Appointment scheduling is a key part of medical practice management. While it may sound easy, it is deceptively challenging. The scheduler must estimate how long an appointment will take, be able to cancel and rearrange appointments as patients or physicians dictate, and constantly stay on top of emerging and ever-changing scheduling software. It is a position that takes the patience of a saint, the people skills of a politician, and extreme organizational skills.
When a patient calls for an appointment the scheduler must determine the urgency of the problem and approximate length of time the medical personnel will require to asses and treat the patient’s situation. This is typically done based on just one or two sentences from the patient describing the problem. If the problem is urgent, but the scheduler misinterprets the patient’s complaints and sets the appointment for several days away, the problem may become exacerbated and worsen into a serious condition. Moreover, an appointment that sounds routine and is scheduled for a short time slot but turns out to be complex in nature will run over its allotted time, resulting in long waits for other patients and late hours for the office staff. However, only a certain number of appointments that can fit into each day, so the scheduler must be judicious in scheduling and not overload the caregivers or patient care quality may suffer.
The appointment scheduler must also be ready to handle problems as they arise, because they frequently will Patients late for their appointments can throw off the entire schedule. Physicians running over appointment times or late to the office may also offset the timing. It is up to the scheduler to work the schedule back under control.
Not only must the scheduler troubleshoot problems, but they also have to handle upset patients. No one wants (or has the time) to sit and wait for an appointment past the scheduled time. When mix-ups occur, the scheduler must be able to calmly and patiently handle angry patients. It is a position that requires excellent people skills.
In the past, all scheduling was done with paper and pencil. Increasingly, medical offices have incorporated electronic appointment systems into their scheduling procedures. These systems automate much of the scheduling, making quick work of appointment changes, patient reminders, and sudden staff changes that may impact a day’s case load. However, the software cannot replace the worker. The scheduler is still just as important in ensuring the program is properly running and staying in touch with patients. Indeed, these programs require schedulers to be highly trained in both medical appointment scheduling and in the particular software used by their office.
Without competent scheduling, office efficiency drops and patient satisfaction decreases. Accordingly, appointment scheduling is an important component of practice management.