Wondering how you can reduce no-shows and missed appointments? Read on to learn how you can improve your patient scheduling process.
While it may seem secondary to the work physicians and nurses do to keep patients healthy, the scheduling process is an integral part of the patient experience with important implications for the daily operations of any healthcare practice.
Regardless of the kind of healthcare you provide or the number of patients you serve, your appointment setting services should ensure optimum care, efficient customer service, and financial security for your practice and employees. To that end, your scheduling must ensure reasonable wait times while seeing enough revenue-generating patients per day to maximize profits and productivity.
In this blog, we offer eight ways to improve the scheduling process for your practice and your patients. Plus, we’ll also cover how a medical office answering service can help.
#1 Make Virtual Scheduling Work for Your Healthcare Practice
According to one recent study by Stax Inc. and Healthgrades, 80% of patients prefer both specialist and primary care physicians who offer online scheduling.
In a world where seemingly everyone is busy with family, work, and other important commitments, offering an easy, intuitive way to schedule appointments turns out to be pretty popular.
Virtual scheduling can:
Attract new clients
Automate crucial reminders
Provide easy access to online intake forms
Enable patient self scheduling
In fact, most of the other strategies in this guide leverage the power of virtual scheduling.
#2 Empower Your Patients with Self-Scheduling
Good healthcare is a cooperative effort. When a physician performs a checkup, they expect that any advice on diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors will be taken seriously after the appointment has ended. Similarly, a dental cleaning typically provides important insight on how a patient should be brushing and flossing from the comfort of their home.
In other words, it’s crucial for healthcare professionals to empower their patients—to give them the tools to take care of themselves both before and after appointments.
While scheduling might seem like a minor part of that process, enabling patient self scheduling using an online scheduling software can go a long way in empowering them to be equal participants in their healthcare journey.
Alongside statistics that show the near-universal popularity of virtual scheduling, the use of an online scheduler will free up time for your staff to do the work that keeps your office running day in and day out.
#3 Schedule Appointments in Consecutive Blocks
When scheduling appointments online, make sure to block off consecutive time slots. By organizing your appointments closer together, you reduce the prevalence of scattered patient appointment times and provide your staff with a regular enough schedule to be able to work in meetings and time to complete important paperwork.
Block scheduling also allows you to better prepare for the possibility of any no-show and missed appointment.
#4 Use a Patient Waiting List
In the United States, no-shows cost the healthcare system an average of $150 billion per year in missed and unfilled patient appointment.
Beyond the obvious financial impact of no-shows, missed appointments:
Disrupt the flow of work and frustrate staff
Make it difficult to schedule enough daily appointments and optimize staff productivity
Cause patients to miss important checkups and appointments
Cancellations and no-shows may be impossible to predict, but there are ways to alleviate their effect on your practice’s daily operations. To prepare for the inevitable, keep a patient waiting list available that will allow you to contact the next patient in line in the event of a no-show or unexpected cancellation.
Better yet, use a virtual receptionist that compiles a patient waiting list for you. Some services even contact patients on the list automatically, allowing you to fill empty spots on your schedule without having to deal with the problem of no-shows on your own.
#5 Distinguish Between the Need for In-Person or Virtual Care
While telehealth appointments have declined since their height during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, telehealth still made up between 13% and 17% of outpatient visits in 2021. As the pandemic continues—and as more patients become aware of the benefits of telehealth—the practice is expected to remain an important part of the patient experience for the foreseeable future.
When scheduling appointments, it’s important to distinguish between the need for in-person or virtual care.
By saving in-person appointments for patients who truly need to meet with their physician face-to-face, you free up time at your office while giving patients the opportunity to ask questions over the phone or online. When it comes to reducing no-shows, the convenience of telehealth can be a real difference-maker as well.
#6 Make the Switch to Online Intake Forms
Asking new and returning patients to fill out forms while waiting for an appointment comes with several disadvantages.
Patients often misplace or forget vital personal and insurance information needed to complete their forms.
