How long does it take for a new patient to get an appointment in your practice? What about an existing patient with an urgent issue? These are key questions every allergy practice should be tracking regularly. While the “right” answer to these questions will vary by location and practice, one thing is clear: patients with a medical problem don’t want to wait weeks or months to get an appointment.
One sure-fire solution is to offer same-day or next-day appointments to patients. Here are some ways to make that work.
- Block daily appointments to ensure same-day access.
Make time available every day for new or urgent patients. Simply block some appointments in every schedule that automatically release one day in advance. If you’ve never tried this before, it may feel a little scary, but it absolutely works! Start small – block one or two appointments in the afternoon for each provider. This will give you all morning to fill those slots. Experiment with how many slots you make available over a few weeks until you find the magic formula for your practice, keeping in mind it depends on demand and may fluctuate by season and provider.
- Block appointments and release them in waves (one week out, two weeks out, etc.).
If you have trouble scheduling follow-up appointments, consider blocking some appointments that will automatically release one or two weeks prior to the appointment date. This will help you create available appointments when patients need them in the near future. If your practice – or a particular allergist – is consistently jammed with a heavy patient load and booked solid, this is a strategy that will help!
- Create a dynamic wait list using on-demand texts to patients to fill no-shows and cancellations.
If your EHR/practice management system has the capability to automatically text patients when you have last-minute openings, use it! Texting, rather than calling, is a much more effective way to reach patients on short notice.
Allergy practices have other options to increase patient access.
- Provide telemedicine options.
Determine which visit types make sense for your practice via telemedicine. Depending on your practice, new patients, follow-up patients and urgent visits may all be options for telemedicine.
- Provide early morning, evening and/or weekend appointments.
Consider shifting your schedule slightly and providing office hours one evening or early morning a week. You can also add Saturday morning hours one or two days per month and compensate by reducing your schedule during the week.
- Expand hours during allergy season.
Consider adding extra hours during your busiest months
Offering same-day appointments and increasing access overall is a win-win strategy for allergy practices and patients. Benefits include:
- Enhanced patient satisfaction.
- More new patients – Try blocking some new patient appointments each week to ensure access.
- Better patient care – Patients with urgent/emergent situations get seen same day or next day and unnecessary emergency department visits are avoided.
- Reduction in no-shows, which in turn boosts revenue – By avoiding long waits for appointments, you’ll also reduce no-shows. And no wonder: while a patient may accept an appointment with you three weeks out, they may also continue to search for a doctor who can help them sooner. And once they find one, they “forget” about the appointment they made with you.
- Great marketing strategy – Advertise same-day and next-day appointments on your website.
Make sure you’ve ironed out the bugs in your same-day appointment strategy before you advertise it. It’s critical to follow through once you’ve advertised same-day appointments.
For more ways to optimize your schedule, view (or ask your staff to view) the College’s free 15-minute Allergy Office Educational Module: Optimizing Schedules. You’ll find ways to boost patient satisfaction, maximize scheduling efficiency and track patient access.