Scheduling patient appointments is as routine as checking a person’s heart rate. Although a necessary task for all physician offices, it’s also a time-consuming one. This is especially true if the practitioner and staff use an inefficient method for booking their patients, such as a paper appointment book or basic spreadsheet. Add the number of hours it takes to make reminder phone calls, and the total time commitment could be the equivalent of at least one employee devoted entirely to booking appointments. In some instances, it could even be several employees.
As with all occupations and industries, medical professionals can tap into technology to find the cure to their appointment setting woes. That cure comes in the form of medical appointment scheduling software.
WHAT IS MEDICAL APPOINTMENT SCHEDULING SOFTWARE?
At first glance, medical appointment scheduling software may resemble an electronic calendar or a basic software program. However, most are much more complex, and they give practitioners the ability to better manage their patient appointments and reminders through advanced functionality and centralized data storage. Although there are many different varieties of software on the market, most offer standard features such as point-and-click calendar scheduling, reporting and patient reminder capabilities. As the systems will typically store patient contact information, some professionals will tap into this feature for their e-marketing campaigns.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
When properly utilized, medical scheduling software can have a positive effect on office operations. In particular, practitioners can expect to find dramatic improvements in these areas:
• Staff Time. Managing separate appointment books, spreadsheets and other documents can be tedious. Medical appointment scheduling software can save staff time by centralizing data and information in one easy-to-access location, thereby streamlining the appointment setting process. Staff will spend less time managing patient appointments and more time on other office tasks.
• Organization. As mentioned in the previous bullet item, most scheduling systems centralize your office data, including patient contact information and notes.
• Appointment Confirmations and Reminders. Some scheduling programs provide automated e-mail and text message features that will send appointment confirmations and reminders to patients, without any additional action from doctor or staff. This can be a tremendous benefit, as it eliminates the need for appointment reminder phone calls to patients.
• Patient Self-Scheduling. Although not used by all medical professionals, Web-based scheduling systems have the functionality to allow patients to schedule and manage their appointments online.
WEB-BASED VS LOCAL SOFTWARE
Whether the software is Web-based (accessible online) or local (installed and accessible on individual computers) determines some of the system’s functionality.
Web-based medical appointment scheduling software is Software as a Service (SaaS) program that allows doctors and staff to access the software online as a service on demand. Like most SaaS packages, the provider will usually house the software online on a secure server. They typically do not require any additional installations or downloads. The only requirement is an Internet connection to access your appointment page.
Localized scheduling software tends to be for-sale packages available at stores and online that require installation on each computer where staff will access it. It could also be software purchased and downloaded online, but with no direct access to online databases, functionality and services.
DO RESEARCH BEFORE CHOOSING
Considering the importance medical appointment scheduling software will be to your office operations, it’s important to examine your specific needs and thoroughly research providers before deciding. Some providers offer free demos of their product, which can give you a great feel of the software and its specific functionality.
Among considerations are:
• Reliability. Make sure the product is proven before incorporating it.
• Ease-of-use for staff. The software should be easy to learn and use. If not, staff may be reluctant to properly utilize its capabilities.
• Accessibility and Installation. What are the requirements for using the software? Does it require any special downloads or hardware? Or is the service Web-based, thereby requiring only an Internet connection?
• Capabilities. These can vary among medical practices, but these certain capabilities should be standard in the software you choose, such as calendar adjustability, whereby an office can set multiple appointments per time slot, block off days and times, set future appointments up to a year out or longer, and determine the status of a scheduled appointment; accurate record keeping; and the ability to generate substantial reports.
• Security. Considering the sensitive nature of patient records and information, it’s vital that the system offers ample security, both internal and external. This is especially true if the scheduling software is Web-based. Good security also includes proper implementation of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements.
• Customer Support. This can be crucial, as medical offices will rely on the software entirely for their appointment scheduling needs. Be sure the provider offers both e-mail and telephone support.
• Service Contracts. Some appointment scheduling software providers offer month-to-month service without any long-term contracts.
Medical appointment scheduling software can give your practice the edge when it comes to booking patients. It’s time to turn in that appointment book and pen for cutting-edge technology!