Unsold Appointments: Solutions Might be Simpler Than You Think

The Virginia chapter of the Medical Group Management Association (VA MGMA) held their spring conference in Richmond last month. One session by Nate Moore, who brands himself the “pivot table guy,” offered insight into using data to find solutions for an issue most physician offices face – unsold appointments.

Nate presented a case study from a group of Colorado physician practices which found that 11% of appointments were unsold, meaning they were either not scheduled or canceled. That translates to missed opportunities to care for patients and less money for the bottom line.

As you might guess from the “pivot table guy,” tracking and analyzing data on open appointments is the first step to finding solutions. But in the case study, almost one-third of the practices don’t track or have any process in place to review their open and missed appointments.

That finding surprised me, but I was even more surprised by some of the reasons these appointments go unsold.

Managing “Block Time”

Many practices block out time on their calendars where they don’t allow appointments to be scheduled. The reasons vary, like holding time for specialty appointments and walk-ins or closing at noon for staff lunch. Some don’t schedule patients after 3 p.m. so the providers can complete paperwork.

In my opinion, these customs are a legacy from a time when healthcare centered around the provider, rather than the patient. In today’s consumer-driven world, what other businesses close their doors during the only time many of their customers are available to get to their services?

Before coming to Envera Health, I worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Care solving customer’s transportation needs. Enterprise built a reputation and business on putting the consumer first. In this line of work, a rental car sitting on my lot was the equivalent to an unsold appointment for a provider. We depended on reservation reminders, constantly maintained waitlists and worked to find cars at other locations for my customers when I had no availability.

“Take care of your customers and employees first and profits and growth are sure to follow.”

Enterprise Founder, Jack Taylor

The lessons I learned from Enterprise came back to me during the MGMA presentation, reminding me that  often the best solutions come out of creating a customer-first culture, which starts with realigning to our purpose.

Realigning with Purpose Can Offer Solutions

We believe that people go into healthcare careers because they want to help people. Unsold appointment problems may stem from losing sight of that purpose.

We know that healthcare is complicated, but scheduling patient appointments doesn’t need to be so difficult. Here are three simple solutions for practices to reduce unsold appointments and take the burden off frontline and clinical staff:

  1. No-shows for scheduled appointments make up a big part of unsold appointments. But sending multiple reminders through calls, texts and emails, can reduce the no-show rate significantly. If the reminders make it easy for customers to cancel or reschedule, providers can avoid the need to threaten their customers with a cancellation fee and have a better chance of retaining that patient for life.
  2. When appointments must be scheduled months ahead, waitlists are commonplace. But what if we could collect the patient’s ideal day and time when adding them to the waitlist? Then when cancellations come up, we could match that time and day and offer the open appointment to someone waiting to get in to see the doctor. With technology-enabled services, some practices are doing this today.
  3. Practices with multiple locations can offer earlier appointments (and sometimes even same day appointments) to patients if they are willing to go to a different location. Providing directions and transportation information can ease the stress and inconvenience of finding a different office.

With technology-enabled solutions like the ones we offer here at Envera, managing these issues with proactive approaches can help providers build loyalty with patients and improve their productivity and financial health.

Envera’s Engagement Center combines technology and a consumer-centric approach to help partners manage appointments to retain and build patient loyalty. If you’re ready to explore our solutions, give us a call.

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