others tend to cancel their evening appointments as they get too busy. If a patient cancels once or twice for the same reason, you should suggest them to schedule appointments at a time that will be more convenient for them. Again, this is where self-scheduling using online portals can help you. If you’re monitoring appointment scheduling and cancellation data, you can predict the likelihood of a patient canceling his or her appointment by looking at past behavior. In addition to encouraging them to self-schedule, the other efficient way to handle such patients is to call them an hour before their scheduled appointment. This proactive follow-up will either make such patients show up on time, or re-schedule well in advance.
4. Keep Buffer Time Between Appointments
It is a safe practice to factor in a buffer time of 10 minutes between appointments. These 10 minutes will give you time to write up your patient notes, straighten the room before the next appointment, file papers, if any, and check for any important notes or emails. This 10-minute gap between appointments will also help you stay on top of your daily admin tasks so that you don’t have a pile of paperwork at the end of a long day. Not to mention your patients’ satisfaction – they’ll appreciate a provider who sticks to the appointment time.
5. Communicate No-show and Cancellation Policies to Patients
All eye care practices should have no-show and cancellation policies in place that are communicated to patients in writing before their appointments. These policies can also be printed and kept in your waiting room for all to see and read. For no-shows, many eye care practices either charge the full appointment fee or a nominal fee, on a case-by-case basis. For instance, if one of your loyal patients misses an appointment, you may decide to waive the fee. But if a patient has a record of canceling at the last minute, you may want to charge the full or partial fee. However, you decide to charge patients, it’s always better to have a policy in place to fall back on when you need it.
6. Focus on Patient Reactivation
Reactivating former patients is often easier (and less expensive) than acquiring new patients. When you contact former patients and invite them to schedule a new appointment, you’re reconnecting with people who know and trust you. Your efforts to make them visit your practice will convert faster and much better than chasing new patients. Patient reactivation is a win-win for both patients and providers. For providers, reactivating patients helps them meet revenue goals and keep appointment schedules filled. For patients, improving compliance helps improve medical outcomes.
Eye care practices can improve their scheduling efficiency by using the latest tools and following the tips mentioned above. Most of the latest EHRs have many features and functionalities that increase patient engagement and improve patient reactivation rates. An increase in patient engagement and satisfaction will reflect on your bottom line positively.