Office Staff: “Are you available Friday at 1?”
Patient: “No, how about noon?”
Office Staff: “No, we’re booked that day other than 1”
Patient: “Okay, what about next week?”
… And it goes on for another 5 minutes before a patient is scheduled.
Who Needs Automated Appointments
All practices should be making the absolute most out of their schedule. Whether it be to fill it or keep it clear.
For most practitioners, typically an empty time slot on your calendar means you’re missing out on potential revenue. And it should be your goal to fill your calendar, eliminate wasted time by yourself and your staff, and decrease no shows.
However, as you grow and become more Untethered, you won’t be so dependent on having a completely full schedule… in fact, it will be our goal to decrease the hours spent working INSIDE of your practice..
Before we jump in, there is one exception. The only reason I wouldn’t recommend rolling out an online scheduling option for new patients is if you primarily work with elderly patients or those with disabilities.
Principle: How your practice manages its scheduling will tell me everything I need to know about your business.
Is it organized?
All over the place?
Do you have lunch breaks built in?
Do you have time to work ON your business built in?
Why Use Automated Appointments?
According to a recent study, 64% of patients will use self-scheduling. (Source)
This means that two-thirds of your potential clients are willing to schedule their appointments online.
Value Your Time
Why waste yours or your staff’s time on booking appointments over the phone or via long email chains?
Instead you could be serving your patients or working to bring in new patients.
Minimize Money Lost
You know what’s worse than having an empty schedule?
A full one where no one shows up for their appointment!
Let’s say you average one missed appointment every business day and your average session is $150.
That means that every month you’re missing out on $3,000, which adds up to $36,000 yearly.
That’s a staff member’s salary! Let that sink in.
By using a scheduling software, you’re able to set up automated reminder emails and/or text messages.
While a phone call is a good reminder strategy, it takes staff time and we’re trying to eliminate unnecessary manual tasks.
Most practices (and patients) are opting for text message reminders. A simple “Reply Y to confirm your appointment. Or call us if you need to reschedule.” will go a long way in a world where everyone’s attached to their phones.
Eliminate Schedule Overwhelm
What’s worse than having a full calendar?
Every single appointment actually showing up!
You’ll be running around in your practice and never be able to work ON your business.
The Physicians Foundation reported 81% of physicians described themselves as overextended or at full capacity.
Managing your schedule and automating it as much as possible will help you keep a handle on all of the variables and maximize yours and your staff’s time.
Alright, so now you’re probably wondering… how do I make the most of my calendar?
How to Make the Most of Your Calendar
The first thing you’ll need to do is establish the work hours and block time for your different appointment types.
For example, maybe you want to not book appointments on Friday, and you only want to see new patients on Tuesdays and Wednesday.
Maybe you need to spend extra time and energy during new patients, so you’ll want to schedule those in your peak hours (the hours where you are at your best and most energetic).
The better you block your time and put the right patients on your calendar at the right time with the right team member, you’ll start to feel a difference in the flow of your days and weeks. Things will click as you and your team slide into an optimized rhythm.
Depending on your type of practice, you might want to make sure to have a handful of open slots for same day scheduling.
This is typical for a pediatric or family practice who might need to take care of patient emergencies.
There are many tools for online scheduling.
We recommend you find one that integrates with your patient management system and/or your email marketing platform. So first, check with your patient management system to see if they have online scheduling features.
Our top recommendations are:
- IntakeQ (also serves as Patient Management system)
- PracticeBetter.io (also serves as Patient Management system)
- Acuity Scheduling
Once you choose your platform, you’ll be able to set up your services and availability in the system. You’ll need to migrate your current calendar into the new application, or you can potentially sync it if you are using a tool like Google Calendar.
Thoroughly train your staff on the booking system and get your team to encourage patients to use the system.
This is not a “build it and they will come” situation. You will have to make current and new patients aware and educate them about this new feature!
Make sure you are fully utilizing your tools by setting up and personalizing your reminder emails and text messages to minimize no shows.
Also, use these as opportunities to build rapport, be personable and likeable, and prepare the patient for their visit.
If they are a new patient, you’ll want to send extra emails to introduce them to your practice, who they’ll be meeting with, and what you believe in.
Make sure that you schedule enough time for new patients and/or initial consultations in your calendar.
These appointments need to run smoothly so that you have the best chance of converting them into a longer program.
More on that in a future blog.
For now, make sure that you see your new patients on time and you spend as much time as needed with them (as long as they are a good fit and not wasting your time!).
As for your ongoing patients, if you are having trouble with your show up rate, we recommend implementing a small, simple “no show fee.”
Collect their payment information at the time of scheduling and make sure they are aware of your no show policy and fee.
Now that you’ve got your automated appointment system set up, the next hurdle will be what to do once your schedule becomes full.
It’s not an if, it’s when. And that’s a great problem to have!
A simple way to increase appointment counts at your brick and mortar practice is to offset practitioners/staff shifts to be open before and after normal business hours.
For example, you can have one group come in at 6am and leave at 4pm, and another group come at 11am and leave at 8pm.
While this is effective, it is not scalable beyond the staffing and number of hours in the day.
Next, let’s use this abundance of people looking to schedule to set up a waitlist.
There are two types of waitlists you can have: one for new patients and one to fill in empty slots or no shows.
The new patient waitlist is beneficial because it shows prospects that you are full, but that you are organized and will make sure to help them once you have availability.
The appointment waitlist is a little bit trickier, but when used effectively, you can minimize lost revenue due to cancellations and no-shows. When someone books an appointment in the future, you can ask if they’d like to be on a waitlist if a newer appointment becomes available.
Then, when you have a cancellation or no-show, you can go through that list and find someone able to fill the slot.
Now you’re well on your way to maximizing your time and scaling your practice!
- More than half of patients (53.2%) say being aware of appointment length ahead of time would change their attitude about the appointment.
- Among patients who missed appointments, many reported a variety of ways their practice could have helped them: 38.1% said a reminder via text message, 23.8% said a phone call and 19.0% noted an email reminder could have helped.