Ah, the waiting room. A relaxing place where your patients can catch up on all of the Good Housekeeping and Men’s Health magazines from the last three years. Everyone feels comfortable there and there is definitely no awkward eye contact made. Can you think of a better place for them to spend their time?
Of course, you can. Which begs the question: How can patient scheduling be improved?
Patient scheduling is a serious challenge in the healthcare industry, one that can leave patients feeling neglected, and physicians underutilized. According to our partners at Formativ Health, 96% of patient complaints are about customer service. Patients consider so many factors while choosing a healthcare provider – reviews, recommendations, location, offered services, hours of operation, insurance coverage. When they finally find a handful of physicians that fit their needs, they receive disheartening responses, “Sorry, we’re not taking new patients at this time,” or “the next available appointment is months out.”
Patients are frustrated before they even walk through the door, and it results in a battle where everyone loses. When physicians have to handle administrative duties or listen to patient complaints, it takes up time that would be much better spent providing their expertise to patients in need. The amount of this burden put on physicians in your organization can greatly impact your bottom line, knowing that if a physician leaves, it can cost upwards of $1 million to replace them.
Patients are not absolved of blame in the scheduling crisis, either. On average, 10-30% of appointment slots go unfilled at each healthcare organization every day. We’ve all been there- your kid’s soccer game you forgot about comes across your calendar, an unexpected work trip comes up, or you just have a hectic week and can’t make your appointment. While it’s understandable that these things happen, the constant cancellations and missed appointments have a tremendous impact and can cause a ripple effect throughout the care process. In addition to causing frustration and headaches, each missed appointment costs up to $200 for these healthcare organizations.
In a culture of constant communication, why are patients and healthcare organizations missing the mark by so much when it comes to scheduling? More importantly, what can we do to fix it? We’ve outlined three key steps that you can take to become the hero who fixes patient scheduling at your organization.
Solutions like Interlace Health (formerly FormFast) are helping to make the process of pre-registration paperwork a much more streamlined experience. When a patient makes an appointment, all of the necessary documentation is sent to them securely, allowing them to fill it and submit on their schedule, electronically, before the appointment. This increases the chance of patients filling out the paperwork since they can do it on the go, and they don’t need access to a printer. Since patients can submit the forms back to the organization before the appointment, it ensures that the information was filled out correctly, and if any information is missing, the issue can be resolved ahead of time. This eliminates the walks back and forth with the clipboard from the reception window because of missed forms or sections. With this process, patients feel more committed to their appointment, no-show rates drop, check-ins are expedited, and physicians have more time to review charts before seeing a patient.
Delays and long stays in the waiting room are things that patients have come to almost expect from a typical outpatient appointment. Some delays are inevitable, but the worst thing you can do when you have to keep a patient waiting is to keep them in the dark. Keeping your patients up to date on expected delays can go a long way to relieve frustration from patients waiting for their appointment. Letting patients know you value their time, giving updates every 10-15 minutes, makes them feel heard and appreciated and can be the difference in a 1-star and a 5-star review of your organization.
You can also give patients the tools to know when it’s appropriate to make appointments in different care settings based on their symptoms, so they’re not coming in for unnecessary reasons. There are tools that offer patient education for a better understanding of their conditions and symptoms. A great example of this is Elsevier, an interactive patient education video platform that integrates with your EHR and can be personalized for each patient. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), patients being discharged from the hospital are 30% less likely to be readmitted or visit the emergency department when they have a clear understanding of their after-hospital care instructions. Most of the time, patients want to take charge of their own health, so let’s give them the tools to do so.
One last big step you can take to eliminate patient scheduling headaches in healthcare is arguably the most effective one — invest in an app that specifically handles scheduling. These apps can be integrated with your EHR and deliver results that would be impossible to achieve manually, even with the best administrative employees. One of our favorite apps is DASH by our friends at Formativ Health. DASH is a scheduling tool that integrates with your EHR to improve the entire scheduling process. Organizations using DASH have seen improved utilization through streamlined workflows and better visibility to appointment inventory, a no-show prediction that enables your organization to prepare for unfilled appointments, and automated messaging, and self-scheduling for your patients. Tools like this allow you to optimize your utilization and let physicians focus on what they do best: taking care of your patients.
These three steps probably won’t completely solve the scheduling issues at your organization, but they can certainly put you on the right track. Your patients will recognize your efforts as well — research shows that 84% of patients said they look for providers with advanced health IT. There are so many tools available to position your organization and your physicians for success by meeting (and eventually, exceeding) patient scheduling expectations. Let’s get those patients out of the waiting room and back to their busy lives, where they can rave about your organization to everyone they know.