Tackling The Top 4 Patient Scheduling Challenges

3 min read

Practice administrators often face the same set of challenges when it comes to efficient and productive scheduling. Navigating the idiosyncrasies of patient access in a way that ensures revenue and continuity for the practice while best serving patients, and being mindful of the patient experience, is no easy task. Calling on our experience with diverse providers nationwide, in this post we will identify the four most common challenges and proven strategies to overcome them.

  1. Hours of operation limit the ability to see or schedule patients.

While there may be little you can do to extend your hours of operation, you can minimize the impact of limited hours by optimizing your schedule and extending the hours in which you can take patient access calls. By being available to patients outside of normal office hours you can eliminate the peak hours where scheduling volumes are the highest. This not only creates a more pleasant patient experience but by nature, it paces appointment requests and cancellations, so schedulers have a more realistic view of availability. Additionally, removing dated practices like block scheduling and increasing the availability of telehealth appointments can assist in maximizing your hours of operation. In a recent survey, 62% of patients said they would be happy to utilize a virtual appointment if they knew it was something that didn’t require in-person care.

  1. Patients don’t utilize online scheduling.

Online patient portal engagement is great for checking test results or messaging providers, but patients just don’t utilize the scheduling options. In fact, previous studies have illustrated that more patients utilize online portals to fill out pre-appointment paperwork than schedule the appointment itself (over 21% more), and some indicate as little as 10% of patients even attempt to schedule this way. There are many theories as to the root of this common patient behavior, some think it’s related to technology proficiency or age demographics, while others think it’s related to privacy concerns, or convenience; if you’re patient portal only allows for requesting an appointment patients might see that as an unnecessary extra step. Whatever the reason, there’s a simple solution— don’t rely on online scheduling. Give patients what they want and focus on quality patient access services in person and over the phone. We know the human touch in healthcare has the biggest impact on the patient experience. The access experience can set the tone for the rest of the patient journey… so ensure it’s a good one! 42% of patients said a negative experience with a receptionist would prevent them from booking an appointment.

  1. Same-day appointments? Ugh.

Offering and filling same-day appointments remains one of the biggest challenges to efficient schedule management. Successfully juggling same-day slots has a huge impact on operations, from maximizing revenue to ensuring patient satisfaction— and loyalty. In a Harris Poll, as many as 35% of patients said they’d switch providers if they could have better access to same-day appointments for non-essential care. With so much on the line, mastering same-day scheduling should be a top priority for every practice and the key lies in good analytics. To ensure you are satisfying patient demand without leaving appointments on the table you must have a good grasp on your no-show and cancellation rates. These can be cross-referenced with physician’s fill rates to estimate the number of same-day appointments you should offer— but the determination doesn’t end there. Scheduling trends should be continuously monitored and adjusted for evolving patient need.

  1. Reducing no-shows (nicely).

No-shows are responsible for an estimated $150 billion in losses annually, making them one of the costliest aspects of healthcare operations. In response, many practices enact no-show policies that attempt to dissuade last-minute cancellations through a penalty fee. But just as many patients cannot predict their need to seek medical attention, they also often cannot help missing an appointment. For patients like this, these policies can come across as insensitive. In a time when patient retention is of the utmost importance, practices may not want to risk alienating a patient by issuing them an unnecessary fee if there are other effective ways to negate the impact of no-shows and cancellations. Understanding your no-show rates and working them into a same-day appointment strategy (as mentioned above) and putting a robust reminder program in place are two proven strategies for minimizing the effects of no-shows on your practice— both can have an a positive impact on patient outcomes. If you must establish a penalty-based no-show policy, make sure it is communicated clearly and often; surveys indicate that over 40% of patients are unaware of their provider’s no-show policies.

Envera offers comprehensive access partnership through custom-designed solutions that tackle the challenges unique to your practice. We offer the right combination of people and technology to improve access for your patient community, offering deep insights into your practice for more efficient calendar management.