Reduce patient waiting times with effective appointment scheduling

We have all experienced it, we all hate it, and we have all complained. Waiting for an appointment with your doctor, in a crowded waiting room, often for longer than expected is no fun for anyone. Especially if you then have to queue again to book a follow up appointment.

It’s one of the major sources of patient complaints and one of the major issues practices are desperate to resolve. 

In fact, a 2019 report on healthcare consumers shows that 77% of patient comments about waiting times are negative and 20% would change providers if made to wait too long.  https://nrchealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/2019-Healthcare-Consumer-Trends-Report.pdf

Time management and patient experience must improve, but where to start?

Inevitably, there will always be patients who run late or require immediate attention. While this can’t be controlled, you can implement changes to help you get your schedule back on track as easily as possible. 

Many practices have already implemented different digital solutions to improve time management, but some are still wary of changing the status quo. However, there are many facets to the digital solutions available, meaning you needn’t completely reinvent your processes in one go. You can make gradual changes that can still significantly impact time management and reduce patient frustration. 

Below we list some steps to help get you started. 

Step 1. Analyse patient booking behaviour

In order to start configuring your booking schedule according to the needs of your practice, you need to understand how your patients book and use your services. What are the most popular appointments? Which are most commonly booked online, by phone or as drop-ins? Which are the busiest times in the waiting rooms, on the phones and online? Do certain services or specialists need more scheduled time for each appointment than others?

Create a spreadsheet or whatever tracking document works for you and your team and start documenting how your practice works. Make sure your whole team is involved in documenting the information.

Include information to define like:

  • How long the doctor needs for a basic check-up
  • How long is needed for more specialised procedures
  • The most booked appointments and which rooms and equipment are required
  • How many patients walk in without an appointment
  • How long a telephone booking takes
  • Which times of day reception received most calls 
  • How many patients don‘t show up for appointments

This information will start to give a clearer indication of how to improve the scheduling of your resources. Decide if you will only take phone or online bookings on certain days. Decide if certain appointments should have a mandatory ‘buffer time’ before or after the patient’s time with the doctor. Discuss improvements to the schedule with your team and implement them.


Step 2. Make decisions based on your findings

Move to an online shared calendar 

  • Use an online shared calendar for your internal team. This should improve clarity and internal communication and reduce booking errors. 
  • Make sure you have a calendar works across multiple devices, allowing you and your team to be aware of and reactive to any changes as they happen.
  • Find a system that allows you to gather patient information before, during and after an appointment. TIMIFY allows you to modify the booking process and questions posed to patients to suit your practice and get the data you require. In this way you will obtain the information needed in advance to provide a better consultation and utilise the time during the appointment optimally.

Offer your patients the possibility to book their appointments online

  • Move to an online appointment system with enough flexibility to manage different service durations and that can be modified or updated daily. For instance, if you find that some of hours of the day are less busy, offer these slots to be booked online 
  • Look for flexible software that can easily be adapted to the needs of your practice, staff and patients. Find a system that will allow you to manage also your room treatments, equipments or devices, and/or add preparation and follow-up times to the services that required it.
  • Try out free trials of software solutions! TIMIFY offers one too, which you can sign up for here or book a demo from one of our team
  • If you have reservations about using an appointment booking software, read this blog article: https://blog.timify.com/five-myths-about-online-booking-debunked-healthcare/

Send appointment reminders to minimise missed appointments 

  • If no-shows are a problem, try sending appointment reminders by email or SMS. An appointment reminder can reduce no-shows by up to 40% 

Try to keep to your schedule 

  • Respect your appointment schedule as much as possible. Encourage patients to arrive on time and ensure that last minute changes are kept to a minimum. Doctors should also aim to keep as close to the schedule as possible.
  • Be realistic about appointment times and the buffer times in-between appointments. If appointment times are slipping from the start of the day, the schedule will never be accurate.

Step 3. Communication is key

  • When making changes, let your patients know why they are being made and what the benefits are. If you implement an online booking option, make clear that they will be able to book an appointment 24/7, even outside working hours
  • Use waiting room leaflets to explain changes. Show that you are working on improving the patient experience and that you value your time and the time of patients. Use QR codes in printed materials to allow your tech-savvy patients to instantly access online appointment booking. Read our blog to learn about other ways to promote your online booking services: https://blog.timify.com/tips-increase-number-appointment-bookings-online/
  • Some delays will continue to be unavoidable. However, if you inform your patients in the waiting room about the reason of the delays, such as an influx of emergency appointments, or an absent member of staff, they will understand it. Offer the patient the option to reschedule an appointment easily, if they wish. 
  • By integrating an online booking solution like TIMIFY the communication with your patient will be handled automatically. Once they receive a confirmation of a booking, they will be able to cancel or reschedule an appointment by themselves without the need to call or rely on a receptionist to do it.

These tips are intended to help you analyse the challenges within your practice and start planning how to tackle them with digital technologies. Patients are increasingly expecting more flexibility, convenience and reliability in the services they use, and medical services are no different. Like any modern industry, standing still and ignoring technological evolution could result in getting left behind.

TIMIFY offers an integral solution for practices regardless of the size or focus. Contact us via our website to get more information about how our online scheduling solution will help you optimise your time management and patient experience.

Author: TIMIFY

TIMIFY is an online scheduling and resource management software for medium and large businesses. The cloud based software as a service (SaaS) is comprised of an intelligent yet easy to use booking system, with a wide range of customisable features.

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