While quality care is a non-negotiable, clients want more from practitioners— with ease and convenience at the top of the list. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why efficient appointment management has become one of the most important aspects of practice management and client satisfaction.
Appointment management may appear to be a straightforward process, but it requires considerable planning, experience, and skill behind the scenes to pull it off. And the stakes are high because the effectiveness with which staff members perform this task greatly affects client care and the practice’s operation.
Effective appointment management in health practices has the potential to connect clients and practitioners for timely care and create a sustainable working environment. And, if done right, will have a direct impact on your bottom line as clients are scheduled efficiently, and no-shows and cancellations are reduced.
What makes good appointment management?
For clients, good appointment management may include:
- An appointment at the right time
- Booking ahead to suit work or transport requirements
- Running on time so there is little waiting
- Access to the preferred practitioner, as continuity leads to better outcomes
- Quick access with no wait when needed
- Short or long appointment availability as needed
For receptionists, good appointment management means:
- They can say yes almost always, rather than no
- Simplicity, no complicated rules
- Reduced delays, which reduces the need for triage
- On-time appointments, and therefore reduced tension in the reception area
- A happier work environment as there is less stress on the staff
For practitioners, good appointment management will:
- Provide predictability, which gives them confidence that their time is well used
- Provide continuity, it’s more effective and quicker to see clients you know
- Improve time management so appointments run on time
- Introduce flexibility, to respond to client emergencies, practitioner personal crises, family issues or educational opportunities
- Ensure team members finish the day on time
- Permit breaks for lunch or other as required
Reception staff and practitioners must have clear policies and procedures to refer to when it comes to appointment management. A good appointment management policy will help practitioners and staff navigate the day-to-day appointments to improve efficiency and reduce no-shows, which will impact practice revenue.
5 Things to Include in Your Appointment Management Policy
1. Booking Appointments
Practitioners and staff need to ensure all appointments are booked consistently, booked with the appropriate practitioner and that clients are booked with the correct number of appointments in an appropriate timespan.
With the right policy, staff will know how to book review appointments, new clients and when a consultation is considered urgent, they’ll also know how much time is required for each type of appointment.
2. Appointment Reminders
The purpose of appointment reminders is to reduce the impact of no-shows and late cancellations, by ensuring that clients receive appointment reminders to confirm attendance.
The policy should provide guidance on setting the best time to send appointment reminders. Do you send reminders a week before an appointment and then follow up the day before? Or is it 48 hours, to allow for cancellations in time for you to contact other clients on a waiting list? The secret is to have this time frame written into your policy so that your clients and staff will be able to rely on the consistency of the reminder.
3. Cancelled and No-Show Appointments
Practitioners and staff need to have a standard approach for managing cancellations to ensure fairness and transparency. Your clients also need to be made aware of your policy regarding cancelled and no-show appointments. Your policy should cover the acceptable notice time for cancelling appointments and how late cancellations will be handled by the practice.
4. Emergency and Priority Cases
Health needs vary in urgency. Higher priority should be given to clients with urgent needs, and staff and practitioners need to know when they can ease the rules so that they can schedule same-day or next-day appointments. Staff also need to know how to best direct the client if an appointment at an appropriate time is not available. Making sure that you cover this in your policy will ensure that clients receive the care they need when they need it. And, it will empower your team to make those decisions with confidence.
How do staff make sure the waitlist is accurate, and how does it get managed?
Creating an active client waitlist is an effective way to minimise the effects of no-shows and cancellations. Covering this in your policy will help staff and practitioners keep the appointment book up to date and at the preferred capacity.
In addition to the general requirements of appointments, individual practitioners often have their own rules and preferences. For example, practitioners could have a rule that says they only see clients who have a referral. On the other hand, preferences are typically more flexible, such as a desire to only see new clients in the morning and existing clients in the afternoon. Making this clear in a policy for staff and practitioners to refer to will ensure clients get seen at the right time, by the right practitioner.
Your appointment management policy sets the rules of engagement between your practice and your clients. It reflects your philosophy of practice. The management of your appointments also impacts on quality of care, safety, staff happiness and retention, profitability, practitioner satisfaction and client experience.
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