These days, if you want to schedule a haircut, vehicle repair, DMV appointment, or cable service – chances are, you can do it online with the click of a button. On the other hand, scheduling a hospital procedure or a routine doctor’s appointment might require multiple phone calls, voicemail exchanges, and frustrating phone trees before you can get anything booked.
In a world where consumers rule and convenience is king, healthcare is too often lagging behind – particularly when it comes to scheduling. Meanwhile, physicians and health systems alike are working hard to improve profit margins, enhance the patient experience, and out market their competitors – all while patients are struggling to get a simple appointment scheduled. If you survey doctors and health systems as to why scheduling is such a mess, they’ll give you a dozen reasons why scheduling in healthcare is too complicated to fix, but those savvy health systems and providers that are leading the way in scheduling will wind up with more satisfied patients and greater market share.
It’s All About Access
Forward-thinking health systems and doctors’ offices are making access a top priority. Teams are assembled to focus on identifying the many ways patients make their way to various points of access throughout the organization – with an emphasis on making it easier than ever for patients to get in to see a physician, get a mammogram, schedule a procedure, or access a specialty service. While this sounds simple enough – nothing in healthcare is ever too easy. Here are some tried and true tips for improving access through better scheduling.
- Focus on Callers – While there’s certainly an industry shift towards electronic, automated scheduling – remember that implementing a fancy new digital scheduling tool will not serve all of your patients. For now, many patients would still prefer to call to schedule their appointments, so keep this top of mind. Ensure your callers can get through efficiently by conducting routine audits and reporting data back to leadership and physicians – who may be in denial that they indeed have an access problem. If your scheduling is handled at the practice or service level, consider an outsourced call center model to ensure callers can always reach someone. Physician practices and clinics can be very busy with support staff juggling multiple roles. A call center’s only function is to focus on the caller/patient’s needs and to ensure they can easily schedule an appointment.
- Ensure Consistency – Promote consolidation of staff functions or better yet, identify dedicated staff to ensure proper training and education are provided regularly and updates and/or changes are clearly and consistently communicated. Standardize scheduling processes across all departments and networks by utilizing easy to access templates and reference materials. Adopt scheduling parameters and define exceptions to properly triage the type of appointment needed and the level of urgency that will determine how quickly the appointment needs to be made.
- Offer Electronic Scheduling – The scales are tipping toward electronic scheduling, with experts estimating that more than a third of appointments are now being self-scheduled online. Making it easy for patients to schedule themselves using digital scheduling may be a massive undertaking, but it’s one that will pay for itself over time in saved labor costs. Staff will be able to focus on more important clinical tasks and patients will enjoy the convenience of scheduling from anywhere, any time of day.
- Engage Your Providers – In many cases, providers are at the root of many access and scheduling problems. Each provider may have varying preferences about their schedule and how certain appointment types are handled, how patients get in for urgent or last-minute appointments, etc. These complex and varied practices can really complicate scheduling – but they are also often tied to physician satisfaction. If you’re planning to make radical changes to how appointments are scheduled, you’re going to need buy-in from the providers themselves. Engage them in the process and demonstrate the need for a scheduling overhaul with real data. Show them how change can help improve efficiencies and revenue – and let them be part of the transition plan.
- Implement a Wait List – Because most practices don’t currently have a “wait list,” approximately only 15 percent of cancelled appointments are filled – leaving providers with non-billable time that can lead to lower revenue and productivity, as well as longer wait times for patients who are committed to coming in for a visit. The easy solution is to implement an automated system that can allow patients waiting for an appointment to receive real-time notification of an opening. The result? Happier patients, more productive providers, and a healthier bottom line – everyone wins.
While healthcare scheduling may be complex – getting it right really is the key to improving patient access, patient satisfaction, and increased revenue. The time and effort it takes to completely overhaul patient scheduling may be an onerous task, but with the right internal and external support and resources – the benefits will far outweigh the challenges you will face along the way.
GeBBS Healthcare Solutions offers a full continuum of patient scheduling and contact, insurance verification, pre-authorizations, coding, auditing, billing, and self-pay solutions for busy health systems looking to focus on improving the patient experience. To learn more, visit: www.gebbs.com