How to create a schedule that works for your practice
As a private practitioner, one of the hardest aspects of your job is scheduling. The prospect of getting clients is already tough, but it’s even tougher to find the perfect scheduling balance for your private practice.
If you’re struggling with scheduling, including keeping track of your appointments, choosing the right meeting times, and minimizing no shows or cancellations, you’ve come to the right post. We’ll go over some important tips to help you create a smoother scheduling process. Let’s get started.
Work on Your Policies
Before we delve into scheduling strategies, let’s talk about your practice policies. In regards to scheduling, it’s important that you set up policies for how you’ll handle the following:
- No Shows
Use clear, simple terms to draft a formal client policy. Policies shouldn’t just exist in your brain because they’ll be more likely to change based on individual circumstances. However, if you have your policy written out where everyone can see the same words, you’ll be forced to stand by what you’ve written.
Written policies are crucial when you’re working with staff, too. Everyone on your team should abide by the same policy. This is easier to do when your policy is in writing.
Of course, these three policies aren’t just about you or your staff. They’re also about your clients. Your clients need to know how you handle cancellations, what constitutes a no show, and if you automatically schedule the next appointment or if the client needs to call each time.
While you should have these policies printed and readily available in your office and on your website, also speak to your client about these policies face to face. It’s not enough to have your clients simply sign the policies as part of their intake process. Humans are notorious for quickly scanning through the paperwork and not taking the time to read it. Sure, they may sign the paperwork, but the burden will be all yours when your client decides to cancel 30 minutes before the appointment and leaves you in the lurch.
However, if you go over the policy, and actually explain what’s in it and why, you’ll establish an informed partnership between you and the client. You’ll find that scheduling is actually easier and no shows are minimized when your client is invested in the partnership.
For example, when discussing your cancellation fee, explain that your fee is not arbitrary. Instead, it covers the financial gap that’s caused when a client doesn’t give you enough notice. You impose a cancellation period of 48 hours (or whatever your specific deadline) to ensure that you can fill the appointment slot.
It may seem obvious, but this type of face to face conversation serves to humanize your policy. It also helps your client understand that when they miss an appointment, they’re hurting you, not some faceless entity.
Forego Paper Scheduling
Paper scheduling is inefficient. Even if you’re a paper and pen type of person, it’s still essential to transfer your notes onto a scheduling software. Why? Let’s list the top benefits of scheduling software:
- Organization. With scheduling software, everything is organized in one central location. If your current method of client scheduling involves sticky notes and tearing out sheets of notebook paper and if your your desk is currently covered with said sticky notes, you’re a prime candidate for scheduling software. You’ll be a lot more efficient when you can organize all of your client information in one screen. Sticky notes are definitely not organizable.
- Client history. Quickly locate everything that you need to know about your clients including their appointment history, how often they’ve cancelled or no showed, and how many times you’ve seen or plan to see them. Yet again, another thing sticky notes cannot provide.
- Instant update. The final blow to sticky notes is this: Software automatically and instantly updates your practice’s schedule. This minimizes the risk of double booking which can happen quite easily when you’re writing in appointments on any random piece of paper you can find. It also helps you avoid losing clients. You may schedule a client for an appointment next month and misplace the sheet of paper and forget about the appointment. But worse-case scenario– the client also forgets. As a result, you’ve lost out on potential income because of an inefficient scheduling system.
The answer is to use a scheduling software that helps you reclaim your wasted time and effort and makes your office run a lot smoother. Learn more about our therapy appointment scheduling software here.
Make Appointments Before Saying Goodbye
At the end of your appointment, don’t say goodbye before setting up the next appointment. The laid-back approach of “call me sometime this week to schedule” doesn’t work very well for a small to medium size practice. Ideally, you should lock in the next appointment with the client while the thought is fresh in their mind. Otherwise, life gets in the way and distracts the client and before you know it, a week’s gone by, and you haven’t heard from them.
Make a point to schedule when you’re bidding adieu. You can also follow up with a text to confirm. And, just to keep yourself covered, call the client before the cancellation courtesy expires to re-confirm.
Keep a Tight Schedule
Don’t schedule too far in advance. If you schedule half a year or further into the future, you also increase the odds of no shows. People will simply forget about the appointment. If you remind them, they’ll either cancel or simply not show up. This is why scheduling beyond two months in the future can spell disaster and is often a telltale sign that you’re seeing too many clients.
If at all possible, try to focus on scheduling one month out. This is a much more realistic schedule for you and your clients to abide by.
Inevitably, you’ll have some clients who see you every week and others who see you every other week. Weekly clients are the lifeblood of a private practice because they become a dependable source of income. But what about those biweekly clients who can’t afford to come every week?
Stagger them. If you have at least two biweekly clients, arrange your schedule so that they each fill the same appointment time slot, just on alternating weeks.
Schedule Time For You, Too
Another common mistake to avoid when scheduling is not scheduling time for you. It may sound like a good idea to have back-to-back clients. While that strategy may benefit your financial bottom line, it won’t do much for you as a person.
As a practitioner, you do some of everything. So, when will you make time for your invoicing and administration? What about lunch? Blogging? Networking? Marketing?
If you don’t schedule it into your work day, you’ll spend many evenings trying to tie up loose ends and it will show after a while. You’ll burn out and dread coming into work. Your clients will be adversely affected.
Avoid all of this by simply giving yourself time throughout the day to tackle your administrative needs. Even if you give yourself 10 minutes between each session, you’ll have enough time to take a break, recharge, return an email or two, and refocus for the next client.
When making your schedule, be sure to schedule yourself, too.
Get a Software That Makes Scheduling Easy for You
TheraNest offers built-in appointment scheduling, including the ability to create and view appointments and also set up recurring appointments. With HIPAA compliant TheraNest, your client’s private information is secure.
Clients can also schedule the appointment themselves. Through our client portal, clients can see when you’re available and find a time that fits within their daily lives. You can add this option to your website. You’ll be able to block off the days and times when you’re not available, too.
TheraNest also syncs with Google Calendar or Apple iCal, making it easy for clients to add their appointment with you onto their personal calendars, making it less likely to no show. Hooray for kept appointments!
Through our software, you can also send reminders via text, email, and voicemail.
Also, clients can pre-pay for their appointments with a credit card directly through the client portal.
Before you go, check out these additional posts: