Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Would you prefer a 17-day or 1-day wait to see a physician?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Aug• 07•06

You may be used to calling your doctor and being told by the staff that you must wait weeks to see your family practice physician.  Now imagine calling your doctor and hearing, “I can see you this afternoon…or tomorrow if you like…which one is best for you Mr. Shafrin?”  How can a practice be able to do this while increasing the number of patients the physicians see?  The answer is open access scheduling; let’s see how it works.

With open access scheduling, only 25-50% of appointments are booked more than a few days ahead of time.  The remaining appointment slots are left open for same-day or prior-day appointments.  A common slogan heard with this type of scheduling is to “do today’s work today.”  Patient satisfaction increases with these shorter wait times.  Physicians find there are fewer no-shows.  Also, with fewer appointments made in advance, there are also fewer reschedulings if a doctor has an academic meeting or a family issue and must cancel appointments. 

An article in Family Practice Management (March 2006) describes how Baylor Family Medicine implemented this style of schedule.  The practice did the following:

  1. Setting a ‘go live’ date to eliminate backlog
  2. Establishing a 5 day appointment window (which was later extended to 15 days).  Those who request procedures, instead of just appointments, did have to make an appointment as usual.
  3. Patients received access to the physician’s schedule through the practice’s website as well as through printed handouts distributed in the office.
  4. Staffing levels were maintained.

The article continues:

“After switching to open-access scheduling, the period for the third available appointment changed from an average of 17 days to 1 day. We have been able to maintain this average for more than 2.5 years despite unexpected faculty leave and the usual variations in provider availability that are inherent to an academic practice. While some days are extensively pre-booked, overall we have avoided a backlog.”

I would appreciate any comments from physicians or patients who have had experience with open access scheduling to see if these claims do truly hold.

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