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  • Andrea Ryan

How Your PT Clinic can Benefit from Patient Self Scheduling

Using self-scheduling, patients can schedule their appointments online, using an app, website, or text message, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without contacting healthcare staff. Health care organizations that previously relied on staff to schedule appointments now have the option of self-scheduling which is fast, convenient, and saves time and resources.


Healthcare organizations in the United States are well on their way to implementing self-scheduling. As patients have been able to book flights, hotels, and service appointments from smartphones, tablets, and computers for years, it's inevitable that the movement toward 100% patient self scheduling will take place. It's now an expectation and patients will seek out healthcare providers that offer this convenience.


There are different types of patient scheduling solutions, some of which are easier to use or more integrated with existing workflows than others. This article will focus on the importance of patient access and how self-scheduling solutions can help your organization achieve its objectives.


Briefly:


  • Increasing adoption of patient self-scheduling and demand for convenient access and self-service will make self-scheduling a patient expectation.

  • A patient's ability to access care may be hampered by multiple barriers, such as finances, hours of operation, transportation, and the time it takes to get an appointment. Access barriers can be alleviated through self-scheduling.

  • It is difficult for medical group staff to focus on emerging initiatives and financial priorities due to overextension. Increased automation can provide relief from this overextension.

  • In conjunction with industry best practices, self-scheduling will have the greatest impact on a physical therapy practice.

  • Choosing the right self-scheduling solution is not easy; you should know what to look for.


Accessibility barriers for patients


Having trouble getting in touch with a provider, scheduling an appointment, traveling to a provider's location, and paying for healthcare services can have serious consequences for a patient's health. Self-scheduling may not be able to eliminate all barriers, but it can remove some of the most significant ones.


Hours of operation


Most physical therapy practices are open between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, or some variation of these hours. There are urgent care clinics available for treating acute conditions, but they are not appropriate for providing preventative health care or managing chronic pain. Patients with odd hours or limited phone access during their shifts have difficulty accessing the service due to the structure. In many cases, this means putting off care as long as possible. Patients can access the schedule 24/7 via self-scheduling, making it easy for them to make an appointment.

Appointment time


Most practices use waitlists to accommodate new patients or appointments, since it can sometimes take weeks to accommodate new patients. Patients may become discouraged during this time or their condition(s) can deteriorate. Any delay in care and increased risk of acuity are not only risky to the patient, but also increase healthcare costs.


Geographic Barriers


Many patients who live in rural areas or don't have reliable transportation face significant obstacles when it comes to transportation. We also know that transportation issues contribute to patient no-shows as well as deterring patients from seeking the care they need. By self-scheduling, patients are able to see what appointments are available and choose a time and date that works best for them.


Staff Benefits of Patient Self-Scheduling


Healthcare budgets are also being squeezed tighter as reimbursement rates continue to decrease. As responsibilities grow, staff are challenged to do more with fewer people, fewer hours, and fewer overtime hours. Administration and clinical responsibilities continue to expand as once-clearly defined roles now encompass a variety of additional responsibilities. Here are a few examples:


Initiatives to improve quality


Patient-Centered Medical Homes, Practice CAHPS, and many other quality initiatives have emerged to improve healthcare's ability to meet patient needs and control costs. As administrative and clinical staff adopt new processes, collect data, store it appropriately, and report as necessary, these initiatives all come with a heavy data collection and reporting burden that will be shared across the staff.


Clearance of financial obligations


Getting a patient cleared for a procedure or test can take a long time. In order to obtain approval for the care they need, medical groups spend a lot of time on the phone with payers. This is a time-consuming, confusing, and complicated process. There needs to be someone who asks the right questions, advocates for the patient, and completes the appropriate paperwork. There may be one or more staff members dedicated to this role in multi-provider medical groups and larger health systems, however, in smaller medical groups, this is just one of many responsibilities of someone’s varied job duties. However, it is vital to both the practice and the patient's financial well-being.


Patients and staff alike can benefit from self-scheduling. In order to remain healthy and do what they love, we can give patients the tools and accessibility to schedule appointments that fit their schedules best. As a result of self-scheduling, one FTE is freed up for every 100 appointments scheduled over the phone, so staff can now devote the time that would have been wasted on scheduling to some half-finished initiatives that could have the potential to transform their practices for the better.


The benefits of self-scheduling for patients:


It enhances patient satisfaction.


Self-scheduling will appeal to your patients for its time savings alone. The average patient takes eight minutes to schedule an appointment over the phone, and a significant portion of this time is spent waiting on hold. It is estimated that 63% of patient calls are transferred. In that case, you'll probably have a grumpy patient or worse, one who gives up and hangs up, further delaying their care. In contrast, self-scheduling can take as little as two minutes for a patient. Having 24/7 access to the schedule coupled with the convenience of the process is pretty hard to beat. Patients are now more likely than ever to share their experiences and recommendations via online review sites and social media channels, which means patient satisfaction is more crucial than ever before.


Savings are guaranteed.


In our discussion of patient self-scheduling, let's also examine staff time. Unlike self-scheduled appointments, appointments scheduled over the telephone require staff intervention. Those phone calls are not driving patient satisfaction or efficiency and are wasting staff time. For every 100 appointments booked via self-scheduling, 1 FTE can be saved by using self-scheduling instead of traditional scheduling. Another way to look at this savings is that it takes six self-scheduled appointments each day to break even on a self-scheduling solution, and every self-scheduled appointment thereafter saves the practice $1.


Your staffing model becomes more flexible and employee engagement improves.


Your team is full of incredible talent, and they want meaningful, rewarding roles. By automating manual tasks, your staff can spend more time interacting with patients face-to-face or applying their skills to roles that can't be automated.


In addition, self-scheduling draws new patients.


As a relatively new concept in healthcare, self-scheduling offers a great opportunity to differentiate your practice. Happy patients also share their experiences, contrary to the belief that only unhappy patients do so. Providing self-scheduling convenience to patients will be perceived as a sign that your practice is aware of their needs and expectations.


You will experience a reduction in no-shows.


Experts say patients are more likely to attend appointments they schedule themselves. Patients who schedule their own appointments are more likely to remain engaged and attend as scheduled or notify you if there is a conflict.


By automatically filling in last-minute cancellations, non-billable hours are minimized.


It is notoriously difficult to fill last-minute cancellations, which creates a serious revenue leak for health systems and practices. A waitlist is not used by 90% of physician practices, and only 15% of canceled appointments are filled. Health systems benefit from waitlists because they provide immediate access to patients for new openings. With an automated waitlist, patients are notified about open spots and can claim them by text messaging. You can fill cancellations faster using the system than with manual phone calls, and maximize the productivity of your staff.


Providing after-hours access to your patients does not require you to hire after-hours staff or pay a call center.


In Conclusion


You can grant your patients self-scheduling access to enable them to get more done while also allowing your staff to focus more on patient care. The trend isn't going away anytime soon, it's becoming the new front door for physical therapy practices. Patients benefit from self-scheduling, but practice staff can reap staggering benefits as well.


Interested in how patient self-scheduling may improve your practice, or want to see a demo of the PatientStudio integrated self-scheduling system. Set something up today, through our own self-scheduling platform.