Empower Your Practice

Journal for Practice Managers

3 Main Patient Appointment Scheduling Problems and How to Solve Them

A properly organised scheduling system is the cornerstone of an efficient clinic and the key to its utilisation. When analysing the appointment system, you should pay attention to two key aspects:

  1. How convenient is the schedule for patients?
  2. Does it maximise the efficient use of clinic resources?

The efficient healthcare management of scheduling is critical for the delivery of timely and quality patient care. Scheduling issues often lead to overworked staff, underutilised resources, and dissatisfied patients.

Today, we're going to talk about:

  • the most common mistakes in scheduling clinic professionals' time.
  • and how to minimise gaps and no-shows in your clinic.

Learn how to simplify your practice workflow and free up more time for patients with Medesk.

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Challenges in Patient Scheduling

#1. Demand and supply mismatch

An imbalance between patient demand and the availability of slots in doctors' schedules can appear unexpectedly. For example, in the case of epidemics or natural disasters. Conversely, periods of low demand can lead to unutilized resources and increased health care costs.

What should I do?

  • Use data on past enrollments. This will help predict future demand for healthcare services. Software with features to analyse peak periods, seasonal trends, and attendance patterns can help.
  • Shift your doctors' schedules to match peak demand periods.
  • Online booking will allow patients to adjust their own visiting hours and schedule appointments for primary care in advance.
  • Create waiting lists for new patients.

#2. Patient no-shows and cancellations

Patients are always cancelling and missing appointments, there is no avoiding it. Missed appointments lead to revenue loss, and waste valuable time. Moreover, they can delay care for other patients in need.

What can you do to minimise their numbers?

  • Send text and email reminders to patients about upcoming appointments.

Research shows that text reminders reduce no-shows by 38%.

  • Put in place a clear cancellation policy that includes, for example, the need to give notice of your intention to cancel an appointment a certain amount of time before the visit.
  • Some clinics charge a small fine for appointments missed without notice. This can be an incentive for patients to take more responsibility for their appointment times.
  • Maintaining waiting lists for patients who need urgent appointments can help fill the time windows that become available quickly.
  • Analyse the data to identify common causes of cancellations and absences, and then strategies can be developed to reduce them. Patient satisfaction surveys are your best friends.
  • Use predictive overbooking, scheduling extra patients based on historical no-show rates.
  • Sometimes patients do not realise the importance of the appointment for their health. Education programmes can help with community outreach.

#3. Staffing issues, burnout and turnover

Patient no-shows or a non-stop flow, as well as incorrect schedules, can lead to overworked medical staff. Hence, burnout and high staff turnover. This affects not only staff morale but also the quality of patient care.

Medesk helps automate scheduling and record-keeping, allowing you to recreate an individual approach to each patient, providing them with maximum attention.

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What can be done?

  • Conduct anonymous staff surveys to identify issues and factors causing dissatisfaction and burnout. Regular conversations between HR managers and staff will help identify problems early on.
  • Improve company culture, including encouraging open dialogue.
  • Introduce flexible working hours and part-time working options, and make it easier to choose holiday dates.
  • Introduce and pay for ongoing training and professional development programmes so employees feel they are growing and developing in their careers.
  • Invest in upgrading medical equipment and infrastructure to make it easier for staff to work. Furnish and equip a staff recreation area.
  • Provide physical health programmes, including access to gyms, yoga, and meditation classes. Or reimburse staff at least partially for these costs.

Related articles:
9 Essential Clinic Management System Features in 2024
How to Measure Quality of Care: Guide for Healthcare Organizations
The Top 5 Solutions for Patient Experience Improvement
Healthcare Organizations: How to Implement Change Successfully

Let's talk separately and in more detail about scheduling gaps, one of the most common problems with new clinics.

Managing Healthcare Scheduling Gaps

Scheduling gaps can arise from various sources, including patient no-shows, last-minute cancellations, and overestimation of the time required for procedures.

We have already talked about some of the steps you can take to control the flow of clients to your healthcare facility. So, we’ve summarised all the recommendations and made a list. Show it to your managers and administrators.

Patient reminder systems

Implementing automated reminder systems via text messages or emails can significantly reduce the number of patient no-shows and cancellations. Reminders should be timed strategically; usually, a day or two before the appointment is optimal. This not only helps in confirming patient attendance but also provides them with a convenient way to reschedule if necessary.

