Overbooking in Medical Clinics: Do or Don’t?

Overbooking in Medical Clinics: Do or Don’t?

You’re an hour into waiting for a scheduled appointment. Why? Because your clinic uses the overbooking method. You and the person next to you both have the same scheduled time-slot yet you are both still in the waiting room. Do they call you alphabetically? If your last name is Zimmerman, you’re definitely in for the long haul. Great.

Clinics have been working towards finding the best overbooking strategy to ultimately increase their performance. The best overbooking strategy. Really? This is the 21st century. Granted, overbooking does show slight benefits for clinical performance, but this method has more long-term consequences than short-term benefits. It’s a definite do not.

Overbooking Method

Overbooking is still widely used to reduce no-show rates. Of course, this increases patient access to a certain degree as more appointments are scheduled in a given day. However, the numbers are often more than the clinic and staff can handle.

Increasing the number of patients that can be seen during a given day may temporarily decrease the consequences of no-shows, but it increases wait-times. What about poor Zimmerman?

Although overbooking slightly reduces no-shows and somewhat increases access, it is far from the solution that should be evaluated and perfected.

Repercussions of Overbooking

What overbooking affects the most is patient experience. Walk-ins aside, when a patient schedules an appointment, they know the odds of seeing their doctor on time are slim, leading to many taking time off from work for their appointment. Time is money for everyone.

This frustrating situation can lead to patients foregoing a scheduled appointment and simply walking in when they get very sick. Isn’t overbooking used to counter the increasing no-show rates? Seems counter-productive to say the least.

Quality of care, not considering the actual care provided by physicians, includes patient experience, the ease of booking an appointment and the service in-clinic. Seeing as patients spend more time in the waiting room and speaking to staff than their doctor, overall clinical quality should be a top priority.

Overbooking puts extra pressure on staff

When patients are overbooked and during the off-chance everyone shows up, wait-time is increased, which puts extra pressure on staff. This situation can result in wait-times exceeding 2 hours, irritating patients and leading to provider overtime.

Impact on no-show rates in the long run

Although overbooking can positively affect no-show rates in the short-term, it negatively affects patient experience and often tarnishes patient-physician relationships. Worst of all, according to a Purdue Report, overbooking actually increases no-show rates in the long-run. Overbooking might make sense now, but what’s the point of tarnishing the long-term perceived quality of your clinic for, basically, nothing?

A Better Alternative

According to a report by Infoway, 90% of Canadians are ready and willing to book their clinical appointments online. So, why are we still wasting over 15 minutes trying to get ahold of a receptionist to book an appointment instead of spending 30 seconds online?

For clinics, online booking means less time spent on the phone for their staff and less wait time for patients trying to book an appointment. What’s more, these tools send patients confirmations and reminders of their appointments, reducing no-show rates and eliminating certain time-consuming tasks for phone operators. Online patient scheduling software can also offer a solution that synchronizes both patient appointment schedules to physician schedules.

These solutions not only eliminate the use of overbooking, but also:

  • Eliminate the possibility of double-booking appointments
  • Better manage the volume of incoming calls
  • Eliminate manual transcriptions
  • And more.

Patients are increasingly looking for easier ways to book appointments and clinics are looking for ways to reduce manual appointment confirmations. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

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Caroline Saint-Laurent, Healthcare Technology Advisor

Written by Caroline Saint-Laurent, Healthcare Technology Advisor

Caroline is passionate about new technologies and the healthcare system. She graduated from the University of Montreal in communications, and has an excellent understanding of the needs of health professionals. Consequently, she is able to suggest the technological tools that are best suited to the realities of healthcare.