Patients may spend more time waiting for their appointments to begin. A backlog of patients can make it difficult to stay on schedule.
Requiring patients to spend more time in the waiting room increases office density at a time when people would prefer to maintain social distancing.
Reading handwriting on paper forms can prove challenging, to say the least.
In addition, you can also offer e-forms to streamline the patient intake process, reduce the chance of errors, and instantly share patient information on a secure database among members of your healthcare team.
#7 Outsource Your Scheduling by Hiring a Virtual Receptionist
From scheduling appointments to processing intake forms, how to find new patient leads, and everything in between, front-office staff can easily get overwhelmed by the work required to keep your practice running.
By hiring a company to provide you with a dedicated virtual receptionist, you can streamline your scheduling while ensuring you are following the best practices and providing patients with 24/7 service. Some benefits of a virtual receptionist include:
Medical Answering Service – A virtual receptionist can provide HIPAA-compliant care to your patients by answering questions online or over the phone at all hours of the day or night. From appointment scheduling to fielding urgent or even emergency calls, virtual receptionists offer peace of mind to patients while optimizing business operations for your healthcare practice.
Sending Reminders – Sometimes, the difference between a no-show and a filled appointment can be as simple as a reminder sent to your patient using live chat or text messaging. For example, a dentist’s office following up with a patient about an upcoming appointment might provide prompts, such as:
“Reply ‘Yes’ to confirm the appointment.”
“Reply ‘Y’ to confirm, ‘N’ to cancel, or ‘R’ to reschedule.”
“You scheduled an appointment with [doctor’s name]. Please reply ‘CONFIRM,’ ‘CANCEL,’ or ‘RESCHEDULE.’”
By sending simple reminders for appointment confirmation or to reschedule appointments, your virtual receptionist can help patients stay on top of their own schedule while making sure yours remains full of revenue-generating appointments.
Patient Intake– Scheduling doesn’t end with simply marking a date on the calendar. The process also includes intake, which can involve plenty of paperwork and clog up your front-office operations. By hiring a virtual receptionist, you can move intake online to save time in the office while satisfying patients.
Live Chat– 73% of customers agree that live chat is the most satisfactory way to communicate with a company to solve a problem or answer an important question. When it comes to healthcare, a virtual receptionist can use live chat to answer questions in real-time from your practice’s website.
Text Messaging – A virtual receptionist can reach your patients directly on their mobile devices. Since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and an ensuing increase in telehealth have made text messaging one of the primary tools for communication in healthcare, there’s never been a better time to use texting as a customer service option for your practice. If you need to notify a patient regarding the status of an appointment or provide them with an update on the availability of lab samples, a text message can be the quickest and most efficient way to do so.
A virtual receptionist trained to implement text message reminders and live chat can significantly impact the rate of client no-shows. In fact, a 2006 study showed that a simple SMS reminder could cut the rate of healthcare no-shows by 38%.
#8 Use an Intuitively Designed Patient Access Portal
Online patient access portals allow you to gather, store, and access patient information safely and efficiently while empowering patients to stay on top of their healthcare needs.
A patient portal can be a one-stop shop for your patients to schedule appointments, communicate with physicians or virtual receptionists, verify insurance, and even refill their prescriptions.
An intuitive design will allow your patients to self-schedule appointments with ease, giving them satisfaction and saving valuable time on your end.
Next Level Care with Nexa’s Healthcare Virtual Receptionists
To streamline your patient scheduling, adopt a virtual system that meets the needs of your staff as well as your patients.
The best way to clear your office staff’s plate of scheduling tasks is to outsource patient scheduling to a qualified provider. At Nexa, we train our virtual receptionists to use live chat and SMS services to connect with your patients and represent your practice in a way that builds relationships, reduces no-shows, and provides HIPAA-compliant responses in a timely and respectful manner.
The patient scheduling process doesn’t need to be a nightmare. If you think a virtual receptionist is right for your practice, reach out to us today for a consultation.