Patient Appointment Scheduling: Tips and Types

Patient Appointment Scheduling
Dikran Seferian

Dikran Seferian is an avid writer with years of experience in writing about topics including eCommerce, cloud communication, technology, and more. Besides writing, he also enjoys reading, hiking, and astrophotography.

Mar 17, 2023

Table of Contents

What Is Patient Scheduling?

Common Types of Patient Appointment Scheduling

Benefits of Patient Scheduling

7 Patient Scheduling Best Practices

Healthcare facilities go through dozens of patients on a daily basis, so a good patient appointment scheduling system goes a long way. Having this in place is key to the success of a clinic. But if not done properly, it can waste a great deal of the staff’s time. Certain measures such as automating the schedule help boost the efficiency of the practice. 

As straightforward as it may seem, the process of scheduling patients involves quite a lot of skill, planning, and experience. Being able to carry out this task effectively can have a positive impact on patient care and the clinic in general. This involves adopting best practices and choosing the right scheduling method. 

What Is Patient Scheduling?

Patient appointment scheduling refers to the practice of booking patients for consultations, following up with them, and sending SMS reminders. The process can either be manual or via an automated system. For clinics that are often busy, an automated system is an ideal way to go. It allows the staff to focus on critical tasks rather than waste time trying to set up rounds of appointments.


Common Types of Patient Appointment Scheduling

Healthcare facilities have a number of patient scheduling methods to choose from. Each of these methods is ideal for certain situations, such as how busy a clinic is and the types of cases the physicians handle. These are some of the most common approaches to booking visits:

Cluster Scheduling

Cluster scheduling is when clinics group together patients with similar cases. This helps physicians stay in one frame of mind as they go through the appointments. For example, you may group patients coming in for colonoscopies together. Then, you can focus on general checkups before finishing the day with other health complaints.

Time-Specified Scheduling

Time-specific scheduling, or stream scheduling, involves booking appointments at a specified time. Most healthcare institutions choose this patient scheduling method to reduce the amount of time visitors have to wait for their turn. The amount of time allotted often depends on the purpose of the visit.

For example, complete physicals for new patients usually take longer than urgent appointments. One potential downside of this approach is the risk of no-shows, which can leave gaps in the schedule. Sending text message reminders about the appointments can limit this risk. 

Integrated Scheduling

Also referred to as long-short scheduling, integrated scheduling is when you open up slots for either long examinations or quick follow-ups. In this case, you would normally book one type of appointment in the first half of the day, and another type in the second half.

Much like cluster scheduling, this approach allows doctors to stay in the right frame of mind throughout the day. One concern, however, is the possibility of some short checkups taking longer than they should, which may result in the doctor falling behind schedule.

Wave Scheduling

With wave scheduling, a clinic books three to four patients every half hour. The doctor then meets with the patients on a first-come, first-served basis. And since the visits take place in waves, there’s always a patient waiting for the doctor. This patient appointment scheduling method is ideal for practitioners who have a lot of patients to handle in a day.

You may occasionally see urgent cases before those coming in for routine checkups. Since this can result in some visitors getting frustrated about losing their slot to another patient, you’ll want to communicate any delays via SMS. 

Modified Wave Scheduling

This patient scheduling approach involves booking patients for the first half of each hour and keeping the second half open for special circumstances. Modified wave scheduling helps accommodate appointments that run long or urgent patients who walk in without booking a visit.

You’ll find this method ideal for medical groups where visit lengths tend to be unpredictable, as well as clinics where patients often come in without appointments. You may also expect some downtime if no patients show up in the second half of the hour—after wrapping up the other visits on time.


Time Slot Scheduling

In this method, the clinic shows the patient all the slots that are available. Once they pick their preferred time, they’ll simply fill in the patient data and receive a confirmation via SMS or email. Choosing the time slot method for patient scheduling requires clinics to track the system for any last-minute cancellations. The staff would quickly fill them in to avoid an empty slot. 


The double-booking method for patient appointment scheduling refers to booking two patients in one slot. This approach can be ideal in a number of situations. For instance, you may carry out a quick checkup for one patient while the other undergoes a lengthy procedure—ideally with the help of a nurse. The main concern with this method is that patients might not be happy to find out they’re sharing the time slot with someone else; it can overload the practitioners as well.

