A patient’s encounter lifecycle starts when an appointment is booked and typically it ends when the encounter is complete and they checkout of the clinic. Today, clinics have automated and smart schedulers for the management of this appointment lifecycle. The most common stages of this lifecycle would start with an appointment being Scheduled and then moving to the Waiting status once the patient checks in and then move to the Engaged status as the consultation begins until finally, the patient Checks Out. This is simple enough to follow and maintain but if you want your clinic to run efficiently and make optimum use of the available resources then there is a lot more to this. The other status that will immensely help a clinic run efficiently is Confirmed, Cancelled and the No Show status.
Let us see how the seven statuses can help you effectively manage your appointments.
1. The SCHEDULED Status
All appointments when booked are in the Scheduled status. This does not mean that the patient is guaranteed to visit the clinic. Scheduled simply means the appointment was booked. A 2nd touch-base may be required in order to be certain that the patient will come in. This 2nd step may be imperative especially if the appointment was booked online i.e. where no personal touch-point with the Clinic took place.
2. The CONFIRMED Status
An appointment is marked as Confirmed once the front desk has taken a verbal or SMS confirmation from the patient regarding their appointment. Having this status is critically important so that the front desk can filter appointments out by UNCONFIRMED status i.e. appointments which are Scheduled by not Confirmed so that they can specifically follow up on them only.
This will ensure that by the time the doctors see their schedule, it is all cleaned up and only the Confirmed appointments are being displayed on the calendar thus they are able to plan their day accordingly.
3. The WAITING Status
The status of an appointment is changed to Waiting once the patient checks in to the clinic. This is one of the most important phases of the appointment life cycle as the patient is now in the clinic. The system should be smart enough to let your staff know at any point of time how many patients are waiting and for how long. This goes a very long way in managing your patients as you would want to pay more attention to someone who has been waiting for a long time and take appropriate action. As the saying goes ‘First impression is often the last impression’, and for your clinic that makes your waiting room the first point of contact, the first impression before your patients.
4. The ENGAGED Status
Once the consultation starts with the doctor then the appointment moves to the Engaged status. Since this is something that the front desk may not be in control of always but the doctors are, a smart system should automatically change the status of an appointment from waiting to engaged as soon as the doctor opens the patient’s medical file on the system for an appointment scheduled for the day. Intelligent automation will ensure that when a Doctor opens the patient chart for an appointment booked on any other day, the appointment status will NOT change to ENGAGED. That way the automation has some intelligence rather than repetition built into it.
5. The CHECK OUT Status
Once the consultation is over with the doctor, the appointment moves to its final phase which is the Check-Out Status. It is in this phase that the secondary tasks will get executed such as billing, dispensing, Lab orders etc. Once the doctor checks a patient out, an ideal system should provide the relevant information to the different departments of the clinic i.e.
- The billing desk should be able to easily identify who are the patients who are yet to be billed
- Similarly, the pharmacist should know of the prescriptions that are not yet filled
- Lab Technician should know of the samples to be collected and on
6. The CANCELLED Status
The Cancelled appointments are the ones where the patient has confirmed that they would not be able to complete their appointment for the day. Once an appointment is cancelled, you should be able to book an appointment in its place. A smart system should have the ability to show the cancelled appointments as free slots on the Calendar. It allows the front desk to fill in the gaps and provides for a more intuitive user interface.
7. The NO SHOW Status
The last one on my list today is the No Show status. These are appointments where the patient did not turn up at the scheduled time and the status of such appointments is changed to no show. An ideal practice management system should mark all appointments which are left in the scheduled status at the end of the day as No Show automatically. Such a system should then be capable of sending out a reminder as well to such patients, offering them the option to reschedule.
A friendly reminder with an option to reschedule will increase footfall and bring back lost revenues. Furthermore, it also gives the patient confidence in how meticulously the clinic is run.
These should be part of any good practice management software as it helps better manage your clinic’s appointments. Of course, having automated SMSs and emails to back up the changes in the status is important, but what is more important nowadays is the element of control in this communication outflow. You do not want to flood the inbox of the patient, and the frequency of such messages should be controlled. You want to remind the patient, not spam them.