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At a Glance:

  • Growing Importance of Patient Scheduling: Effective patient scheduling is crucial for practice management, leading to satisfied patients, increased revenue, and streamlined medical office schedules.
  • Shift to Digital Scheduling Post-COVID: Patient expectations have shifted, with digital and online scheduling becoming the norm, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mobile-based scheduling, particularly through conversational messaging, enhances convenience and safety in the appointment process.
  • Strategies for Efficient Patient Scheduling: Providers can leverage technology to improve patient scheduling by automating responses to routine questions, improving medical call-center operations, using data to identify trends, implementing patient rescheduling, utilizing automated patient recalls, adopting a referral appointment system, incorporating AI-enabled technology like ChatAssist AI for efficient scheduling and communication, and more.

Effective patient scheduling is one of the most important elements of practice management — resulting in happy patients, increased revenue, and a streamlined medical office schedule. Improving patient scheduling is a constant goal for the healthcare industry. In 2022, healthcare providers spent almost $390 million on scheduling; by 2027, this investment will increase to as much as $738 million.

Over the past few years, due to the COVID pandemic, patients have begun to shift their expectations. Convenient digital and online patient scheduling from providers has become the norm over the traditional phone-based patient appointment booking system.

How can patient scheduling be improved in this post-COVID world? This is a question providers recognized they needed to answer so they pivoted to technology – particularly mobile-based scheduling – to make the entire appointment journey for patients more convenient, and safer.

How to improve the scheduling process

The success of mobile-based patient appointment scheduling is all in the numbers. According to a patient survey, 73 percent of healthcare consumers prefer to receive medical updates through texting, while 95 percent of texts are actually read and responded to within 3 minutes of being received. What’s even more impressive is the overall open rate of 98 percent for texting compared to a less impressive 16.97 percent open rate for email.

A 2017 University of Utah study found that 39 percent of patients said one of the most important things in healthcare is the ability to schedule a timely doctor appointment. Another survey reported that 30% of patients said they left an appointment due to a long wait while 1 in 5 patients said they switched doctors because of long wait times. Clearly, making patients wait can be costly for providers. So, how can patient scheduling be improved in today’s world? Through conversational messaging.

How to schedule appointments efficiently  

Investing in patient communication technology can shorten the time it takes to get a patient scheduled and registered. Texting a patient to confirm an appointment with a reminder to update personal information, complete lab work, or make a co-payment cuts down on the amount of time your office staff needs to spend on these administrative tasks when the patient checks in for the appointment. For busy office staff, this can be a major time-saver.

Here are ways providers can leverage technology to improve patient scheduling without adding to a staff’s workload.  

1. Confirm appointments with text or email reminders

Automated medical appointment reminders reduce no-shows, increase appointment confirmations, and ultimately increase the number of patient visits through better slot utilization.

When you select an automated appointment reminder software, be sure to look for one with conversational messaging functionality — when you’re texting patients, make sure they can text you back.  If you are sending a confirmation email, use a conversational email so patients can reply.

2. Automate responses to routine questions

Your staff doesn’t need to respond to every patient message. With an advanced patient reminder system that includes keyword actions, you can send automated responses. This includes both routine patient scheduling phrases, such as “confirm,” “cancel,” and “reschedule,” as well as the less-than-obvious scheduling phrases, such as “I’ll be there,” “different time,” or “can’t make it.”

3. Improve medical call-center operations

Some patients prefer to speak to a live person to schedule appointments versus doing so online or via texting. By reducing call volume, you can improve the operations of your call center and dramatically improve patient scheduling. For example, Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute (formerly Santa Monica Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Group) had a high volume of phone calls that were going into voicemail. They wanted to reduce the incoming call volume so that a higher percentage of calls could be immediately answered by their staff. They hoped the combination of staff answering the phone plus conversational messaging would lead to increased patient satisfaction and better service quality. After using Artera for conversational messaging, Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe reduced their call volume by 20 percent, allowing 85 percent of patients to reach a live person when they called to schedule an appointment.  

4. Use data to identify trends and opportunities

In Physician’s Weekly, healthcare consultant Judy Capko advises providers to use data to identify trends and causes of scheduling and patient-flow problems. “This information is critical to digging deeper to evaluate specific incidences and determine what causes the bottlenecks and workflow problems in your practice,” she said.

