Save money and reduce stress with centralized scheduling in healthcare

Is it difficult to book new patients in your network because physician schedules are always full? Is revenue suffering because of front office issues?

If your healthcare system is experiencing these types of problems, it may greatly benefit from centralized scheduling. Converting from de-centralized scheduling can show an immediate positive effect on the efficiency of network operations through a variety of means.

Without the constant interruptions of patients calling in to schedule appointments, office staff are free to focus on other priorities, such as the capture and verification of demographic information or revenue cycle management projects. Centralized scheduling can reduce template variation across the network, helping to standardize practices, drive more patient volume and increase management control. It has also proven to greatly increase patient satisfaction, as it allows easy access to online appointment scheduling and other convenient features.

The biggest hurdle in implementing centralized scheduling is hiring the right number of staffers for the job. This issue requires a good deal of analysis of call data, including the number of calls received on average each day, the number of calls that are abandoned and the length and type of each call. Depending on the type of network, call staffers can vary greatly. For example, staffing for multi-specialty networks is more difficult that staffing for a network that is mainly dominated by primary care physicians, as multi-specialty networks have a greater variation in scheduling strategies. A good rule of thumb when it comes to hiring call staffers is to start with one scheduler for every five providers.

If the ultimate goal is to convert the entire network over to centralized scheduling, it is best to start small and build up over time. Begin with one small to medium-sized practice, and follow the one-to-five ratio for hiring call staffers. Over the course of several months, hold frequent meetings with these staffers and providers to see which strategies are working well and what needs to change. These meetings and strategy adjustments will help reduce some of the loss of control at the provider level. Once things are running smoothly, a slow, staggered roll-out to the rest of the network can begin, using the successfully proven methods from the first practice.

Hopefully, everything will transition smoothly, but hiccups along the way are to be expected. In order to avoid any major pitfalls, there are several things to keep in mind. First, make sure that the right schedulers are hired for the job. They should have previous physician office experience and strong customer service skills. After the new schedulers are hired, they should be put through an extensive training process that covers how to handle insurance information, as well as the tricky task of how to avoid the appearance of working for a call center. Communication is central to this process, and lines of communication between management, providers, and schedulers should always be open.

The added benefit of implementing centralized scheduling is the proven increase in levels of patient satisfaction. Hospitals and networks that have utilized these types of procedures are able to ensure reduced wait times for patients, quicker call-back responses from medical staff, increased scheduling availability, and multi-lingual call staff. These important benefits help to keep patients in the system, rather than forcing them to seek out-of-network care, over-utilize the emergency room or simply abstain from any healthcare whatsoever. Patients often turn to these strategies when obtaining an appointment with their regular provider has proven too difficult, and these types of scenarios can be very dangerous for network revenue cycle and care coordination.

Centralized scheduling also enables the use of new healthcare scheduling technology, allowing patients to book appointments online, communicate with their doctor through chat features, and receive text reminders about test updates and upcoming appointments. These types of tech features are becoming increasingly important with patients, as recent surveys show that on average, 17% of all patients book their appointments online, and a whopping 42% would use online scheduling features if given the opportunity.

It can be difficult for networks to transition to centralized scheduling, and some pushback should be expected. Specialized networks in particular will require a significant time commitment to properly train new staffers. However, in the majority of cases, the time commitment is worth it. When implemented correctly, centralized scheduling is a win all around. It reduces stress for front-of-office staff, allows patients to have easier access to scheduling, and increases revenue for the network, all important conditions in a population health environment.

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