Scheduling patients strategically is an essential step in your healthcare practice’s success. Ideally, you want to fill every open slot in the day with paying patients. However, preventing no-shows and last-minute cancellations is challenging, and sometimes gaps in the appointment schedule are unavoidable.
Thankfully, you can take a few steps to improve patient scheduling in your medical practice. Read on to learn more about effective patient scheduling, then use our patient scheduling template to get started.
What Is Patient Scheduling?
Patient scheduling is the process of allocating time in your day to the patients who need to visit your practice. At a glance, patient appointment scheduling seems simple. You just give each patient an equal time slot to visit your practice, right?
In reality, scheduling patients can get complicated quickly. You want to ensure that you make the most of your time by seeing as many patients as possible. However, you also do not want to double-book yourself and sacrifice quality of care or patient satisfaction in the name of profitability.
As a result, you must approach scheduling strategically to ensure optimal patient flow and patient experience.
What Are the Six Methods of Appointment Scheduling?
Healthcare practices can utilize several methods for booking patient appointments. Here are the six most commonly recognized forms of appointment scheduling:
- Wave scheduling: Allocating between four and six patients every half hour, ensuring that there are always patients waiting to be seen
- Stream scheduling: Allocating a fixed amount of time to every patient
- Time slot scheduling: Fitting patients into available time slots
- Cluster scheduling: Grouping patients with similar needs into clusters, then allocating specific blocks each day to those clusters
- Open booking: Giving patients a time frame in which they can attend appointments, such as between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.
- Double scheduling: Double-booking critical patients in the same slots as other patients to allow for emergent care
Each of these appointment scheduler types presents benefits and drawbacks. As a result, many healthcare practices combine several of these methods for varying appointment types.
For example, you can follow the wave scheduling technique weekly to create a steady patient load. Then, you can use time slot scheduling to fill in any gaps that arise in the appointment schedule or that you cannot fill through typical scheduling methods. Finally, you can allow space for double scheduling by leaving one or two fifteen-minute slots open each day.
How Do You Schedule Patient Appointments Effectively?
Understanding a few best practices within appointment booking can help you approach your outpatient clinic scheduling strategically. Here are a few tips for scheduling appointments effectively and preventing missed appointments:
- Allocate an appointment slot for each appointment type: Some appointments take longer than others. We recommend allocating slots throughout the day for specific types of appointments. If the larger spaces go unfilled, you can always fill them with more minor appointments.
- Send appointment reminders: You should send appointment confirmations after each booking, then periodic reminders leading up to the appointment time.
- Reserve slots for emergencies or walk-ins: We also recommend carving out one or two appointment slots each day for emergencies. If these slots go unfilled, you can use them for clerical work or as leeway in the appointment schedule.
- Send automatic waitlist opening announcements: When patients cancel appointments at the last minute, you can quickly offer these time slots to patients on your waitlist. Using automated software can ensure that these slots fill quickly.
- Schedule follow-up appointments at the end of current appointments: Follow-up scheduling can ensure that you receive a steady flow of patients throughout the year. We recommend inviting your staff to schedule follow-up appointments with patients at the end of each appointment.
Why Patient Scheduling Software is the Best Way to Schedule Appointments
Incorporating automation software into your practices can be highly beneficial if you’re looking for a way to improve your scheduling strategy.
Appointment scheduling software can streamline many tasks involved in scheduling appointments. This type of software is usually capable of:
- Send upcoming appointment reminders automatically to prevent no-shows
- Allow patients to schedule their own sick visits on your website or patient portal
- Enable automatic, personalized communications with patients to improve new patient experiences
- Send automatic waitlist announcements
- Inform patients of their wait time before an appointment
- Enhance operational efficiency, allowing the physician to dedicate adequate time to each patient
Automation software can save you and each staff member time throughout the day that you can dedicate to more critical tasks. However, it can also help prevent no-shows and optimize your patient schedule, allowing you to see more patients and boost profits.
When you incorporate Weave into your clinic scheduling processes, you can also benefit from other features to market your clinic. For example, Weave includes built-in email marketing templates that you can use to stay in communication with patients each month. You can also use Weave to send personalized text messages to patients inviting them to schedule routine exams at your practice.
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Other Ideas for Scheduling Appointments for Patients
Using scheduling automation software can save time and optimize scheduling. However, you can follow a few other steps to schedule appointments at your healthcare clinic more efficiently. Here are a few additional ideas to optimize patient scheduling:
Keep a Weekly Appointment Schedule Template
If your clinic does not currently use an appointment schedule template, it’s time to incorporate one into your scheduling process.
An appointment schedule template can help your clinic schedule each patient visit quickly and ensure that you use strategic time slots to maximize appointment times.
Your template can lay out the types of appointments your clinic offers and dedicate a specific appointment length to each kind. Then, when patients call to schedule appointments, you can pull up the appointment schedule, view the available time slots for their specific appointment, and schedule them quickly.
This schedule can help you align patient scheduling with the provider’s schedule, ensuring that every staff member stays on the same page.
Create a Patient Appointment Scheduling Template in Excel
If your office does not currently use a scheduling template, you can create one in Excel. Excel allows you to make basic tables where you can input your scheduling information manually.
Once you create your appointment schedule template, be sure to make a copy of it each week rather than editing the original document. Then, you’ll be able to use a fresh copy of the schedule every week.
Of course, you’ll want to keep your patient schedule in a secure location on your device to ensure HIPAA compliance.
How to Make a Patient Schedule in Excel
Creating a daily schedule template in Excel is simple.
Here is an example of how you can structure your patient scheduler:
Feel free to use this free appointment schedule template in your own practice.
If you’re looking for more ways to streamline daily office tasks, Weave can help. Contact us today to request your free Weave demo.