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Step-by-Step Guide to Medical Appointment Scheduling

Learn the procedures, steps, risks, and requirements for medical appointment scheduling.

Young medical practitioner on the phone

Medical appointment scheduling is one of the most crucial components of a patient’s visit. Not only can proper medical appointment scheduling create loyal and engaged patients, but it can also increase staff productivity, lessen front office distractions, and reduce other expenses. In addition, it can provide healthcare professionals with more time to accomplish other tasks.

As you can see, medical appointment scheduling is an essential practice in the healthcare field. This fundamental skill may not sound like an exciting prospect for new healthcare professionals, but it is a vital task they will need to learn. In fact, many Medical Assistants are trained to fulfill appointment scheduling tasks in various environments.

This article provides an in-depth guide on the art and science of medical appointment scheduling, one of the most essential healthcare procedures for medical staff.

(Click here to see our full list of the most common Medical Assisting duties and responsibilities).

Medical Appointment Scheduling Definition

What Does It Mean to Perform Medical Appointment Scheduling?

Medical scheduling involves allocating specific times for exams and handling customer service inquiries. Some of the tasks medical schedulers complete include wave scheduling, modified wave scheduling, double booking, open booking, clustering or categorization, self-scheduling, and more. Medical schedulers will also perform these tasks for several offices in some situations.

What is the Purpose of Medical Appointment Scheduling?

Medical appointment scheduling aims to ensure that your patients come back to the facility, receive the treatment they need, etc. In addition, streamlining this process can allow you to schedule patient appointments in advance, decrease patient wait time, and increase satisfaction. It would also allow you to confirm whether patients are eligible for insurance and gather all the necessary information well in advance.

How Long Does it Take to Perform Medical Appointment Scheduling?

It’s important to remember that medical appointment scheduling is an ongoing process and consists of several steps. On the front end of patient scheduling, it may only take minutes to book a patient. Alternatively, verifying insurance information and performing other backend tasks can take much longer.

Who Can Perform Medical Appointment Scheduling?

While several healthcare professionals may be qualified to schedule medical appointments, it’s typically a task that’s reserved for Medical Office Administrators (MOAs). MOAs are multi-competent health professionals who play a crucial role in organizing and managing data in a medical office. They are also referred to as medical records and health information technicians.

(Click here to learn how to become a Medical Office Administrator).

In many healthcare offices, Medical Assistants are also responsible for creating and maintaining a daily or weekly schedule of appointments. In addition, they frequently prepare a copy for providers as well as other healthcare professionals.

(Click here to learn how to become a Medical Assistant).

Training Requirements for Medical Appointment Scheduling

Requirements for medical appointment scheduling can vary and depend on your location or profession. Aspiring healthcare professionals will usually receive this training through their educational programs. For instance, most aspiring MOAs in the US will require a postsecondary certificate. Some employers may require an associate degree as well. Formal training may generally take anywhere from nine months to two years to complete.

At Unitek College, we offer a Medical Assisting program that could give you a strong advantage in the field or when applying to healthcare positions. Our courses include topics like medical office administration, medical law, pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, professional conduct, and more.

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Medical Appointment Scheduling Procedure

Medical Appointment Scheduling Steps

Here are some of the general guidelines that healthcare professionals should follow when performing medical appointment scheduling tasks:

  1. Divide patient scheduling into two blocks of time. If possible, try to schedule morning appointments from noon backward usually. Alternately, you want to schedule afternoon appointments from noon onwards. This pattern can help you sustain maximum productivity and ensure the majority of the day has been scheduled for patients. Coordinate with your bosses and team members to potentially use empty time slots for staff meetings, overflow, or last-minute appointments.
  2. Prioritize appointments as much as possible. Patient visits often vary in the level of care that’s needed and the time that’s required. Always consider these factors when you schedule your patients. While some patients may need same-day appointments, you can resolve other patient matters with a phone call or an email.
  3. Send appointment reminders via text and email. Use an appointment reminder software system to ensure a greater number of kept appointments and on-time arrivals. Think about it: No-shows are both costly and inconvenient, mainly if the provider is busy and has a waitlist. Everyone loses when there’s a no-show.
  4. Establish a patient waiting list. Although late cancellations are frustrating, a patient waitlist can help you make the best of this lost time. In fact, it doesn’t have to be “lost time” at all. Utilize a patient scheduling platform that features a waitlist full of people that are ready to be notified. That way, you can send a mass notification of an open slot, saving time and revenue.
  5. Utilize an automated patient recall system. Although you must check with your facility’s rules and regulations first, it can be very beneficial to put an automated recall system in place. This helps ensure that patients return for their regular appointments. It can also bring back patients who haven’t seen this provider in years; all it may take is a simple reminder email, text, or voicemail.

