5 Best Practices for Scheduling Patients

Rachel Foster, OD

Midwest Vision Care of Columbia, LLC

As business owners it is easy to spend the day running around being the telephone repairman, janitor, HR department and accountant. With so many hats, small things can slip through the cracks. However, there are a number of things that absolutely cannot be mismanaged and properly scheduling patients is at the top of that list.

Below are 5 best practices that every office can do to improve this important job.

1. Set goals for both doctors and staff
Set a realistic goal for how many patients can be seen. Map out the number and type of slots needed based on the staff, rooms, overhead costs, etc. In my practice, we have thirty minute time slots for existing annual examinations, forty-five minutes for new patient annual exams and patients who need testing, fifteen minutes for emergencies and so on. This is going to be heavily dependent on each office’s individual needs. In our office, this task is made easier by our EHR software as it color codes each type of appointment and lets the staff know which type of patient can be put into each slot when the cursor hovers over the slot in question. We are also able to build out the schedule indefinitely!

2. Pre-appointing for future appointments
After an examination, the patient pays their bill and heads out the door with a verbal promise to see you next year… NO! Do not fall into this trap. At our office, we employ a strategy that every annual patient is scheduled first for their next annual exam and then for any follow up testing. The reason for this is when they come back in 6 months for a posterior segment evaluation, the next visit for the annual is already in the books and it is one less thing to juggle that day. We sometimes have to modify this, but it helps keep the refraction, paperwork and other annual things on track. It’s not always easy to get a commitment for something a year away, so both staff and doctors need to make this a priority.

3. The hand-off
As the doctor, it is essential for me to tell the patient when I will see them next while still in the examination room. I repeat this to the staff member at the handoff and tell the patient that “Sally” will take it from here. Immediately, the staff member opens up the books and begins the appointment making process before anything else is discussed. While staff have the book open and the patient has their calendar open, it is the perfect time to make the annual and any other follow ups as listed above.

4. Staff training on word choice
The first thing to teach staff is not to ask if the patient “would like to schedule for next year?” and instead say “Dr. Smith would like to see you next year, which takes us to April. Are Monday afternoons the best time for you?” Or “Let’s get that spot locked in. Does Monday April the 3rd at 4pm work?” The staff member is taking control and the patient has to halt the process if not willing to schedule. Staff will also need to be prepared for passive pushback, like “that is so far out, or I don’t know what that day will look like until its closer.” I have staff respond with a variety of different lines, such as: we can always move it when it gets closer, or that is a time that books up quickly and we want to make sure you get a prime time. Practice role playing and have each person come up with a variety of answers. Even with the best hand-off and training, there will be a percentage of patients who just choose to wait until they get a reminder that they are due/overdue.

5. Reminding pre-appointed patients and capturing those that aren’t pre-appointed
So the patients are pre-appointed, but will they show up? We use an automated confirmation system that links directly with the EHR so that all scheduled patients will receive a reminder 2 weeks before their appointment. Patients have the option to confirm, decline or ignore. If they confirm, we just call them the night before. If they ignore, they get a second reminder at 1 week. If they decline, we take them off the books and they go onto our recall list. My staff will generate this list through the EHR on a monthly basis to capture those patients who are due/did not pre-appoint and also those who no showed or cancelled. We do our best to keep these lists short by reaching out to patients who no show or cancel while we have them on the phone. Once on the list, an electronic reminder is sent through the confirmation software.

By implementing these 5 best practices, it is simple for staff to schedule so that the office runs on time. It also keeps the books full in advance instead of waiting for a patient to respond to a post card or decide that they need an examination. Best of luck filling the books!

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