In the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Rivers holds up a blank page in her appointment book and says, “You wanna see fear? Here’s fear!” Cosmetic practitioners can sympathize with the late comedian’s sentiment. Few things are more disheartening—or frightening—than opening your appointment book to a schedule riddled with gaps, open slots and canceled appointments. Conversely, overbooking on busy days can lead to disgruntled patients left sitting in waiting rooms and stressed practitioners who barely have time to breathe between appointments.
“Scheduling is probably one of the hardest things to do,” says Rebecca Kazin, MD, a dermatologist with the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C. “Either you’re too busy or too slow. It’s rare that you have that perfect day with the perfect number of patients.”
Achieving a seamlessly scheduled day may feel elusive, but it is not impossible. There are several steps practices can take to fill empty time slots and increase patient bookings during slow days and seasons.
Getting a Handle on Bookings
The first step in creating a robust but organized schedule is to make sure you and your staff are realistic about how much time each appointment will take. While double- or triple-booking appointments is not unusual among dermatologists, Dr. Kazin says patients don’t appreciate it. “People don’t like signing in and seeing that someone else is scheduled in the same time slot,” she says. To prevent overbooking, she recommends strategies, such as scheduling patients every 10 minutes, rather than booking two patients in the same 20-minute time slot.
Both Dr. Kazin and Edwin Williams, MD, of the Williams Center for Plastic Surgery in Albany, New York, cross-train all staff members by having them observe procedures and shadow employees in other positions—even if it’s a medical job for which they are not qualified. That way, when a patient calls, they will have an understanding of how much time is really needed for an appointment.
“Sometimes a patient calls and uses words that make it seem like what they need will only take a few seconds. They say, ‘Oh. The doctor just needs to zap a spot.’ But what the patient really needs is a 45-minute appointment,” says Dr. Kazin.
Practice owners and managers will benefit from reviewing their appointment books daily, looking for unfilled time spots or canceled appointments. In the short term, this gives them a chance to fill last-minute openings. Over the long term, it helps practices identify days or seasons that are traditionally slow, so they can adjust staffing and create new marketing efforts to fill those gaps.
Anna Guanche, MD, a dermatologist with the Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, California, says the most effective tool she’s instituted for ensuring a full schedule is software that sends text messages or emails to patients to remind them of their appointments, which reduces the number of no-shows. The software can also be customized to alert patients when it’s time to schedule an annual, full-body checkup or come in for a dermal filler or botulinum toxin touch-up.
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