American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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Five simple ways to smooth scheduling

From the January-February ACP Observer, copyright 2007 by the American College of Physicians.

Smooth and efficient appointment scheduling is critical to patient satisfaction, physician productivity and staff morale. Because patient scheduling has such a broad impact on operations throughout the practice, design a schedule that runs smoothly and works well.

Establish a visits-per-day target: How many patients do physicians need to see each day to meet the practice's financial objectives?
Classify visit types: Using the most common patient problems, (annual physical, chronic disease maintenance, sick visit, follow-up, new patient, etc.) estimate the time each one requires.
Define a time increment (building block): Find the time increment (usually 10 or 15 minutes) that works best in constructing appointments. Match the times actually spent on the different types of visits.
Create a templated schedule: Assign the appropriate number of time increments to each of the standard visit types and sort them into short-, medium- and long-visit categories. Then use the resulting mix to try different combinations to build a model for daily scheduling. Assess patient demand in terms of numbers and lengths of visits.
Train and implement: Involve staff in designing and modifying the new scheduling scheme. Before implementing it, train staff carefully. Provide them with protocols, cheat sheets and other simplified guidance.

While patient scheduling techniques can correct some problems, they are not a cure-all. Take control and separately address such other patient flow problems as no shows, late arrivals, waiting-room bottlenecks, walk-ins, inadequate space and overwhelming patient volumes.

For ideas on different scheduling techniques, standard templates and separate patient flow problems, check out the PMC's guide "Designing the Patient Schedule."

"PMC Tips" is a regular feature on small-practice management from ACP's Practice Management Center.

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