How to isolate problems in your scheduling system

Though there will always be times when an emergency disrupts your schedule, there is usually little reason for patients to wait more than 20 minutes for their visit.   You will also find that continually double booking, arriving late, or having general mayhem in your office will inevitably result in everyone having to stay later than expected.  Rather than experiencing all of these problems, you will be well served by isolating problems in your scheduling system, and being committed to fixing them.

Timing estimations

When a patient calls to schedule an appointment, you can usually determine which time spot you will use for purposes of optimizing your schedule. Many office visit codes include duration as part of the guidelines, at times you can use this knowledge as part of your standard for arranging your schedule.  If you find that you spend more time with specific patients, you might want to consider changing your scheduling habits in order to make sure that everything matches up.

Leaving room for emergencies

Depending on the nature of your specialty, you may end up with more emergency situations than other types of providers. For example, many people will usually go to their PCP if they are coughing blood when they have a cold, or experiencing other issue that present some level of fear or discomfort.  Once you gain some idea about the number of patients who ask to be seen on an emergency basis, you will find it easier to leave space in your schedule.  You should also try to assess the times that will work best for these patients.  No matter whether you know that many of your patients need to take care of young children, or cannot get away from work, assigning a convenient hour will help them to remain calmer, as well as to improve the quality of the visit.

Developing written policies and protocols

For the most part, you will find that other providers, as well as members of your staff will agree, in principle, to changes that will make it possible to keep the office on schedule.  That said, once the daily routine begins, you may find that everything falls apart all over again.  This may include physicians who run late when it comes to getting to the office, as well as staff members who insist on double booking.  Once you know where the pitfalls are, you should ask each person to sign a written agreement in order to make them adhere to the new plans.  While you may not want to bring disciplinary action if staff members do not comply, it may be your only option.  You may also want to consider offering incentives for those who do keep to the system. As well as disincentives for those who don’t.

There is no question that medical providers and supporting staff have all the best intentions when it comes to scheduling office visits.  Unfortunately, emergencies, personal characteristics, and other matters can create a situation where the day never seems to go as planned.  Today, you can take steps to speak with your staff about these issues, as well as to look for ways to solve them.  While you may find this task a bit challenging at first, you are sure to appreciate having more free time for yourself; additionally, you will be pleased to receive fewer complaints from patients who are tired and frustrated by having to wait to see you.

Adam Alpers is a primary care physician and blogs at Medical Billing & Coding for Physicians.

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