Efficient appointment booking is part of what makes a physician practice successful. It's also the difference between a family who leaves satisfied and one who, regardless of the quality of care, leaves angry due to long wait times. Fortunately, thanks to your medical training, you are well-equipped to successfully manage an efficient pediatric practice.
A quote often attributed to Aristotle states that, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." Surely, as pediatricians, you can relate to this adage, as it was not a simplistic act that led you to enter medicine. Instead, countless years of studying, dedication, and hard work enabled you to practice your profession. And through those pre-exam all-nighters and 80-hour residency workweeks, you habitually structured your time in order to maximize efficiency. Now, in order to maximize the efficiency of your appointment bookings, you must follow suit.
Categorization Based on Timing
Forget about standard, old-fashioned techniques for scheduling (e.g., double-booking, leaving open time slots, etc.), and approach appointment booking with the same structure that you employ in patient care. Over the period of a month, document the frequency of all clinical and procedural visits in your practice, and note the time spent for each of these visits. At the end of the month, categorize the visit types by the time they actually require. Many pediatric offices categorize by ten-minute increments; for instance, a "short visit" will last for ten minutes, whereas a medium, long, or very long visit will last for twenty, thirty, or sixty minutes, respectively.
Implementing categorization that's predicated upon expected time allotments helps to simplify appointment booking. When you schedule patients, there is an understanding by the doctor and clearer expectations from the parent or guardian as to how long the visit will last. Furthermore, last-minute appointments can be fit into gaps in the schedule. This allows for a greater amount of patients to be seen without coming at the expense of longer wait times.
Block Similar Visits Together
To further increase appointment booking efficiency, similar visits can be scheduled within smaller time blocks. Take, for instance, the case of school physicals, flu shots, or necessary childhood vaccinations. It's far more efficient to conduct these one after another because it minimizes setup time and allows for a continuous workflow between the doctor and ancillary staff. Patients with similar constraints or special requirements can also be scheduled together. Say that you have non-English speaking patients. Rather than slow down the workflow of the clinic by waiting on an interpreter, try to schedule all Spanish- or Korean-speaking patients within the same time frame.
A more basic approach to patient scheduling that you are all surely familiar with is double-booking, or the scheduling of two or more patients at the same time. As opposed to the aforementioned structured forms of scheduling, double-booking puts the onus entirely on the practitioner to manage time between patients. However, regardless of the adeptness of the practitioner, if the two patients arrive simultaneously, one of these patients faces an unfairly long wait time.
An analogous but more patient-friendly method to double booking is appointment staggering. In this method, an allotment of time is provided for two similarly categorized patients. For example, two patients with a medium visit time (e.g., twenty-minute allotments) would be scheduled within the same forty-minute block. However, rather than booking them at the exact same time, stagger them so that one patient is scheduled 10 minutes after the other. This minimizes wait times in the event that a patient arrives late or more doctor time is required.
Your medical training was not only a preparation to see and treat patients effectively, but it also taught you how to manage and structure your time efficiently. By implementing a simplistic categorization structure to your practice, you can see more patients while also reducing their average wait time. By applying Aristotle's philosophy and re-enacting the structural habits that you have developed during your arduous days of studying, excellence in clinical efficiency can become the expectation, not the exception.