Waiting for a doctor is the number one frustration experienced by patients. We know this. If you’re a receptionist, you know how much of your day you spend reassuring patients their doctor won’t be long. If you’re a practice manager, you know how difficult it is to get the daily intake of patients just right. Too few and you struggle to make ends meet. Too many and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep on time. Doctors know it too. Most have learned to keep their eyes to the ground when entering the waiting room because they know all too well that half the room is staring at them, hoping it will be their name called next.
This isn’t good for anyone involved, but how do we keep doctor appointments to schedule when we never really know what a patient is booking in for? Well, there are a few things you can do to help improve patient flow at your clinic.
1. Have Patients Create a Checklist
Ask each of your patients to create a list of things they want to discuss at their next appointment. That way they are clear on what they need help with before meeting with the doctor. There are several different ways you can remind them to do this. For instance, you can mention it during each appointment so they get into the habit of doing it regularly, suggest it when they call to schedule an appointment, or bring it up when you call, text, or email them an appointment reminder.
2. Ask If They Need an Extended Appointment
When your patients call to request appointments, ask if they need an extended appointment. They may not know the answer to this, but you can explain to them what circumstances would necessitate the need for a longer appointment. Those circumstances might include: having several things to discuss, multiple family members seeing the doctor during one appointment, or if they are booking in for mental health/addiction counselling.
3. Use Reminders
Reminders help your medical practice run like a well-oiled machine. They prevent patients from forgetting about their appointments, which adds gaps to your schedule, or worse, they turn up late and expect things to be shifted around them, throwing your schedule into chaos.
Naturally, this reminder should include the date and time of the appointment. However, it’s also a good idea to ask them to fill out any paperwork pertaining to their medical history in advance of the appointment, as well as to jot down which medications, vitamins, or supplements they’re taking and their dosages.
To automate your patient appointment reminders, you may want to consider HotDoc’s SMS booking reminder system called SMART Reminders. The customisable system reminds patients about their upcoming appointments by SMS and has helped some clinics reduce same day cancellations and no shows by up to 50%.
Here’s a video showing how it works.
4. Encourage Them to Bring Referral Details
If your patients were referred to you by other medical providers, kindly remind them to bring that provider’s contact details along with them to their appointment. That way your doctors don’t need to spend time looking up the details during or after the appointment. These details should include the referral’s name, practice name, phone number, email address, fax number and any relevant medical documents.
5. Set Up a Patient Handover Process
It only takes up more of your practice’s time when patients are asked the same questions twice. To prevent this from happening, we recommend your team develops a system for how to handle patients during shift changes. For instance, instead of having a new staff member come in and ask patients questions they’ve already answered, discuss with your team exactly what information should be shared with other team members before breaks are taken. Better yet, we suggest setting up a Google Doc, or whiteboard, so information is easily communicated, even when staff members don’t physically see one another before clocking on or off.