Scheduling a patient appointment can be a surprisingly frustrating and arcane task for offices that haven't yet implemented a patient portal. On the clinician side, the fluctuating nature of daily demands makes it difficult to predict exactly what periods will be available for appointments or how long each appointment will run. Manually finding open time slots and inputting appointments is an error-prone process. And having support staff call patients to remind them about appointments in order to prevent no-shows is a resource drain.
Dynamic scheduling in healthcare makes sense
For patients, the experience isn't much better. While modern-day humans can dynamically schedule everything from haircuts to fast-food delivery with a few taps on their mobile devices, scheduling a healthcare appointment in the absence of a patient portal typically involves a lengthy back-and-forth on the phone to find an open time. Reminders are either handwritten notes scrawled at the last visit or a voicemail that may or may not get listened to before the appointment time passes. And when a healthcare provider's schedule is dramatically disrupted, the patient can expect to wait - sometimes a lot: Americans spend some 847 million hours waiting to receive medical care, according to The New York Times.
Patients and clinicians see benefits
Dynamic scheduling removes many of these drawbacks for both patients and healthcare organizations. With a patient portal that supports dynamic scheduling, patients can easily scan the available appointments and pick the time that works best for them. The lengthy back-and-forth of figuring out options is instead replaced with a streamline presentation of information: Patients feel more in control, having surveyed all of the options, and will be more satisfied that they've selected the best time for them.
The patient portal can also include secure, automated email and text message reminders. That's a win-win for patient and doctor alike, as patients receive the reminder on a platform that works for them and healthcare offices can benefit from the drop-in no-show appointments.
"Americans spend some 847 million hours waiting to receive medical care."
Offices can monitor appointment trends
Perhaps the biggest value of dynamic scheduling, though, is the value that's least easy to spot on the surface: monitoring the ebb and flow of appointments. By accumulating real-time data about when appointments are made, how long they take and whether each runs over, the patient portal over time can serve as a powerful tool for figuring out the true availability of each clinician.
Let's say, for instance, that a doctor consistently ends her day 50 minutes behind schedule, with patients at the last three appointments experiencing dramatically long wait times. Analyzing the patient portal data might reveal that it's actually the lunch hour that throws everything off, as patients call the office to check in about lab results. With that insight in hand, the office could either direct incoming phone calls to a nurse practitioner during that hour or adjust the doctor's availability so that she's available for patient phone calls during that window without derailing appointments for the rest of the day.
The patient portal's data can also be a gold mine for figuring out how much time in the schedule should be allotted for same-day appointments. Because patients who make same-day appointments are the least likely to be no-shows, it behooves offices to accommodate them. But if you reserve too much time for same-day appointments, that unused partitioned time can be a waste of possible revenue and a frustration for patients looking to book regular appointments. Harnessing the patient portal's scheduling data can help a healthcare organization spot trends: Maybe same-day appointments spike on Monday afternoons and Friday mornings, or maybe they're 20 percent higher during flu season. Adjusting schedule availability during those periods can help drive efficiency - and keep patients happier.