The appointment log is an area where medical practices tend to get set in their ways. Even in the last few months, I’ve walked into offices where the front desk attendants still used an appointment book, paper and pen to mark off the day’s visits, refusing to transfer their processes to a more tech-savvy system.
But the stubbornness doesn’t end there. Despite daily struggles, practices tend to follow the same scheduling setup day after day when it comes to visit lengths, appointment planning and overall processes – like letting encounters go well past their expected timeframes.
Applying common-sense simplification and regulation to your schedule can eliminate the issues you face regularly. Learn how to stop the struggle and streamline your schedule.
Too many practices are guilty of expecting patient visits to fit into specific, pre-planned time allotments, rather than allotting time slots appropriately for the expected length of those encounters. The option of only either thirty minute or hour-long appointment lengths isn’t always fitting.
If you’ve observed that one of your physicians usually takes forty minutes to complete and document a certain procedure, stop slotting that appointment type for thirty and use the more realistic, longer increment. Same goes for a follow-up visit you expect to last only 15 minutes – don’t plan it for half an hour.
This is an area where using the right technology makes a big difference; it’s not easy to indicate a forty-minute timetable on an old-school appointment book, but effective practice management systems usually allow you to easily change standard appointment lengths. That, in turn, will enable you to schedule appointments that follow for more obscure times like 10:40 or 3:35, rather than fixing you to set blocks on the top and middle of every hour.
Another benefit of utilizing true-to-form appointment times is that it will occasionally leave you with open 5-15 minute intervals of downtime. Sure, many doctors don’t like to leave spaces on their schedules empty, considering them a waste.
But there’s nothing wrong with breathing room, especially if it’s a byproduct of more accurate appointment planning. Plus, an empty 5-15 minute interval on the schedule provides your doctors and nurses with time to catch up on unfinished administrative tasks and documentation, which will otherwise take time away from patient care.
Plus, open periods allow providers (and administrators) with time to tend to unexpected happenings, like drop-in patients, lengthy referral phone calls or overlong appointments. Don’t smush appointments on top of each other just for the sake of staying busy; a little extra time can go a long way towards helping you keep pace with your workflow.
Execute and Communicate
Carrying out a well-planned schedule requires discipline, cooperation and straightforwardness from doctors, staff and patients. Lose sight of just one of those commitments on a given day and your whole agenda can go awry.
In this context, discipline is about limiting appointments to their specified time periods; cooperation means that staffers work together to keep patients moving smoothly through the office; and straightforwardness is about recognizing and admitting when the day is heading off track – and informing patients of their actual expected wait times as soon as they enter your office.
Throughout your practice, hold yourself to a high standard when it comes to executing your scheduled plans and make sure your team keeps one another in check. Have your PA inform the doctor who’s spending too long in Exam Room B that the next patient is waiting. Have the office manager assist the front desk attendant when the line at registration gets out of hand. Have the nurse inform a waiting patient that the physician is running 10-15 minutes behind.
With the schedule, as with most aspects of your practice, teamwork is key to achieving optimal performance. Commit, as a group, to executing on a streamlined, realistic schedule – then watch the struggle disappear.
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