Necessary Equipment for Medical Appointment Scheduling

Typically, the suggested supplies for medical appointment scheduling include but are not limited to the following items:

  • A reliable computer
  • Fax machine
  • Printer
  • Scanner
  • Phone

Potential Risks or Complications of Medical Appointment Scheduling

Some challenges of an appointment system include service variability, patient or provider preferences, the experience of the scheduling staff, and available information technology. In addition, overcrowding and prolonged wait times can lead to patient frustration, anxiety, and walkouts.

This highlights the necessity of well-trained medical appointment schedulers who can correctly fill their role in managing medical appointments. If you think about it, the well-being of the patient, provider, and healthcare system all depend on the effectiveness of the medical appointment scheduling staff.

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Pro Tips for Mastering the Art of Medical Appointment Scheduling

Here are some tips that may assist you in the future.

  • Monitor cancellations whenever possible. Taking note of patient cancellations will help you discern patterns, common cancellers, etc. For instance, some patients might not be as comfortable with morning appointments. Others may need to cancel evening appointments due to unexpected work or family obligations. If you notice that a patient cancels more than two appointments for the same reason, you could politely suggest that they schedule appointments at more convenient times for them.
  • Add a buffer time between each appointment. If you can, it’s best to pad each appointment by about 10 minutes. This allows healthcare providers to write up any patient notes, sterilize the room, use the restroom, etc. Plus, the next patient will likely appreciate that their provider arrives on time.
  • Remember to relay no-show and cancellation policies to patients. Patients must review these policies in writing before their appointments. Some providers may charge a fee for no-shows, though this is often case-by-case. Although, if you charge patients, it’s always best to have a policy in place.
  • Collect and assess patient data. In order to minimize wait times and maximize productivity, you must ascertain why bottlenecks are happening at the facility. Baseline data could help you understand which appointments or patients require more time than you have allotted. It could also help you identify important trends and actively remedy them.
  • Ensure you are strategic if you double book patients. When it comes to double booking, the types of appointments you put together matter. For example, a new patient visit and a walk-in could be simultaneously handled. This is because a healthcare professional could initiate the patient intake process for the newer patient as the physician attends to the walk-in. Afterward, the physician can examine the new patient after completing their intake process. However, this process would not work with two new patient visits.
  • Always look for ways to improve the process. There are a number of ways you can maximize efficiency in a medical office. One example? If you notice that your patient schedule is too full—or not full enough—raise the issue at your next staff meeting. You could also mention which days have a more inconsistent schedule. Remember: data is king.

Why Should Medical Assistants Learn How to Perform Medical Appointment Scheduling?

It is very beneficial for Medical Assistants to learn how to perform medical appointment scheduling tasks. This is because appointment scheduling is a key component in the success of a healthcare system. Thanks to MAs and other medical appointment schedulers, physicians can maximize their time with each patient and better serve the public.

While medical appointment scheduling isn’t always a job requirement, Medical Assistants are often responsible for at least some tasks in this realm. It’s a simple yet valuable skill that can lead to more significant opportunities. Therefore, it would be advantageous for MAs or aspiring Medical Assistants to pursue the proper training. Once they are ready to perform medical appointment scheduling tasks, an MA could become indispensable to their employer and possibly gain greater responsibilities.

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Start Your Career in Medical Assisting

The ability to perform medical appointment scheduling tasks is a crucial skill that aspiring Medical Assistants should learn for their careers. It’s also an important practice for the survival of most healthcare providers, such as physicians, hospitals, clinics, and other medical systems.

Think about it: Medical appointment scheduling plays a key role in maintaining the overall health of patients and the productivity of providers. By assisting physicians throughout this process, Medical Assistants can help decrease patient wait time, increase satisfaction rates, and accomplish more tasks.

If you’re feeling inspired and want to pursue a career in medicine, Unitek College offers various healthcare programs, such as our Medical Assisting program.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and tuition assistance options. Take the first step toward a rewarding future in healthcare!