Understanding the Patient Scheduling Experience – Making Critical First Impressions Count

patient scheduling experience

For most of us, when we need to see a doctor, we pick up a phone. In fact, 76% of patients still set up their doctor appointments by phone, which makes this interaction such an important one – especially for first-time patients. As we all know, there’s no second chance to make a good first impression. That’s why it’s important to monitor the patient scheduling experience to ensure that providers are doing all they can to make the interaction positive and meet their patients’ needs. Overlooking the scheduling experience can leave an important knowledge gap.

One way The DRG gathers this information for our healthcare clients is to complete calls to participating providers, inquiring about setting up a patient appointment. Following a script, the would-be patient fills out a survey to evaluate the interaction with the appointment scheduling staff. These patient scheduling experience evaluations are an efficient way to collect ongoing feedback. They deliver insights about the experience before an appointment is made, instead of relying on patient recall in a survey after their appointment.

Another advantage to patient scheduling experience calls is the intelligence it provides around the availability of same-day appointments. Access to a timely healthcare visit, for both routine care and urgent needs, has been a long-standing concern in the industry; offering same-day appointments can be a differentiator. However, quantifying the missed opportunities to schedule a patient visit due to lack of convenient appointment times would be difficult and costly, if relying on research with patients themselves.

Key information that a patient scheduling experience program provides includes:

  • Ability to see a preferred doctor or options to see another medical professional
  • Readiness to connect the patient with intermediary medical staff to answer questions or concerns
  • Confirmation that an approved greeting is being used
  • Assessing the sense of empathy, professionalism, and overall demeanor of the scheduling staff

Some providers may be reluctant to conduct patient scheduling research. In 2011, the Obama administration proposed conducting mystery shopping research to gauge the level of access to primary care providers, particularly among patients with public health plans. However, after receiving serious concerns from the medical profession, the Department of Health and Human Services reconsidered the proposal.

It’s important to understand the significant differences between the government proposal and patient scheduling experience studies. First and foremost, The DRG recommends that patient scheduling experience research be initiated by providers themselves and designed around their needs and objectives. Here are some hallmarks of an effective study:

  • Clearly articulate the provider’s objectives for the study and intended use of the feedback
  • Carefully craft the call approach and script around these objectives
  • During the calls, identify an insurance payer that is accepted by the practice to avoid the possibility of referring the patient elsewhere due to insurance reasons
  • Record the calls for quality control purposes (Recorded calls can also be beneficial for training purposes.)
  • Inform scheduling staff up-front that the study is being conducted to prevent creating mistrust between staff and clinic management

The true purpose of these studies is to identify opportunities to improve the experience and better serve patients. It can help providers minimize patients’ need to seek care elsewhere with more costly providers. It can reveal the need to find innovative ways to reduce the wait time for appointments. Also, highlighting and rewarding excellent examples of patient interactions can build staff morale.

In the end, by better understanding this first step in fostering a positive patient relationship, providers ensure they are engaging with patients in the most caring and efficient way. Doing so helps providers achieve the triple aim of the healthcare profession: to improve the experience of care, improve the health of the population, and ultimately reduce overall healthcare costs.

Interested in learning more about how a patient scheduling experience program could benefit your organization? This case study shows how these evaluations help one of The DRG’s healthcare clients drive patient satisfaction by ensuring they offer the timeliest appointments possible in a caring and professional manner.

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