Nobody likes waiting to see their physician. In fact, a whopping 97% of patients are frustrated by wait times at the doctor’s office, a study has reported.1 That’s a lot of unhappy patients.
Fortunately, a practice can do many things to help keep patient appointments on time—beginning with proper scheduling techniques and monitoring patients’ progress during appointments.
Charlene K. Mooney, a consulting executive with Halley Consulting Group, a physician practice management and consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio, advises having a flexible, rather than a set, schedule, because this allows for adjustments to the time and length of appointments to fit patient needs. This entails having time slots with different amounts of time available for appointments. For example, a new patient should be scheduled in a longer time slot, and a patient having a blood pressure check would have a much shorter appointment.
“Designate specific times of the day for longer appointments and fill them in with shorter appointments if that type of appointment doesn’t schedule or show,” says Ms. Mooney, who also recommends keeping some slots open for urgent same-day appointments.
Carlos A. Sesin, MD, chief, Division of Rheumatology, Mount Sinai Medical Center/Vanguard Rheumatology Partners, Miami Beach, Fla., says his practice uses CareCloud practice management and electronic health record (EHR) software to track patients from check-in to check-out. “We can monitor how long patients have been waiting at every step of their appointment,” he says. “If we see that a patient is taking longer than expected in any of the steps, we identify the hold-up and try to move things along.” Another key is to not overbook patients.
Setting Guidelines Regarding Interruptions
Ideally, a clinician seeing a patient in the exam room should not be interrupted for calls or questions unless absolutely necessary, Ms. Mooney says. Instead, designate a specific time at the beginning or end of the day to handle tasks that could cause interruptions.
To help avoid interruptions at his practice, Peter Zigfrid Zadvinskis, MD, rheumatologist, Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids, Mich., says each rheumatologist is assigned to a clinical support person—usually a licensed practical nurse—to help maintain the schedule and avoid unnecessary interruptions.
Ideally, a clinician seeing a patient in the exam room should not be interrupted for calls or questions.
Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR, director, Arthritis Treatment Center, Frederick, Md., allows interruptions only if another physician is calling and cannot wait, and Dr. Sesin encourages other doctors to send him text messages instead of calling.