4 Tips for Improving Patient Scheduling

Young doctor talking to patient on phone while working in modern clinic, high quality service concept

Effective practice scheduling has a direct bearing on patient experience and, ultimately, on practice revenues. So how can you improve patient scheduling?


When evaluating your practice, how would you rate a patient’s chances to make a same-day appointment, or what is the time lag for getting an appointment from the date of request?

According to the MGMA report ‘Maximizing Patient Access and Scheduling,’ 81 percent of physicians feel overstretched or at full-capacity in serving their patient base. That statistic implies that patient scheduling is a challenge for most practices.

Unfortunately, the data from pre-COVID days shows that rising patient-wait time for scheduling new patient appointments had become a trend. The 2017 Merritt Hawkins survey on five medical specialties (cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics-gynecology, orthopedic surgery, and family medicine) in fifteen major metropolitan areas, found that the average wait-time to get a new patient appointment was 24.1 days.

The higher the time lag for getting an appointment with the physician, the higher the chances of patient no-show and no-shows cost practices money. To know just how much, multiply your no-show percentage with the number of appointments per month, and then multiply that value with the average revenue per patient.

Delay or difficulty in getting an appointment impacts a patient’s perception of the overall practice experience as well the perception of how accessible you are to them. If there is a delay, your patients are more likely to rate your practice lower than another practice that offers quick turnarounds on appointment requests. Therefore, effective patient scheduling has a direct impact on your practice revenue.


Doctor Appointment Calendar

The ease of making an appointment impacts a patient’s view of the practice’s accessibility. Here are four steps you can take to improve patient scheduling and make your practice accessible:

1. Use Multiple Channels for Appointment Reminders

It’s estimated that 15 to 17 percent of patients miss an appointment because they forgot about the meeting, forgot to cancel, or because they noted the incorrect time.

Practices usually have some sort of a patient reminder strategy in place – it could be emails, text messages, or phone calls.

The best way to do it would be to use more than one approach. For example, sending an email two to three days prior, and then a reminder text message a day before the appointment. According to the MGMA report, if you make phone calls, the best time to reach people would be between 5 and 7 p.m. Just ensure that you can follow it up with a reminder text or call.

2. Actively Manage the Patient Portal

For physician practices that have patient portals, it’s estimated that 79 percent of patients use the patient portal to communicate with the practice in some way, whether it’s to update their medical records, to access test results, or schedule an appointment. A patient portal is also a great tool for attracting new clients for the practice. But sometimes the practice portal is not actively accessed, and patients end up having to call the practice as well.

The patient portal can be a valuable asset to your practice. Conversely, it can also become a source of patient dissatisfaction. Here are a few steps to ensure that your practice is responsive to patient requests received via the patient portal –

  • Ensure that all administrative and front-desk staff is trained in using the patient portal.
  • Define staff accountability for checking the patient portal at regular intervals during the day.
  • Have a customer response turnaround time. For example, patient queries received before 4 p.m. must be responded the same day.
  • Ensure that an interim acknowledgment is sent to the patient if the query is not resolved the same day.
  • Train staff on standards for written communication with patients.
  • Ensure that the information received via the patient portal is merged with the patient’s EMR.

3. Track Practice Appointment Metrics

In Mastering Patient Flow, Elizabeth W. Woodcock (MBA, FACMPE, CPC) writes that practices should create and track an ‘access performance dashboard’ which includes the following –

  • Tacking appointment lag time
  • Appointment no-show rate
  • Physician bump rate (the rate at which you canceled appointments and rescheduled)
  • New patient appointments
  • Cancellation conversion rate
  • Fill rate (the number of patients seen vs. the number of patients you could have seen within that period).

Apart from actively managing no-shows through reminders, the other strategies that you can use to improve practice accessibility are as following:

  • Extended hours of operation – You can offer extended hours of operation during weekdays or over the weekend. However, this may require hiring additional staff. Also, shift rostering will have to be managed carefully.
  • Partner with a nearby retail clinic – You could partner with a retail clinic for patient visits that don’t require a physician to attend.
  • Offering group visits – It can be easier to schedule a group of patients with the same health issues on the same day.
  • Better utilization of office resources ( lean management) – For instance, eliminating unnecessary steps in patient registration, verifying patient’s insurance coverage before the service is provided, and identifying administrative processes ( such as medical billing) that can be outsourced so that your staff can focus on patient management.

4. Educate Patients on Using Telemedicine

With an increasing number of patients being counseled via telemedicine, the ease of telemedicine appointments must be a focal point of any patient access initiative you undertake. The best-made plans are laid to waste if a patient is unable to log in at the scheduled time. Therefore here are some tips for managing telemedicine appointments.

  • For a first time user of your telemedicine platform, ensure that there is a patient education system to help transition to the new channel. You could upload short ‘how-to’ videos on your website to educate patients on the login process.
  • If the patient has not contacted you via telemedicine in the last two months, ensure that your staff calls them prior to the appointment to check if they have a valid login password/username.
  • As with in-person visits, create a reminder system to reinforce the appointment time and date with the patient.
  • Schedule patient telemedicine slots as per the customer profile, especially the age of the patient and the type of service they need. For instance, the annual physical of a 40-year-old man will take lesser time than someone who is above 65 years.

The ease of getting an appointment with your practice and the ability of your practice to stick to the given schedule will have a significant bearing on your patient experience. Hopefully, you can start implementing the relevant patient scheduling tips right away.

For more practice management tips, register for the weekly (Fridays, 4 p.m.) webinar on Transforming Your Medical Practice with Practice Forces CEO Kunal Jain.

Parul Garg, CEO and co-founder of PracticeForces, has significantly contributed to the growth of over 1,000 U.S. medical practices through her expertise in medical billing and coding since the company’s inception in 2003. With a background in Computer Science and an MBA in Human Resources, her leadership and AAPC-certified coding skills have been pivotal in managing the company’s operations effectively.

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