Tracking, trending and triaging open appointments

Insight Article - February 8, 2018

Patient Flow

Patient Access

Nate Moore CPA, MBA, CMPE

Planes taking off with empty seats represent lost revenue for airlines. Every time your practice fails to fill an appointment slot for a provider, a similar revenue opportunity is lost. Anything your practice can do to fill provider time with patients helps the practice financially, but it also benefits patients who would like to see a provider sooner. According to a recent MGMA Stat poll, more than two-thirds of medical practices track past open appointments manually or by using a system-generated or custom report.

Here are three ways your practice can reduce the number of open appointments:

The first step to reducing open appointment slots is to track them.

  • Some practice management software tracks open appointments, but often just for a month or two.
  • ​Find a way to store open appointment data. Start with a spreadsheet if you must, though a better option is a data warehouse.
  • Track the date and time of the open appointment, as well as the provider, location and the appointment type.
  • Track why the appointment was open: Was the appointment slot never filled, canceled the day before or simply the result of a patient no-show?

Next, trend the open appointments. A pivot table is an effective way to trend unsold slots and identify patterns.

  • Which day of the week has the most open slots?
  • Are unsold appointments increasing?

Watch for providers with open appointment slots whom patients wait a long time to see. If a provider is six weeks out to schedule an appointment but had even one unsold appointment last week, identify the issue and act on it. Tracking how providers use appointment templates may help you discover that there are several unsold appointment slots templated for new patients, while established patients are forced to wait. The reverse may also be true, or there may be too many same-day appointment slots. You might also compare the unsold appointment slots to filled slots so the pivot table can give you a percentage filled by provider, location, month and more.

Finally, triage the problem.
Is your biggest issue not filling appointment slots? The provider may need to change to a different location or adjust a template to see a different type of patient to be more productive. If patient no-shows are the culprit, look for better ways to remind patients of appointments, change your practice’s no-show policy or use your data to strategically double-book extra appointment slots to be more efficient. If cancellations are the problem, find out when they occurred. Same-day cancelations are a very different problem than appointments canceled a week or more before the appointment.

Repeat the cycle going forward. Make changes to your schedules, appointment templates or no-show policies. Track open appointments after you make changes and compare the results to your history. Continue to monitor and improve. Take what you have learned about past open appointments and apply those lessons to future open appointments so you can address open appointments in the coming weeks. One strategy is to communicate those identified open slots to your call center or scheduling department. For example, a practice in the Southeast sends a daily email to its call center listing open appointment slots in the next two days. A second email tracks canceled appointments during the next 30 days.

Open appointment data can improve your bottom line and increase patient satisfaction. Track the data, trend the results and triage opportunities in your practice to find out what open appointment data can do for you.

Additional resources:

  • Read more about ways to manage the future of a practice’s patient schedule in Nate Moore’s September 2017 Bright Ideas article in MGMA Connection magazine.
  • Nate Moore will explore the topic of using appointment data to measure patient access to providers, reduce no-show appointments and maximize capacity during his session, “Seeing Past Tomorrow: Utilizing Appointment Data to Thrive,” on March 5 at MGMA18 | The Financial Conference in Orlando, Fla.
  • In Better Data, Better Decisions – The SQL: Business Intelligence for Medical Practices, Nate Moore outlines how customized and automated reports that send the right information at the right time to the right people can be game changers for medical practices.


About the Author

Nate Moore CPA, MBA, CMPE
president Moore Solutions, Inc.

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