Moving To Automated Medical Appointment Scheduling

November 7th, 2008

One of the main reasons that my days in the clinic would always go longer than expected was because of the way I scheduled my appointments. You would not think that something as seemingly simple as medical appointment scheduling could impact a medical practice so profoundly. While I am not advocating an extra rotation on appointment scheduling during fourth year of medical school (although a bit of training on practice management would have been very useful), I will say that there is an art to appointment scheduling that I only recently realized.

The basics are straightforward: If you don’t book enough patients, you are not going to get the necessary reimbursements to keep your practice going. On the other hand, if you schedule too many appointments, your day will never end. You may be earning a decent living, but you are overworked, and after a few years, you burn out. I needed time for family and a life outside of medicine, something that many primary care physicians seem to live without.

When I really considered what was happening each day, I came to realize that I was inadvertently overbooking my patients—I was trying to cram too many visits into any one clinic day. Well, it was my medical receptionist that was overbooking. She meant well and she was filling out that old paper schedule to the best of her ability. This overbooking, though, inevitably made for extremely long waits for patients. I was behind every day even though I was working through lunch and sometimes dinner. My patients, when they finally got a chance to see me, were irritated and frustrated. I was subsequently irritated and frustrated by their indignation, because I knew that I was working as hard and as fast as I could.

Relief came in the form of an online appointment scheduler. It may sound strange but when I finally converted the old way of appointment scheduling to a web-based appointment scheduling program, my days of overbooking were over. Even better, my net income remained the same because I could reduce personnel while seeing slightly fewer patients.

The appointment scheduling software that exists today is remarkably sophisticated. It allows patients to call and set up a time to see me based on my available schedule, sort of self-service patient appointment scheduling. The interface is very patient-friendly and “speaks” in a natural dialogue. The system still allows me to squeeze in an emergent case or a walk-in and adjusts the appointment schedule appropriately. If my day is getting backed up, the system can call patients and let them know of changes in their projected time. I get fewer no-shows, more satisfied patients and the money that I save over a traditional medical receptionist is significant.

The way to achieve the greatest financial benefit overall, however, is to subscribe to a system that provides all of the tasks that a live medical receptionist would perform. For example, the program that I use functions as a medical appointment scheduler, a 24/7 medical answering service, and as a virtual receptionist. It even works as an automated appointment reminder. It completely replaces front desk medical reception!

I look at appointment scheduling software as yet another piece of medical technology that can be extremely useful to the modern practice of medicine (or dentistry, or podiatry, or any service profession). Switching to appointment scheduling software is like moving from books to PDAs in medical school/residency or like converting from paper charts to electronic medical records. Once you decide to commit to the technology fully, you cannot imagine how you lived without it.

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