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Rescheduling policies

Practices should have clear and flexible rescheduling policies that allow patients to easily cancel or change their outpatient appointments. Providing patients with a user-friendly online portal or dedicated phone lines for rescheduling can encourage them to notify the clinic in advance of any changes.

Overbooking

Understanding the patterns of no-shows can help in implementing a strategic overbooking policy. By analysing historical data, practices can predict the likelihood of no-shows and overbook accordingly. This method requires caution to ensure that it doesn't lead to excessive wait times or overwhelmed staff.

Each clinic works out its own no-show appointment conditions. Read the article on whether you should charge a patient no-show fee or not in our blog.

Real-time scheduling updates

Utilising real-time staff scheduling systems helps identify gaps as they occur. Quick updates to available slots can allow for timely action, such as fitting in walk-in patients or moving up appointments from the standby list.

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Time buffering

Incorporating buffers between appointments as a scheduling method can reduce the stress of running behind schedule and allow for unexpected prolongations of consultations or procedures. If these buffers remain unused, they offer an opportunity to catch up on administrative tasks.

Prioritising high-need patients

Identifying patients who require more frequent or immediate care can help in prioritising the filling of scheduling gaps. This approach ensures that those with the most pressing needs receive timely attention, improving patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Regularly scheduled reviews

Healthcare providers should establish a routine to review and analyse scheduling process and outcomes. Monitoring metrics such as no-show rates, patient flow, and resource utilisation allows for informed adjustments to scheduling models.

Last-minute promotions

In some cases, last-minute promotions for specific services can attract patients to fill scheduling gaps. This approach can optimize resource utilisation and address immediate healthcare needs while also providing an incentive for patients to take advantage of certain services.

Such services may include:

  • general check-ups
  • vaccinations
  • screenings
  • counselling services
  • cosmetics treatments
  • laboratory tests
  • telemedicine consultations.

Telehealth services

Offering virtual consultations during periods of low in-person demand can maximise the provider's time and minimise patient wait times.

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Mobile apps for telemedicine services attract new customers.

According to GlobalMed, 74% of millennials prefer telehealth visits to in-person doctor exams.

Training for flexibility and crisis management

Staff training programmes should incorporate elements of flexibility and crisis management to deal with scheduling challenges effectively. Such training can empower staff to make autonomous decisions and take swift actions to manage gaps when they occur.

In the UK, there are training resources specifically focused on incorporating elements of flexibility and crisis management algorithms within clinical settings. Here are some examples:

  • The General Medical Council has developed a plan to improve the flexibility of postgraduate medical training. Such documentation helps to create training structures that enable variation in career pathways, preparing medical professionals for a broader range of challenges.
  • A study published in BMJ Open discusses recommendations for flexible, innovative, and adaptive workforce management. It analyses the redeployment plans of healthcare workers during the pandemic in the UK, which can be a blueprint for future training programmes.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published an article that touches upon the necessity of leadership development during crises. Training programmes can be derived from the insights provided, focusing on crisis management and leadership.

These resources can serve as a guiding point for clinics looking to develop staff training programmes that include flexibility and crisis management components to prepare clinical staff for unpredictable situations.

Focused marketing efforts

Tailoring marketing efforts to highlight services during typically slow periods and idle times can help attract patients to those times. Understanding demographics, patient behaviour, and community needs can inform targeted campaigns.

Read our article about healthcare target marketing for additional information.

Ensuring a positive workplace atmosphere

A positive and supportive workplace culture helps staff deal with the dynamic nature of healthcare scheduling. Addressing staff concerns, acknowledging their hard work, and providing appropriate rewards contribute to a motivated team ready to tackle scheduling challenges.

Discover more about the essential features of Medesk and claim your free access today!

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Summing It Up

Solving scheduling problems in healthcare is critical to running a clinic smoothly and maintaining patient satisfaction.

The main challenges are three:

  1. balancing patient demand and staff availability
  2. managing missed appointments
  3. and preventing staff burnout.

Methods that help solve these problems:

  • Using sophisticated scheduling tools that can predict when patients may need appointments.
  • Implementing cloud-based healthcare systems for making appointments, sending out automated reminders, and creating waiting lists.
  • Creating a supportive working environment with the ability to flex schedules.
  • Providing feedback to staff.
  • Implementing wellness programmes.

These methods can help reduce staff overwork and turnover, which overall leads to better patient care.

In our blog, we share solutions to the major challenges of running a private clinic, from scheduling, to analysing the financial performance of the facility.

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