Overbooking is something that happens in a variety of industries. Just think of how many times you’ve been waiting to board a flight and attendants come out to ask if anyone would like to give up their seat in exchange for a spot on a later flight, along with a voucher for compensation. This is because of overbooking.
The same thing commonly happens in medical practices, and your practice may be one of many that operates under the assumption that overbooking is a necessary means of combatting the lost time and money associated with missed appointments. It’s easy to see why this misconception persists. From a logical standpoint, overbooking means that if someone doesn’t show up, the time slot will still be filled with a paying patient, and if both parties show up, one of them will merely be delayed, while the practice will increase anticipated earnings for the day.
It’s a win-win, right? In truth, studies have shown that just the opposite is true. When businesses overbook, it might work to their advantage once in a while, mainly when only one of the two booked patients shows up. However, more often than not, overbooking works to the detriment of patients and the practice. Here are a few disadvantages of overbooking you should understand if you want to ensure the greatest patient satisfaction, and potentially, greater profitability.
Overbooking Affects All Patients
Suppose you overbook for a 10 AM time slot and both patients show up. You might not think it’s such a bad thing. You’ll see one patient on time and the other will have to wait. The problem is that this delay can set your office back for the entire day.
Not only will the patient that is double booked have to wait for service, but it’s possible that every booking afterward will be delayed, as well. You’ll end up with one happy patient that actually got seen on time, and a dozen dissatisfied patients that showed up on time and had to wait.
If you try to catch up by shaving a few minutes off each appointment, you could exacerbate the problem by making patients feel rushed. You might even overlook something important because you’re in a hurry to hustle patients in and out.
This is really unfair to all of the people who kept their appointments and showed up on time, expecting their doctor to do the same. If you think overbooking only affects one or two patients, think again. The negative impact on your practice could far outweigh any potential benefits.
Waiting Makes Patients Unhappy
Think about how you feel when you’re forced to wait for an appointment. You show up on time, expecting to wait no more than a few minutes to be processed before seeing a doctor, and then you are stuck twiddling your thumbs for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or maybe even more. That’s time you could have been doing something useful.
This is how patients feel when their appointments are delayed because of your bad planning. Having to wait is frustrating, but it’s compounded by the amount of time spent waiting, as well as expectations and the perceptions they foster.
Most patients expect that they will have to wait a short time to be processed, including answering questionnaires, providing insurance information, and so on. However, when the anticipated wait time has elapsed, the perception that they have been waiting too long starts to increase exponentially. The longer expectations go unmet, the more aggravating the situation becomes.
This, of course, can lead to increasing dissatisfaction among patients, and believe it or not, the experience can actually lead to more cancelled or missed appointments. People lead busy lives and they simply might not have an extra 30-60 minutes to spend in the waiting room on a given day. If their experience has taught them that an extended wait time is to be expected, they might just skip an appointment instead of rolling the dice and hoping things are running on schedule.
What’s the Solution?
Although you are a healthcare provider and you therefore have an onus to put the best interests of your patients first, you also run a business and you need to turn a profit so that you can stay in business and continue to serve your clientele. If overbooking is doing more harm than good to your practice, you need to find an alternative solution that prevents missed appointments without compromising your anticipated income.
The good news is that there’s a simple solution: appointment reminders. When you overbook, you’re expecting the worst from your patients. You’re planning based on an expectation of failure. A better option is to give patients the support they need to succeed.
If you want patients to make it to their appointments, reminding them is a great way to accomplish your goal, and you don’t have to make a lot of extra work for yourself in the process. While you could certainly task your staff with staying on top of appointment reminders, you’ll save time and effort by using tools that automate the process for you.
With the right software, your system can automatically schedule phone calls, emails, and text messages to remind patients of upcoming appointments. This could happen a couple of days beforehand, a week before, or you could even send multiple reminders. You could include an option to confirm the appointment, or alternately, reschedule it.
If patients confirm, there’s a much better chance they’ll show up than if they had no reminder at all, and if they cancel or reschedule in advance, you have the opportunity to fill vacant slots with other patients. In addition, you’ll have the best chance to ensure that every slot in your schedule is full and that missed appointments will be kept to a minimum.
When the vast majority of patients keep their appointments, you’ll have no need to overbook, and this will help you to avoid long waiting times and the frustration they cause. You’ll also have adequate time to spend with each patient. This, in turn, improves customer satisfaction and enhances the reputation of your practice.