Give Open Access Scheduling a Shot

The Doctor's Office , January 7, 2010

5. Be flexible but disciplined. Although you will find the need to make changes as you go along (e.g., more slots for back-to-school physicals or a slower implementation period for certain physicians), resist the urge to fill open access slots with anything but same-day calls. "The tendency is, 'Oh, this patient needs to get in for a routine visit, and here's an empty [open access] slot for tomorrow,' " Blazier says. "At first, we struggled to keep these slots off-limits, but now we don't even look at them. If we do prebook an appointment, we're always sorry. If someone wants to call the next day, we're happy to put them in, but we won't prebook appointments that are reserved for same-day."

6. Track your success. Periodically check in with physicians, staff members, and patients to gauge how the schedule is working and determine whether you need to make any tweaks. Also, monitor whether you see a drop in no-shows and patient complaints.

It can take time to find the right mix of prescheduled and open access and work out the kinks, but it's well worth the effort, Blazier says. "I've been in the practice office for over 21 years, and to me, [open access] is the best way to schedule," she says. "I would never want to go back to an environment to have to squeeze in patients and double book."

"The patients are absolutely thrilled," Blazier adds. "They're kind of trained by now that if they call in the morning, they're almost guaranteed an appointment that day. And that gives them peace of mind that they can pick up the phone and get what they want. And when we can give them what they want, it really makes for a nice relationship."

This article was adapted from one that originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of The Doctor's Office, a HealthLeaders Media publication.

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