Top 10 Essential Tips for a Successful Patient Scheduling System

If you’re scheduling patients, you have a tough job. On the one hand, your boss wants you to fill the schedule. On the other hand, patients don’t want to wait long. Add an emergency walk-in patient to the mix and the practice gets behind. Everyone is unhappy and stressed.

Finding a solution can be difficult, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But here are some tips to help you find the best solution for your practice:

1. How long are appointments taking?

Are you scheduling 45-minute physicals when it takes Dr. Smith 90 minutes to perform a physical? Would it be ok to schedule 90-minute physicals instead? Could a clinical staff member handle part of the visit?

Appointment length can be a touchy subject. Healthcare providers and insurance companies have conflicting views on this issue. But, if this is the kind of thing getting your practice behind, you may want to brainstorm with your boss about solutions to the problem. There could be an easy solution: Dr. Smith may even decide to use a timer.

2. Do your calendar settings need adjustment?

Are you scheduling 45-minute appointments into 30-minute slots because your scheduler uses 30-minute increments?

Many newer scheduling systems allow you to get a 45-minute appointment by blocking off three 15-minute slots. In some cases, you can get even more specific by reducing the increment size to 10 minutes. Practices that offer appointments of different lengths might find this feature useful. Check your software’s settings to review your options.

3. Are you scheduling lead times accurately?

Some changes, such as an increase in paperwork, can impact how long it takes the patient to get from the waiting room into the examination room.

If your suspect you’re getting behind because patients are dawdling, why not time it? Measure how long it takes for paperwork, vitals, instructions, etc. Adjust your scheduling accordingly. If necessary, instruct patients to arrive earlier. Consider emailing patients paperwork to fill out at home or post your intake forms on your website to save time. That in itself might give everyone a little extra room to breathe.

4. Would grouping similar appointments make sense?

Some general practitioners schedule all physicals on Thursdays. Some allergists perform all allergy tests on Fridays.

Grouping certain appointments simplifies scheduling. It helps providers focus on one medical mindset at a time. It helps clinical staff get in a groove and process things accurately. As the practice evolves, if new types of appointments emerge, consider grouping them.

5. Is there wiggle room for urgent situations?

Many dentists leave at least one slot open per business day for emergency visits or unscheduled dental appointments, allowing them to see urgent patients without making others wait.

If you have consistent urgent or walk-in patients, your practice may want to consider a similar strategy. On days with no urgent or walk-in patients, contact patients from your cancellation list to fill the empty slots.

6. Are you using appointment reminders?

How many times have you dealt with no-shows and last-minute cancellations? These things affect your schedule more than you realize.

Appointment reminders are proven to reduce no-shows. Automate them and you’ll guarantee that reminders are sent consistently, affordably and without errors. You can then do things that you can’t do manually. For example, you can remind patients of their Monday appointments on Sunday even if you’re not in the office. You can send text-message appointment reminders without violating HIPAA rules. If you’re not doing this already, please try our instant demo, you’ll be glad you did!

7. Are you enforcing a cancellation policy?

Ever wonder why your boss gets so grumpy when there’s a no-show? It’s because when a patient doesn’t show up, the practice loses money. Despite this frustration, many healthcare providers don’t feel comfortable enforcing a cancellation policy.

Although this is a touchy subject to bring up, if you do not have a real cancellation policy (or you do, but you never enforce it), you will have no-shows. It’s a fact of doing business. You must have a policy, and you must enforce it for it to work! For ideas on how to create one please read our Appointment Cancellation Policy Primer.

8. Are your patients routinely late?

If patients usually end up waiting 30 minutes in a waiting room, they’ll adapt to this schedule and show up later and later. Eventually, you’ll find yourself waiting for them.

Don’t let this happen. If you’ve done your best and find that your practice is still getting behind, do some investigating. Watch your patients, providers, and staff to figure out where you’re losing time. Adjust policies, procedures, and scheduling until your operation is back on track.

9. Are you double-booking appointments?

If your practice double-books appointments, there will be times when everyone shows up. Some patients could wait 30 to 60 minutes in the waiting room. If there’s a walk-in emergency on top of that, some patients will get bumped.

Although it may be tempting to double–sometimes triple–book appointments to avoid downtime, this is not a good long-term strategy. Do this often enough, and it will appear in online reviews of your practice. If this is your boss’ go-to strategy, you may want to suggest other ways to keep the schedule full, such as promoting your practice.

10. Have you tried incentives?

Do you think Bob would arrive on time if he got $25 off his bill if he did? One clinic in Foster City, CA decided to find out and have had great success with this strategy. Not only have their tardy patients cleaned up their act, but their no-show problem is a thing of the past.

Although patient incentives don’t work for every practice or with every billing system, if your patients are routinely late, it may be something to try. If this is something you’d like to consider, be sure to check state laws and Medicare guidelines to make sure you create a system that doesn’t break any rules.


Maintaining a healthy schedule can be challenging. Yet, it pays off in the long run. It helps increase productivity, revenue and patient satisfaction. It reduces physician and staff stress levels. Always a work in progress, be sure to update your scheduling strategy often as your practice grows over time.

For more help with no shows, please call us at (888) 858-6673 and we’ll help you review your current strategy. It’s what we’ve been doing since 1998. Or try our reminder call demo!

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