Working out how to schedule patients effectively (and efficiently) allows you as the clinician to manage your energy levels and plan your day. It has a significant impact on the practice’s bottom line too.
A full diary is every practice owner’s dream. But when clients cancel, or worse, simply don’t arrive, your diary can go from full to empty very quickly despite your best efforts. And what do you do when you have a diary full of holes due to inefficient scheduling?
We’ve helped thousands of health practice owners improve their patient scheduling, and these are the most important tips that we’ve picked up on the way:
1. Send Appointment Reminders (Preferably Automatically)
This is non-negotiable. Sending reminders to clients ahead of time offers two important benefits, firstly, you’re reminding them in case they’ve forgotten about their appointment, and secondly, if a client can’t make their appointment, they’ll be reminded to phone and cancel.
As a practice owner, you know exactly how costly and inconvenient a no-show can be (especially if your practice is busy and you have an active waiting list). Appointment reminder software improves the number of on-time arrivals and kept appointments.
If you don’t like the idea of sending automated reminders, it’s worth having a look at the research. Studies show that SMS appointment reminders can reduce no-shows by 50%, possibly more. This can mean the difference between a practice that just survives and one that thrives!
Your appointment software should also allow you to take this one step further and send multiple appointment reminders. This can be customised so you could send an email reminder a week in advance, and an SMS reminder two days before the appointment (or the previous week if the appointment is on a Monday).
2. Schedule Appointments from Midday
Where possible (especially if you or your practice receptionist schedules your appointments), book appointments from midday forward, and midday backward. This helps you to fill solid blocks of time for maximum productivity. Then, if morning or afternoon slots aren’t filled with appointments, you can schedule staff meetings, focus on marketing efforts, or even take the occasional afternoon off.
3. Create an Active Waiting List
Even if you reduce the number of no-shows, it will still happen that clients have to cancel for one reason or another. You can reduce the impact this has on your practice by keeping an active waiting list that allows you to fill any slots that open up.
A practice management platform like Power Diary allows you to keep a waitlist and send a text message to a select group of clients on the waiting list to find out if they are able to take the appointment. Whoever responds first gets the spot. You can even record which day/s of the week your clients are available and would like an appointment. Being able to send out group notifications is a lot more efficient way than calling your waiting list one by one, freeing you up to see clients, catch up on admin, or focus on other marketing activities.
4. Keep Track of Your Clients’ Cancellations
Using practice management software, you can make notes on individual clients which will help you track which clients cancel regularly and what their reasons are for cancelling. It could be that some clients are not good in the mornings, while others tend to cancel their afternoon appointments as their day fills up and they get too busy. If a client cancels once or twice for the same reason, you’ll be able to adjust and schedule their appointments at a time that will be more convenient for them.
You can predict the likelihood of a client cancelling their appointment by looking at their past behaviour. If a client has a history of cancelling, then research shows that they’re the most likely to miss appointments in the future. This will usually be limited to a small percentage of your clients, and you will need to decide on your policy for dealing with them (a cancellation policy is usually the best).
Everyone misses an appointment at some stage, and the best way to handle it is to give the client a call fifteen minutes after their appointment was scheduled to start. Rather than reprimanding them, show care and concern, then re-schedule their appointment. In most cases, they will have a good reason for not showing so, by proactively following up with them, they’ll be careful to arrive on-time for all appointments going forward.
5. Not All Appointments are the Same
If you offer different treatments, then it’s likely that you’ll need to customise your appointments so that there is enough time for the required treatment. To get this right, you’ll need to sit with the person that takes your bookings to outline the different treatments you offer and the duration needed for each.
For practices with management software and online booking functionality, it’s easy for clients to schedule the right appointment length on your website as you can set up the different treatments as part of the online booking process.
6. Schedule a Buffer Time Between Appointments if Necessary
It’s important to factor in a few minutes of buffer time between appointments. This gives you time to straighten the room before the next appointment, finish writing up your patient notes, file any papers, and check for any urgent emails or notes.
Even a short 5-minute buffer can help you keep on top of your daily admin so that you don’t have a pile of paperwork to get through at the end of a long day. And patients appreciate a clinician who can stick to the scheduled appointment time.
7. Allow Clients to Schedule Their Own Appointments
Encouraging your patients to self-schedule will dramatically improve practice efficiently. Research shows that most patients prefer to schedule their own appointments online, and online bookings are an excellent way to fill up last-minute slots with 26% of appointments scheduled online for the same or the next day. And, if you add this to the time that staff will save on phone calls for appointment booking, you’ll be able to save a few hours just on appointment scheduling while filling up available slots on autopilot.
8. Have a Cancellation Policy in Place
All practices should have a Cancellation Policy in place that is clearly communicated to clients when they make an initial booking and confirmed in writing prior to their appointment. It can also be printed and clearly visible in your waiting room.
Many practices choose to either charge the full appointment fee or a nominal fee and may make exceptions on a case by case basis. If you have a regular client who misses one appointment, you might easily decide to waive the fee. However you decide to implement it, it’s best to have one in place to fall back on when you need it.
But, as with most things, prevention is better than a cure. It’s much better to have measures in place to help patients keep their appointments (and arrive on-time), rather than charging them when they forget.
In every practice, there’s room for improvement and, with these eight tips, you can work out how to schedule patients effectively to improve the efficiency of your practice. All of these points are easy to implement with the right software and will help your practice thrive. Think of the benefit of reducing no-shows by 20, 30 or even 50%, the effect that an active waiting list could have, or how differentiating between different types of appointments could improve your practice operations on a day to day basis. What changes can you implement today?