Rethinking Cancellations

The medical world is slowly shrinking. A report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projected that the United States will face a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033. As the number of physicians decreases, the aging US population will require more specialty treatments and a different care profile than that of today.

However, this presents the opportunity for fuller schedules to those remaining in practice as patients compete for time with fewer medical professionals. And while we can’t add hours to our days to accommodate this additional capacity, we can start looking at the opportunities we have around automating the scheduling and templating of our practices as well as dealing with the cancellation and rebooking processes, beginning with rethinking our handling of cancellations.

The biggest problem with cancellations is that they represent the culmination of failures within our practices. Our businesses are built around scheduling, and yet, we’ve been unable to change the fundamental dynamic for generations. Technology hasn’t necessarily helped—most technology simply automates the broken processes. What we really need is to shift the way we do business by changing the way scheduling works.

Practitioners average around a 15% cancellation rate. When this happens today, they might put nurses on the phones, just looking to keep the schedule full. Every outbound phone call generated four more calls before an appointment was made to cover the cancellation. Another option is to send out texts to potential patients, but that might be seen as noise and might result in patients turning off communications in the future. What we need is to send alerts only to those who are likely to take them. We call this availability matching.

The technology we use at SkedgeAlert is founded on the concept of availability matching. An individual looking for an appointment with a particular provider simply sets his or her availability and the provider alerts the patient of appointment openings that fall within the availability windows. Appointments can be confirmed within a minute or two and the patient never has to pick up the phone. Where used, we’re seeing between 40% and 90% fill rates, far above our success rates with the phone. Our patients love it too—there’s no need to pick up the phone for simple transactions.

Both Forbes and Inc. magazines in the past few years have run articles about millennials and phone calls. Apparently, millennials find the telephone to be rude and anxiety-provoking. So, if we can offer them a way to get in sooner due to a cancellation, and they don’t have to even make a call, you will be serving customers the way they want to be served. More importantly, only when they want to be served.

As technology becomes more integrated into our lives, our enhancements to the scheduling process go beyond cancellations and availability matching. User-driven scheduling can be used to simplify scheduling across a person’s entire network. Instead of going to 10 different websites and hunting for openings, imagine a future where you can set your preferred times for every service provider for whom you need an appointment and you’ll be notified in one spot where you can instantly book.