Practice Management Blog

The Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Your Patient’s Waitlist

There’s no getting around it, private health care practice is almost always appointment-based which means that you’re only earning when you’re seeing clients. No-shows and cancelled appointments are the bane of practices across different healthcare disciplines, often accounting for between 2 and 15 percent of bookings. Unfortunately, these cancellations impact more than your bottom line, placing strain on your therapists and the relationship between your therapists and their clients.

We’ve written about the importance of minimising no-shows (and how to do it), but they’re still going to happen. To get around this, you need to have strategies in place to fill those empty slots as and when they come up. Luckily, you can do this at the click of a button (or two) if you have the right software, but there are a few do’s and don’ts that will make the process a bit easier to implement.


Set up a waitlist

This is the first step, and it’s non-negotiable. If you’re not keeping a waitlist, you’re missing out on the opportunity to fill appointments when clients cancel, and it might just be the difference between business as usual and real growth for your practice.

Your ability to earn is directly correlated to the number of appointments you fill on a daily basis. So, if you see an average of 10 clients a day, and one cancels, you’re losing out on 10% of your income for the day. If that happens every day, your earnings are down 10% every single month.

Action to take:

Log into your appointment management software (or set up a new sheet on excel) and start a waitlist if you don’t already have one.

Keep your waitlist up-to-date

An up-to-date, as-full-as-possible waitlist can turn that all around. According to a study, a practice have to contact seven clients to have the best chance of filling an open appointment. If they contact seven patients, they get their highest fill rate of nearly 40%. So, if we take the example above, instead of losing out on 10% of your income, you’re suddenly down to 6%. The logic is simple: the more clients that you contact on your waitlist, the better your chance of filling the appointment. But, you need clients on the list in the first place. The more clients on the list, the more people you can reach out to, and the more likely you are to fill the slot.

Action to take:

Train your staff to encourage clients to join the waitlist so that if an appointment opens up, they can be contacted.

Use the right software

The key to managing your waitlist successfully is automation. While, in theory at least, you can keep a waitlist on a spreadsheet or a piece of paper, it’s difficult to manage, and you’re more likely to miss opportunities. Rather, your practice management software should have a waitlist functionality that makes it easy to create, update and manage a waitlist. If possible, the software should go one step further and allow you to set up a preferred appointment time and day, contact information and more. That way, you can quickly and easily add clients to the waitlist and send out alerts if an appointment becomes available using updated contact information that is already available in the system.

Action to take:

If you currently use Power Diary, you’re in luck – the powerful (yet intuitive) waitlist functionality makes it easy to add, manage and communicate with clients on your waitlist using a template.

Check what’s working and what’s not

Your waitlist (coupled with your Appointments Cancelled report) is a goldmine of information. With your waitlist, clients have provided you with a lot of useful information, including their preferred appointment times, and when they’re available. You can use this information to adjust your therapists’ schedules and working hours, and even when deciding whether or not you should bring on another therapist. It’s important to have this data because you don’t want clients waiting too long in case they find another provider that has availability.

It’s also important to regularly review your appointments cancelled report; you may be able to get insights into which clients are cancelling regularly and if there’s a specific time of day that makes it more likely that a client will cancel.

Action to take:

Power Diary can help with this as well. Using the reporting functionality and your existing waitlist, you can get a good idea of the number of cancelled appointments, which clients and what hours of the day are the most likely to have cancellations, and what are the preferred times for appointments.

Determine the best communication method

This is an obvious ‘do’, but it’s worth mentioning because if you want to fill your open slots, you’re going to get the best results if you’re using their preferred communication method. The one thing to keep in mind here is that the stats show that text reminders are more effective than email and voice calls as they’re more likely to be read and responded to. Text messages have an open rate of 98% (compared to just 20% of emails) and, for appointment reminders and scheduling, 67% of people would rather text than talk.

Action to take:

With automated appointment reminders, you already have this information at your fingertips, so it’s just a case of ensuring that you stick with their preferences.


Panic and send out mass emails at midnight

Yes, of course, you want to let your waitlist know as soon as an appointment comes up, but it’s important to strike a balance between urgency and professionalism. If a client cancels their appointment at 9 pm for an appointment the next morning, don’t send a text out to everyone at 10 pm, rather wait until you’re in the office the next morning and send a message out to your waitlist then. Most practices have a 24-hour cancellation policy, with a late cancellation fee that covers the cost of the appointment.

Leave anything to chance

If the concept of a waitlist is new to your staff, make sure they get the training they need (and provide a process document so they can get a refresher if they forget anything). Your training should cover the goals of the waitlist to ensure that you have buy-in. If your reception staff understand how important the waitlist is for patient satisfaction and retention (and your bottom line), they will be motivated to encourage clients to join the waitlist and follow-up with them if an appointment becomes available.

If you are using appointment management software but don’t have a waitlist in place, you’re missing a trick! There are always going to be cancellations, and a full waitlist gives you the best chance of filling those open slots.

Combining effective, integrated appointment scheduling with appointment reminders and proactive waitlist management means you’ve hit the trifecta – a dynamic multi-dimensional approach to keeping your diary full and your clients happy.

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