Data from patient scheduling software is a good place to start for tracking appointment times, arrival times, time seen by a physician, and other key metrics. Additionally, patient communication platforms may provide analytics on confirmation and no-show rates, allowing you to determine the ideal timing for sending messages.

5. Use broadcast messages to reach a group of patients

When a provider is sick or there is inclement weather, send a broadcast text message to all of the patients you have scheduled for that day. This will save your office staff hours’ worth of phone calls and will ensure patients arrive at their appointments at the right time.

By using the Artera platform, Monterey Spine & Joint, a busy sports medicine and physical therapy clinic was able to save the additional cost of two full-time phone operators. The clinic uses Artera’s broadcast messaging feature to let patients know when a doctor must cancel their appointments due to emergency surgery. Broadcast messaging was also helpful during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when CDC guidelines kept changing. As information was updated, the clinic was able to text all their patients with the latest protocols.

6. Use patient self-scheduling — especially to reschedule appointments

As many as 20 to 30 percent of patients cancel or reschedule their appointments. Calling patients to reschedule creates a lot of administrative work. Instead, implement a patient self-scheduling system that integrates with your patient communication platform. This way, when a patient texts, “I can’t make it,” the software can automatically suggest alternative open times.

7. Use automated patient recalls for scheduling future patient appointments

When scheduling annual screenings or physical exams, instead of scheduling patients a year out or mailing them an appointment reminder card, use an automated patient recall system from a patient communication platform that will send a message in the patient’s preferred medium — texting, email, or phone to remind them to schedule an appointment. Ideally, the patient communication platform will also integrate with your EMR to mark the recall as “scheduled” to close the loop.

8. Use a referral appointment system for patient scheduling

When a specialist’s office receives a list of referrals, scheduling patients require staff to call each patient individually which can be quite time-consuming. Instead, use a referral system that sends referred patients a message asking them if they would like to schedule an appointment. When using a patient communication tool like Artera, patients can easily receive texts about setting up a referral appointment which leads to better health outcomes and increased revenue for the health system.

The rheumatology department at renowned health system UNC Health implemented Artera to assist with referral conversion. With Artera conversational messaging, UNCH was able to text its patients about setting up a referral appointment, and patients could instantly text or call back. This type of patient outreach proved more effective than sending messages through MyChart or leaving phone voicemails that may not be heard. After three months of using Artera, UNCH Rheumatology improved its referral conversion rate from a disappointing 30% to consistently averaging a high of 75% every month

9. Use artificial intelligence-enabled technology for patient scheduling

AI-enabled technology such as Artera ChatAssist AI can save staff a tremendous amount of time by not having to make numerous phone calls to schedule appointments. ChatAssist AI uses automated conversational sequences to independently navigate complex, multi-step patient communication. The new functionality creates custom conversations that adapt to reflect the information provided by the patient using Natural Language Understanding (NLU). AI technology like ChatAssist AI can also improve patient communications in key areas such as telehealth, portal enrollment, insurance verification, and COVID vaccinations.

For example, when the first COVID vaccines became available, one of the challenges Sansum Clinic was facing as a vaccination center was an inconsistent supply of vaccines. They often found out last-minute that they were getting a shipment so they didn’t have much time to contact patients to schedule appointments. Whenever Sansum received a vaccine shipment, staff had to manually call people, starting with their older patient population, only to discover many had already been vaccinated elsewhere. Only one in every six phone calls would result in a patient needing a vaccination. Using ChatAssist AI to create a text message and phone call campaign to tell their patients they had the vaccine, Sansum was able to send out 26,600 messages within a ten-day period, saving the staff 159 hours of work.

As you can see, when it comes to improving patient scheduling, leveraging the technology of a fully integrated patient communication platform like Artera is one of the best ways to optimize your patient scheduling processes. Since Artera enables enterprise health systems, private practices, and vendors to communicate with patients securely across any channel, including text messaging, email, and telephone, your patient scheduling process automatically becomes more streamlined and efficient, resulting in more patient satisfaction and less stress for your staff. ♥


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