Best Practices for Scheduling Medical Appointments

Studies have shown that wait times have an enormous impact on patient satisfaction. The COVID-19 pandemic’s workload pushed clinical staff to their physical and psychological limits, leading to a spike in employee turnover and loss of those employees’ knowledge and training. Irregular demand and appointment scheduling problems are also shown to affect quality of care.

When it comes to the patient experience, it’s clear that appointment scheduling systems can set up patients and staff members for either success or failure from the start. So how can we ensure that our patients receive the care they need as quickly as possible without creating delays, dissatisfying patients, or overburdening staff? We can’t always anticipate patient demand, but various scheduling models can allow for more flexible, efficient scheduling. 

Below, we’ll explore popular scheduling models and how the right tools can make scheduling a breeze for staff and patients alike.

Common Methods for Scheduling Medical Appointments

Healthcare systems have been developing new methodologies for improved patient scheduling systems for years. Because every medical practice has unique specialties, services, staff, workflows, and patient populations, they can (and must!) determine the best scheduling process for their needs.

Some of the most common scheduling systems include:

Time-specific scheduling

Time-specific scheduling is the method most patients are familiar with. A patient typically makes an appointment with practice management staff on a phone call and is assigned a specific time slot based on provider and equipment availability. This is intended to decrease wait times for patients, who can show up just before their specified appointment time, but this method can frequently lead to delays when a provider’s previous appointments run long. Providers are then forced to play catch-up for the rest of their workday.

When to use time-specific scheduling: Time-specific scheduling might work better for clinics that book frequent, short appointments and follow-ups.

Wave scheduling

Larger practices and healthcare systems might employ wave scheduling instead of specified appointment times to increase efficiency. Wave scheduling involves grouping patients in “waves,” with several patients assigned to a specific time period rather than each of them receiving a unique appointment time. These patients are often grouped by type of appointment, services or equipment required, or by the provider they are seeing. Patients within these waves are often seen on a first-come-first-served basis, which provides some flexibility to providers without creating massive delays that affect later waves.

When to use wave scheduling: Wave scheduling can work extremely well for appointments that typically run short but have high demand, like vaccinations.

Modified wave scheduling

Modified wave scheduling is similar to wave scheduling, but generally groups and schedules waves of appointments at the bottom or top of the hour. While patient appointments are technically stacked within a 20 to 30-minute period, the rest of the hour is left open and unscheduled to serve as a “buffer” period for catch-up and paperwork between appointment waves. 

When to use modified wave scheduling: Modified wave scheduling might be harder for practices with frequent walk-in appointments, but can benefit those practices with a patient waiting list.

Cluster scheduling

By clustering patients with similar types of appointments throughout the days, providers can serve more efficiently by focusing on certain services and procedures. Stacking several patients with similar concerns — for instance, patients with orthopedic injuries — can help clinicians stay focused on these services, compare patient complaints and conditions, and provide similar guidance, resources, or referrals for relevant specialist services. 

When to use cluster scheduling: This system works well for medical offices in which appointments are typically scheduled far in advance, such as specialty practices.

Best Practices for Scheduling Medical Appointments

If you’ve noticed that your current appointment scheduling processes are creating long wait times and frustration among patients and staff, it’s time to evaluate and adjust your systems. The functionalities that have served us in the past might not serve us well forever, and this is especially true in the post-pandemic healthcare industry.

Leverage data generated by your practice.

To understand your practice’s needs and make improvements, you’ll need to identify the bottlenecks and challenges that are affecting your staff and your practice. You may also need new tools like dedicated appointment scheduling software to collect and report data on patient visits, wait times, cancellations, and no-shows, so you can recognize and address their causes. The right software can streamline and even automate some scheduling workflows, and having easy access to scheduling data can help you continually improve processes to gradually develop the best system for you and your patients.

Send frequent reminders to reduce the likelihood of last-minute cancellations and no-shows.

Appointment reminders are easy with appointment scheduling software. Rather than practice management staff calling and notifying patients of upcoming appointments — a task that can easily be forgotten or pushed off on exceptionally busy days — automated appointment reminders help patients remember (and, if necessary, cancel) their appointments before it’s too late to fill their slot with a new patient. Appointment notifications also increase patients’ chances of showing up on time by granting ample time to plan their day.

Use telehealth to supplement visits when possible.

One of the most prominent changes stemming from COVID-19 was the exponential expansion of online telehealth services. Adopting technology that supplies HIPAA-compliant channels for real-time communication between providers and patients can drastically improve efficiency, compared to in-person appointments. Patients no longer need to travel to appointments, check-in, and sit in waiting rooms before speaking with a healthcare provider. Telehealth is especially beneficial for short follow-up appointments, in which they can describe their symptoms and side effects or confirm that no further treatment is needed. When paired with remote patient monitoring — which allows patients to measure and instantly transmit biometric data from their smartphone or tablet — telehealth can be incredibly powerful in managing patients’ chronic conditions with less-frequent in-person visits, making them more likely to stick to long-term care plans.


Benchmark Solutions Offers Intuitive Software and Solutions That Support Your Changing Needs

Benchmark Solutions has remained at the forefront of medical management technology for decades, and our services are constantly improving to serve you better. Our practice management software was designed to make administrative work easier, faster, and more effective with less time and effort from staff.

Book appointments with ease, while filtering criteria and viewing availability for multiple resources (providers, equipment, or locations) all at once. Our fully customizable appointment reminders inform patients of their appointments in advance to help decrease no show appointments and rescheduling. Easily embed an optional patient self-scheduling form on your website that integrates with your provider’s calendar in Benchmark PM.

What would you change about your current scheduling systems, or your practice management software as a whole? Let us show you how to personalize your Benchmark PM to perfectly fit your healthcare practice needs.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

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