By Teresa Iafolla
Maintaining an efficient appointment schedule for your medical practice can be tough. How do you fit in as many patients as you can, but also keep wait times low? How do you reserve enough room for urgent patient requests and walk-ins? How can you stop late cancellations and no-shows that leave you with unused time?
There are countless recommendations on how to organize the best possible appointment schedule—and some of them are likely to work better for your practice than others. One of the options is offering a way to do virtual appointments with your patients.
This might seem like an out-of-the-box strategy to planning a better appointment schedule, but it can have some key effects. Here’s how a telemedicine solution could improve your patient flow and help you build a better schedule.
Reduce late appointments and no-shows
While creating an efficient practice schedule can be a challenge, getting patients to show up on-time for their appointments is another battle entirely. Even with a strict cancellation or late-arrival policy, patients who travel a long way or who are traveling during peak traffic times can get delayed by unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes, this can throw your entire schedule off for the day and create a bottleneck.
If you’re able to do a virtual telemedicine visit with some patients, especially those who only need a quick five-minute follow-up appointment for instance, it cuts down on the possibility of late or no-show appointments. If patients can simply do the appointment from wherever they are, they’re less likely to skip it or get stuck in traffic. The more convenient the appointment is, the less likely it is that patients will cancel.
Improve availability of walk-ins and urgent appointments
One of the biggest reasons retail health clinics have exploded in recent years is their ability to handle walk-in patients who need same-day care. That kind of service can be a huge challenge for medical practices. When your schedule is booked for the day and a patient calls in or walks in wanting a same-day appointment, you might not be able to accommodate them—especially without a long wait.
Offering virtual patient visits can help here too. If you don’t have an open timeslot to simply schedule the patient, you can offer to do a five-minute virtual consult whenever you have a spare five minutes open up in your day. Since you can simply connect with the patient online whenever you’re ready, the patient doesn’t need to wait hours at the office until you’re ready; they can simply go about their day until you have an opening. This gives you the flexibility to offer valuable same-day care, and could even keep that patient from going to an urgent care or ER for a minor issue.
Offer after-hours virtually
While most practices opt out of providing after-hours care, it can give your practice a huge competitive advantage. And either way, you’re likely to already get some urgent after-hours calls from patients. Offering after-hours virtual visits can help you serve those patients who often can’t get in during the business day, or are likely to be rushing to your office at the end of the day and extending your end-time. With virtual visits, you have the flexibility to do appointments from home, and head off any bottlenecks in the beginning and end of your workday. Plus, you can turn those late-night urgent phone calls into documented patient visits.
There’s an art to organizing an efficient appointment schedule, and the best strategies can vary widely by practice. Consider adding virtual patient visits to the mix and check out other tips for keeping your office wait times down.
About the Author
Teresa Iafolla is Director of Content Marketing at eVisit, a physician-first telemedicine solution connecting providers to their patients via secure, video chat. Teresa manages and writes for the eVisit Blog, a resource for physicians and practice managers trying to improve their practices and boost revenue. To contact Teresa with questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org.