Open Booking

With open booking, clinics give patients a time frame—such as between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.—to choose an appointment. As a result, the physicians will have enough time to attend to urgent cases. The open booking system helps manage the unpredictable flow of incoming patients by reducing the average waiting time and preventing complaints in the process. This patient scheduling approach is especially ideal when only part-time specialists are available and can see patients within a certain timeframe. 

Benefits of Patient Scheduling

With the number of cases doctors handle on a daily basis, there’s always the risk of things getting out of control. That’s why it’s crucial to implement the right scheduling method. Benefits of proper patient scheduling include:

  • Improving patient experience: Patient appointment scheduling helps in providing a better experience by mitigating delays, which can be frustrating for them.

  • Reducing no-shows: Scheduling systems often send out automated appointment reminders—usually through an SMS messaging provider— to make sure patients haven’t forgotten to show up.

  • Boosting staff productivity: A decent medical appointment scheduling system prevents clinic staff from having to spend extra time managing the slots. Instead, they would be able to focus on more critical tasks such as attending to the patients who are already in the medical facility. 

7 Patient Scheduling Best Practices

A positive patient experience is often a top priority in the healthcare industry. This includes proper scheduling of appointments. The following tips show you how to schedule patients effectively and guarantee their satisfaction in the process. 

1. Prioritizing Appointments

It makes sense to schedule urgent appointments first. Some factors to account for include the level of care a person needs and the duration of the appointment. Besides the time it takes to carry out certain procedures, it’s also a good idea to identify the patients who are known to ask too many questions. As a physician, this helps you guarantee that your patients get the care they need without wasting your time. 


2. Patient Self-Scheduling

Thanks to modern technology, people can use patient scheduling software to book their own appointments. Both your website and SMS platform can come in handy for this purpose, and your patients wouldn’t need to install an app or sign in to a portal. This makes patient self-scheduling an excellent way for a clinic to cut down on the time it spends booking appointments while boosting patient satisfaction. 

You may also see an uptick in patient acquisition; new patients can easily book their first consultations on their own. In addition, the 24/7 availability of the self-scheduling platform allows those who need to book after business hours to do so instead of having to leave a message for future appointments. 

3. Automating Responses to Common Questions

A lot of the questions that patients ask when scheduling often have a common response. A program that can provide automated answers to frequently asked questions can save a great deal of time for clinic staff. Normally, your team would be answering patients' questions in person or on the phone. An advanced system, on the other hand, can respond based on specific keywords like “confirm,” “cancel,” and “reschedule.” 

4. Confirming Appointments Via Text and Email

Appointment confirmations reassure patients that their consultation is still on. An effective way to remind patients about their appointments—and ask if they need to reschedule—is with automated emails and hospital text messaging

Being able to confirm appointments by text, email, or phone calls can go a long way in offering a positive experience for visitors. This is where an optimized patient scheduling system comes in handy as well. It facilitates a predictable workflow, so your schedule will never have too many or too few appointments.

5. Using Automated Patient Recall

Setting up a patient recall system helps you ensure that they return for their routine checkups. You’ll also be able to maintain a consistent workflow and communicate with your patients via automated HIPAA-compliant texting. This feature can be useful for everything from follow-up instructions to post-appointment surveys. Each of these communications can serve as an outreach for patients who may not have attended routine checkups in years. 

6. Asking for Feedback

Suppose your patient made a booking, received a reminder for it, and attended the appointment. The communication flow doesn’t need to end there. After logging the appointment’s completion, a good practice involves sending the visitor an SMS to ask for feedback. This can be a text poll for patients to rate the visit from 1 to 5 or include a link where they can leave a review.

Feedback can help any successful clinic improve how they provide healthcare—SMS messaging is the easiest way to collect it. 

7. Automating a Patient Waiting List

No-shows and cancellations are inevitable in any practice. Implementing an automated waiting list, however, can help limit their effect. Patient appointment scheduling software can send out SMS alerts announcing the availability of open spots.

There are also software providers that will automatically manage waiting lists for their clients. This prevents the need to fill vacancies by reaching out to patients individually.