Regardless of what type of medical practice you have, any practice can be pretty unpredictable when it comes to appointments. You never know what your day is going to be like sometimes. But there’s one thing you want to be sure of — that your appointment book stays full.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Patients occasionally have emergencies and need to cancel. Or they might cancel if they find someone who can see them sooner. And of course, you’ll also have no-show patients who don’t bother to call. (Ouch.)
It probably sounds familiar…and frustrating.
But keeping your appointment book full doesn’t have be a hassle. Check out some of our top tips to help you get more patient appointments.
1. Offer online appointment scheduling.
This one should be at the top of your list. 77% of patients say online appointment scheduling options are important when choosing a healthcare provider. If you’re not offering this, you’re missing out on potential business.
Most healthcare practices use a practice management system (PMS) that houses both patient information and appointments. Look for an online booking software that integrates with your existing PMS. This saves your staff from having to transfer appointments from the scheduling software to the PMS.
But does the idea of patients scheduling their own appointments sound like a disaster waiting to happen? Well, don’t get nervous just yet!
You don’t have to give up control of your entire schedule. Many online scheduling systems allow you to set certain limits depending on how you want it to flow. Ask yourself the following questions when configuring your appointment settings:
- How much time do you need for certain visit types (such as annual exams)?
- How far in advance do you want patients to be able to schedule?
- What days or hours are you willing to accept appointments?
Setting limits allows for more seamless booking that fits your schedule. And it lessens the likelihood of double-booked appointments, which can be stressful for both you and your patients.
2. Have a patient portal to address non-urgent issues.
Established patients are very important to any healthcare practice. But it’s also important to make sure you’re not so tied up with them that you’re unable to see new patients.
Wouldn’t it be great to help established patients get non-urgent concerns and questions addressed as quickly as possible? A secure patient portal allows you to do just that.
You might be asking, “How does this help me get more patient appointments?”
Here’s a useful nugget of information: You free up time to see new patients when you’re not busy addressing non-urgent issues from current ones.
A patient portal gives established patients a way to electronically communicate with you and your staff. You’ll provide faster service and avoid unnecessary visits for problems that don’t require in-person interaction.
Encourage your patients to use the portal as much as possible. Let them know you or your staff can assess their issues with greater ease that way. From there, you’ll determine if they need to be seen.
What do you do with the time you’ve saved? See more new patients, of course!
3. Train your staff to triage call-in patients efficiently.
Since we’re on the subject of patient communication, let’s go a little further into the role of your staff.
When patients call requesting appointments for problems they’re having, technical staff members usually know what questions to ask. But they can’t always be on hand to take calls.
No patient wants to hear, “I’m sorry, but our technician’s busy and will have to call you back.” They’ll simply call around until they can find someone else to handle their concern.
So how do you stop losing those patients to the competition?
Start by educating your administrative staff. Give them insight to help them ask some of the questions your technical staff might ask. They may not be able to do everything a technician can. But it still helps them better match up a patient’s needs to your schedule.
There are relatively simple questions your administrative staff can ask, like:
- “How long has the problem been going on?”
- “Are you feeling pain?”
- “How severe is the pain?”
The success of this strategy depends on how well your staff knows your expectations. Draw up a triage process they can follow, and make sure they know which issues they can schedule for. Conversely, also let them know which issues technical staff should address.
This technique not only helps get more patient appointments for your practice, it adds value to your administrative staff as well. It expands their knowledge level and turns them into better brand ambassadors.
4. Prebook appointments as much as possible.
One of the easiest (and most overlooked) ways to get more patient appointments is to prebook them. It’s a fairly common practice at many salons and spas. But did you know it also works wonders for healthcare practices?
The trick to prebooking successfully is creating a sense of urgency in your patient.
If you let a patient tell you, “I’ll call you back after I check my schedule,” there’s no guarantee you’ll see them. They may forget to call you back or decide they don’t need to be seen at all.
But you don’t need to strong-arm patients into scheduling. It’s all about a subtle approach.
- Use language like “secure” or “guarantee” instead of “book” when referring to an appointment.
- Rather than asking, “What time works best for you?” give them a couple dates and times to choose from.
- Overcome objections to future appointments by offering text or email reminders.
Use these tips when scheduling both new and established patients. Don’t be afraid to try them. The payoff is you’ll get more appointments, and patients won’t have to worry about getting in to see you.
5. Set aside time for same-day appointments.
Appointment wait times are a major pain point among patients. And it’s easy to see why.
Currently, the average wait time for a new patient appointment is 24 days in major metropolitan areas. That’s almost a whole month, which is quite a long time.
Even if you’ve got a great reputation, making patients wait too long for an appointment deters them from calling your practice.
But offering same-day appointments at the wrong times can wreak havoc on your day. If you habitually squeeze in patients wherever you can, you’ll stretch yourself and your staff thin. And your patients won’t have a good experience.
Instead, dedicate a specific time of day for them. If necessary, limit same-day services to routine or minor-problem visits.
Equip your staff to efficiently handle these types of appointments. It may require extra hands on deck to verify insurance or evaluate patients. You don’t want to overwork or overwhelm your staff while trying to accommodate extra patient flow.
Same-day appointments definitely get more patients to your practice. But increased patient satisfaction is by far the greatest benefit to offering them.
Your patients will appreciate getting prompt care when they need it. And they’ll be glad to refer their friends and family to your practice.