Health care is an appointment-based industry, which means you only make money when your patients show up for their appointments. Unfortunately, getting patients to do that consistently is no easy task. Missed and cancelled appointments are the bane of many a provider’s existence—at least until they discover integrated scheduling software with automated appointment reminders and waitlist management. Combined, these features help you maximize your schedule, minimize cancellations and no-shows, and—when those cancellations do happen, because they certainly will—serve you up a waitlist full of patients eager to take those empty spots. So, without further ado, here are some best practices for waitlist management (adapted from this source, this one, and this one):
1. Remember that it’s a numbers game.
For a waitlist to be effective in filling spots as they become available, you need an always-full waitlist—and you also need to be ready and willing to contact a good number of people in order to fill each spot (unless, of course, your front office staff is so well connected to your patients that they know who would mostly likely jump at a last-minute appointment opportunity). Everyone else must play the numbers game: the more people on the list—and the more people you reach out to—the more likely you are to fill each slot. Thus, your front office staff absolutely must encourage patients to join the waitlist, which shouldn’t be too difficult given that many patients are eager to return sooner (or at a more desirable time).
2. Use the right communication method.
This should really go without saying, but the best way to reach patients who may potentially fill an open spot is to use their preferred communication method—something you most likely already have on file if you’re using automated appointment reminders. After all, if a patient prefers to receive communication from you via text, he or she may not be super pleased to get a phone call from you in the midst of a meeting. Similarly, that patient may rarely check email, which means your note will end up buried—and unopened—in his or her inbox.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that while text is becoming an increasingly popular communication method, that preference may not hold for all. So, instead of assuming, make it a point to ask your patients how they’d like your office to contact them (your intake paperwork is a great place to collect this information). Then, respect their preferences.
3. Keep your outreach limited to business hours.
Sure, you may receive a 10:00 PM cancellation notice from a patient who has an appointment at 10:00 AM the next day, but that doesn’t mean you should start reaching out to your waitlist at that hour. Instead, begin reaching out promptly the next morning during regular business hours. Hopefully, you can still fill the slot, but if not, then your cancellation policy should include a late cancellation fee that covers at least some of the cost of the missed appointment.
4. Make staffing and scheduling decisions based on the list.
Beyond merely filling spots as they become available, you can glean all sorts of valuable data from your waitlist—including preferred appointment times and availability trends. That way, you can adjust therapist schedules to better meet patient demands. If your waitlist starts to get really long, then you’ll know it’s probably time to bring on another therapist—or free up your more of your current therapists’ time by bringing on a therapy assistant—because patients are waiting too long for their next appointment (or aren’t able to book at times that work for them). And if you make patients wait too long, there’s a good chance they’ll find another provider who can fit them in.
5. Train your staff—and put it in writing.
As with any operational change, it’s important to put your waitlist policy in writing and train your front office staff on the goals and objectives associated with it—as well as the specific steps required to implement it. In this case, be sure your staff understands that an effective waitlist can be an asset to the entire clinic, as it will help improve patient retention, satisfaction, and scheduling—all of which ultimately lead to more revenue potential. And more revenue potential is good for everyone. Hopefully, that will be motivation enough for your team to:
- encourage patients to provide their availability and join the waitlist, and
- follow through on reaching out to them to fill open spots.
6. Pick the right scheduler.
You could certainly attempt to keep a waitlist in a spreadsheet or—gasp!—on paper, but that’ll be a nightmare to manage well. Instead, ensure that your scheduling software has waitlist functionality, so you can create and manage a waitlist within the system you’re already using. WebPT Members have access to a patient waitlist that includes information like patient priority, availability, preferred appointment time and day, contact information, and notes. This allows your front office staff to seamlessly add patients to the waitlist and schedule them from it—all using already-created patient records.
If you don’t already have a waitlist system in your practice, now is definitely the time to implement one. After all, there will always be no-shows and cancellations, and a full waitlist is the best way to fill open spots on the fly.