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Making time work for you


Elizabeth W. Woodcock M.B.A., F.A.C.M.P.E., C.P.C.
What's your cosmetic surgery practice's most valuable and measurable asset? Don't be modest; it's you. Or, to be more precise, it is your time.

Your appointment scheduling system is the most critical component to managing your office time well. So, clean up your time management act. Conduct a thorough evaluation of your appointment scheduling system to see whether it's clean and efficient or wastes your time.

Start on time

What time do you actually see your first scheduled patient of the day? Does it often take until 8:45 a.m. for that 8:30 a.m. patient to be processed through the front office and roomed?

If you want to start seeing patients at 8:30 a.m., then your scheduling template should commence at 8:15 a.m. Instruct your staff to tell the 8:30 a.m. patients that the appointment with your "care team" — which may be receptionist, then your medical assistant, followed by you — begins at 8:15 a.m. You'll start on time as intended at 8:30 a.m.

Keep it simple

The best schedule is the simple schedule. Set up appointment slots of five minutes, 10 minutes or 15 minutes, instead of a complicated web of scheduling rules based on chief complaint and provider work styles.

Patients with certain complex complaints or who require certain procedures might require two or three of those appointment intervals, but it allows your scheduler to be more efficient. In the end, it's nearly impossible to predict the exact time each patient will take, so it's best not to spend the resources to try.

Examine slots

Think carefully about appointment slots. The most successful appointment schedule — the one that allows your cosmetic surgery practice to run on time throughout the day — is the one that best reflects your work style. You'll only create more scheduling delays by setting five-minute appointment slots for follow-up visits when it really takes you 15 minutes on average.

You can overbook slightly to account for no-shows based on your historical experience, but designing slots that have nothing to do with your work style can be a setup for disaster. Be sure to analyze your appointment slots annually because physician work styles do change over time.

Try clustering

Consider selectively scheduling patients with similar chief complaints to have appointments on certain days. Some physicians prefer to see only post-operative patients during a clinic. Appointment clustering for patients with similar concerns allows the clinical team to focus more intently on that type of patient. Time is saved because forms, supplies, equipment and preps are relatively consistent throughout the clinic. Moreover, clustering allows you to call in technicians or other complementary providers for specific clinics and make the best use of their time.

The downside to clustering is that you could end up limiting access for patients whose personal or work schedules don't match up with your clustering schedule. Use this option to improve the efficiency of a few clinics per week but not as an overall scheduling scheme.

Handle late patients

The late-arriving patient presents special challenges to the efficient appointment scheduling system. As you wrestle with this problem, consider that your cosmetic surgery practice may be partly at fault. If you always run 20 minutes to 30 minutes behind schedule, then you are training patients to show up at least 15 minutes after their appointment times.

You must stay on time to defeat the late arrival problem. Respect your patients' time and they will respect yours. If your practice can consistently run on time, then you can consider a policy of rescheduling patients who arrive more than 15 minutes late, or offering to let them wait for the next opening in the day as a walk-in.


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