Visiting a physician and not finding him there or waiting for too long to see the physician are things that frustrate a patient. While not showing up for visit or arriving late for a scheduled check-up are things that do not go well for practice or physician. So, in order to avoid any such situations, it’s better to schedule an appointment at the medical office as it saves time for both the patient and practitioner. Appointment scheduling determines which patients will see the physician, the date and time of their appointment, and the duration of the appointment set by the medical assistant.
Fixing or scheduling an appointment depends on various factors like patient needs, physician preferences, available facilities, and the duration of the visit. Patient needs involve the patient’s availability for visit, the urgency of his visit, or the purpose of the visit. Physician preferences involve time each physician gives to a patient, breaks he takes between visits or other tasks he needs to take care of. Available facilities for a procedure or the purpose and duration for which a patient needs to visit a medical office like a check-up, examination, or minor surgery also determine the type of appointment scheduling. The most common type of appointment scheduling in a medical office are:
- Open office hours – This type of scheduling involves no fixed or previous bookings and the office keeps itself open during the working hours. Patients are seen by the physician in the order of their arrival. In this method, the physician doesn’t have to worry about a patient breaking an appointment or the office running behind schedule. It is mostly followed by urgent care clinics and emergency rooms. The main disadvantage of this system is that it increases the wait times for patients and keeps the physician extremely busy for a part of the day.
- Scheduled or fixed appointments – This is a more planned and easiest method of patient scheduling without keeping the wait time high for patients. It aligns the patient visits depending on the number of patients arriving and the average time required for each patient. It also keeps breaks for the physician and keeps him less burdened.
- Flexible Office Hours – This type of scheduling is done for patients who could not visit the office during normal working hours. Evening and weekend hours are generally kept free for such patients.
- Wave Scheduling – This type of scheduling involves giving the same slot within an hour to 3-4 patients and the one arriving first sees the doctor first. It saves time of practitioner as if one patient runs late the other is there and can be seen. In some cases, it might increase the wait time for patients if all of them arrive on time.
- Advanced Scheduling – This type of scheduling involves booking appointments day or month in advance. It is often done for regular health checkups or surgical procedures. Advanced scheduling requires medical office staff to call and remind the patients about their appointments a few days or hours before their slot. It also requires 24 hours’ notice to cancel any appointment.
- Rescheduling Canceled Appointments – It is done for patients who had missed their appointment or had to cancel them due to any reasons. They are generally accommodated in canceled slots or taken up before a new appointment is made.
- Emergency Appointments– These are arranged for patients who need to see the physician urgently. They are generally made on request subject to availability of the physician and depending on the signs and symptoms that constitute an emergency situation.
Appointment scheduling is an important part of the marketing plan for practices as it keeps the flow of patients on. It avoids confusion and lowers the waiting time for patients which helps a practice to get new patients and retain the old ones.
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