In today’s healthcare industry, patients are in charge. The rapid rise of healthcare consumerism, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, is driven by patients expecting providers to match their preference for convenience by offering digital tools as businesses in other industries do. 

Yes, healthcare is a business, and providers must meet their “customers’’ needs or risk a lack of operational and financial sustainability. Along with the high cost of care, many patients’ biggest frustration with the United States healthcare system is lengthy wait times. 

On average, patients spend 28.8 minutes waiting for an appointment but only 16.7 minutes with a doctor. That is why efficient appointment scheduling is so crucial to patient satisfaction. 

It doesn’t only vex patients, though. According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), medical practice leaders rank patients not showing up for appointments and not being able to see all the patients who want to be seen as two of the top appointment-related challenges. 

Why is efficient patient scheduling so difficult to achieve? In some cases, it is because of inadequate utilization of resources or an imbalance between the demand of patients to be seen and the supply of providers. Sometimes, healthcare providers encounter operational inefficiencies that compound administrative responsibilities. 

4 Reasons Patient Scheduling Is So Crucial 

When physician practices and other healthcare providers realize streamlined patient scheduling, they eliminate crowded waiting rooms, improve patient access and engagement, optimize physician capacity and save time and money. Effective patient scheduling is also key to: 

1.  Providing Patients with a Better Experience 

Not to be confused with patient satisfaction, a patient’s experience is based on what should happen during their appointment and whether that actually occurred. It is their perception of the care they receive. 

Ensuring your patients have a good experience does more than result in positive reviews. Patients with better care experiences often have better health outcomes. They are also more likely to adhere to medical advice and treatment plans, utilize fewer healthcare services, and engage in prevention and disease management processes of care. 

After a negative experience, some patients will quit making appointments with a practice, especially if they experience lengthy wait times. They may cancel scheduled appointments. Or, they might not show up for them at all. For physician practices, that results in a lower retention rate and reduced revenue. 

2.  Improving Physician Utilization 

Efficient use of medical group staff, including physicians, reduces the already existent repercussions of the healthcare labor shortage. That allocation of resources is streamlined through effectual patient appointment scheduling because it accommodates the demand for appointments and optimizes practice workflow. 

When schedules are updated in real time, healthcare provider staff can match appointment slots with patient needs to avoid bottlenecks and minimize wait times. It ensures physicians and their staff are utilized effectively, reducing their stress levels and allowing them to focus on providing high-quality care. 

3.  Increasing Staff Productivity 

Bureaucratic and administrative work is often cited by physicians as one of the top factors leading to burnout.  Most doctors spend an average of 13.5 hours per week on tasks other than direct patient care. 

Automation for appointment scheduling can be used to proactively improve quality and consistency of patient care and reduce waste and costs. It aids healthcare providers by eliminating inefficiency, reducing manual tasks, improving resource utilization and eliminating bottlenecks that hamper patient flow. 

By streamlining administrative processes, clinicians and their staff are more productive and have more time for patient care. Then there are the added benefits of reduced human error, improved patient management, quicker retrieval of data, improved staff satisfaction and reduced labor costs. 

4.  Decreasing No-Shows and Cancellations 

For patients, missing an appointment — no matter the reason — can negatively affect their health and result in a delay in diagnosis and treatment, sometimes leading to chronic disease. Gaps in care can lead to limited access to preventive screenings, often resulting in more admissions to the emergency department.  

Physician practices and other healthcare providers actively working to minimize no-shows can reduce them by up to 70 percent. Digital health tools enable patients to schedule appointments on their own time, offering them the convenience they prefer while reducing the administrative burden on practice staff.  

Patient Scheduling Best Practices 

The same patient scheduling strategy will not work for every healthcare provider. For example, patients living in rural areas probably won’t utilize all the resources those in urban communities do. That doesn’t mean, though, that some of the same digital tools and best practices won’t apply. By combining the following recommendations, any size medical group can achieve a streamlined workflow, improved patient satisfaction, increased revenue and more. 

1.  Implement Patient Self Scheduling with Conversational AI 

Convenience is the primary reason patients prefer receiving care from a provider whose medical group offers digital scheduling. Utilizing conversational AI gives them 24/7 access to their provider’s schedule and enables them to book appointments when and where they prefer. This drives patient satisfaction and engagement while improving practice revenue through fewer no-shows and appointment gaps.

2.  Prioritize Appointments  

All patients are important to healthcare providers, but some require a higher level of care — and thus a longer appointment —than others. Those patients should receive priority scheduling, avoiding unnecessary delays and ensuring they receive prompt care. 

Patients with minor health issues might not even need to schedule an appointment but instead could be assessed with an RN triage call. If they require an appointment, their in-office visit should require less time. Scheduling patients by priority of care not only optimizes physicians’ efficiency but also maximizes use of other healthcare resources within the practice. 

3.  Automate Patient Wait Lists 

Overbooking and appointment gaps are equally frustrating for many medical groups. Plus, they typically decrease patient satisfaction and revenue. Also, although 84 percent of patients agree that a reasonable wait time is a crucial component of a quality patient experience, the average wait time for new-patient, non-emergent appointments across five specialties is 26 days. 

Automated patient wait lists enable healthcare providers to automatically contact individuals waiting for an appointment until all open slots are filled. Practice staff do not have to manually call or text patients to replace canceled or rescheduled appointments, giving them more time to focus on other patient-centric tasks. A bonus is improved patient access and higher practice revenue. 

4. Utilize Appointment Reminder Solutions 

Almost one-quarter of patients who do not get a reminder miss their appointments. Automated appointment reminder solutions meet patients’ expectations for a seamless healthcare experience while reducing the administrative burden on practice staff.  

Appointment reminder types shown to be effective include phone calls, email and text messaging. Phone calls — including live calls, automated messages and interactive voice response calls — specifically have been proven to reduce no-shows for primary care visits.  

Unlike traditional appointment reminders, voice-enabled conversational AI gives patients the ability to access more details about their scheduled visit without having to speak with a live agent. They can even reschedule their appointment if necessary during the same call, saving them time and providing the convenience they desire. 

5.  Streamline Responses to Common Patient Inquiries 

Patients sometimes have questions that do not require a medical professional. By combining advanced automation, AI and natural language processing (NLP) to enable comprehension of and response to human language, conversational AI can be used by healthcare providers to respond to common patient questions. It achieves this by generating clear answers that mimic human interaction and asking follow-up questions if necessary.  

A voice-enabled conversational AI solution can answer frequently asked patient questions about symptoms, treatments, medications, preventive measures or preparations for an upcoming appointment or procedure. Patients receive an immediate answer without having to schedule an in-office visit, and healthcare organization staff can focus on more high-touch tasks.  

Schedule Patients Effectively with Providertech’s Voice-Enabled Conversational AI Platform 

Call 334-510-6509 to start your interactive demo of our voice-enabled conversational AI solution using ABC Sleep Clinic as the healthcare provider. Learn how the AI agent can answer numerous patient questions, including how a CPAP works, common challenges for beginning wearers and how to clean the machine. Or, contact us today to learn more!