Even the best medical practices can quickly end up with too many appointment types and scheduling rules. An inefficient scheduling system can block or delay new patient encounters, clutter your system, and impair both provider and staff productivity. By streamlining appointment types and scheduling rules, you will give new patients faster access to your clinic, increase revenue, and free your staff from unnecessary stress. Here’s how to quickly tighten up your scheduling system.
Before and After: Real Life Examples
The examples below show how two medical practices fixed their scheduling settings.
A community health system grew from one clinic to several clinics. At first, providers could choose their own appointment types and scheduling rules. But as the system grew to 20+ providers, this quickly got out of hand.
- Each clinic needed schedulers to keep up with complex rules and individual provider preferences.
- Appointment duration varied by provider.
- Complicated rules caused gaps in the schedule, and low provider productivity.
- Due to complicated rules, some new patients could not be seen for 90 days– Even when half the provider’s schedule was vacant.
- Patients had little choice. Scheduling templates dictated that they could only be seen at certain times.
- Some providers created a different appointment type for every diagnosis.
- Arbitrary, individual rules made training new team members difficult.
Ultimately, they succeeded in reducing the number of appointment types down to12. The results included
- Standardizing appointment types and durations across all providers.
- Taking a minimalist approach to appointment types
- Stripping away rules and constraints so that new patients could get into the clinic quickly—usually within a week. The more flexible schedule met patient demand, rather than limiting the supply of appointments.
- Quicker scheduling allowed more new patient scheduling calls to be answered.
- Fewer new patients were lost to competitors after the clinic eliminated the long wait times until the next available appointment.
- Efficiency reduced the labor costs associated with scheduling.
An office manager at an orthopedic practice created over 300 different appointment types. He created an appointment type for each body part (e.g. “Joint injection-left thumb”, “joint injection–right ring finger”). He also created appointments for every type of equipment in the office, such as individual ultrasound machines.
We removed all but 8 appointment types: new patient, established patient, post-op, MRI reading, in office procedure, etc.
How Does It Happen?
Individual team members have specific job functions. They may know their role, but lack a big picture perspective of the EMR/PM system. For example, they may not understand that diagnosis codes are captured elsewhere, and do not need to be included in appointment types.
Also, physician practices may not have a formal governance structure. Who has access to create new appointment types in your EMR? If every employee has the latitude change system settings on a whim, there’s a problem. Having a governance structure with a clear approval process for system changes is essential to maintaining EMR/PM system integrity.
Considerations for Cleaning It Up
Now that you‘ve compiled a list of all your appointment types, pared them down to just the essentials, and standardized them across providers—what’s next?
You will probably find that you cannot delete the appointment types that you no longer need, but you should be able to inactivate them and hide them so that they don’t clutter scheduling menus.
You will also need to convert any future appointments that are already on the books from the old appointment types you no longer plan to use.
Now is also the time to review EMR access and put a governance structure in place to prevent issues from reoccurring.
Revisiting the Rules
There may be some legitimate reasons for scheduling rules. For example, if you’re performing in-office procedures with equipment that requires sterilization or set up, or which is only on site on certain days, it makes sense to limit those appointment types to specific time slots.
In general, it’s best to keep the schedule as flexible as possible to accommodate patients. Rigid templates that limit options for patients cause access problems. Convenience is now a top consideration when patients choose a provider, and failing to provide flexibility and availability will cost the practice valuable new patients.
Benefits of Better Patient Scheduling
Simplifying scheduling offers numerous benefits:
- Self-scheduling. A short list of appointment types makes it easier to set up online self-scheduling, if you haven’t already done so. (Why would you not want to schedule patients when you practice is closed, and while you sleep?)
- Better service. No newly diagnosed patient wants to hear that they can’t see a provider for several weeks or months.
- Less stress for staff.
- Provider productivity and revenue increases.
- Reduced labor expenses. Instead of paying for redundant scheduling staff to handle so many customizations, resources can be directed to more productive activities. You’ll also spend less time on training and re-training.
- Lower marketing costs. Better online ratings, and better conversion rates (i.e. not losing patients to competitors due to scheduling delays) will lower the cost of new patient acquisition. Why spend marketing dollars to draw patients to your practice, only to have them go elsewhere because you can’t get them in quickly?
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