Wednesday, September 30, 2015

10 Things to Do Today to Avoid a Missed Visit Tomorrow

It's All About The Schedule

Yesterday, I was on a roll working on a business project, when I realized, "I'm going to be late for work!"  I dropped what I was doing, raced out the door and started that car just as fast as I could. "I've got 27 minutes to get to a home that's 30 minutes away...but I think I'll make it."

At precisely 12:30, the scheduled appointment time, I knocked on the door, ready for swallowing therapy. As I walked in, there was a strange but familiar face- it was the nurse from the agency. She was there to do her re certification visit. Oh no!

We run into each other every now and then, and when we do, it's always the same:  one of us has to wait a really long time, or one of us has to leave.  When it comes to home health, we work on a first come, first serve basis. In other words, even if you had an appointment and were there right on the dot, if someone else is there with the patient, they have first rights for completing their visit. 

We quickly agreed that she would complete her visit and I would re schedule mine. No big deal, except now, I have a 30 minute drive back home. One hour of my day went right down the drain. I hate it when that happens.

Scheduling appointments of any kind can be tricky. Over the years, I have created a list of things to do to make sure my day moves like clockwork and situations like I just described are avoided.  I realize I just told you a story where my scheduling efforts went wrong, but ordinarily, I've got this scheduling thing down. Do you?

10 Things You Can Do Today To Avoid A Missed Visit Tomorrow

1. Have a planner that works for you

I've been using the same style of calendar for the last 5 years.  I picked it up at Barnes and Noble. The cover design changes from year to year, but the insides are 
always the same. 

 I can see the entire week at once and there are large blocks of space for scheduling a full day's work. I just pencil in the hours of the day and then start scheduling.

You may prefer something larger or with more pre filled information, I just happen to like this.  It's small, durable and cute, and for me, it's perfect! Find what works for you, and don't leave home without it.

2.  Help others establish a scheduling system

Chances are, if your patient is forgetting about your therapy visits, they are missing other important appointments, too. Take a few minutes to find a calendar in the patient's home and write the appointment down for them. If there isn't any sort of calendar, give them one. You can pick them up at the dollar store or print them from your computer, either way, help them establish the good habit of recording appointments. 

3.  Schedule your visits around all the other stuff

Ask your patients about any other appointments they have scheduled for the week, and plan your visits around them. This may include appointments for PT, OT and/or nursing, doctor visits and even trips to the beauty shop. Asking about possible conflicts in advance can save you a lot of time in the long run, and ultimately, help you avoid missed visits. 

4. Schedule in advance

Before you complete one visit, try to schedule the next. Doing this keeps you one step ahead, plus it increases your chances of getting the day and time that is perfect for your schedule. If you're not able to schedule in advance, make sure you call the morning of the visit. If worse comes to worse, call at least an hour in advance. Whatever you do, do not show up unexpectedly, because it's never good when that happens. 

5. Set a predictable day and time you will be there

As much as possible, try to quickly establish a predictable day and time that you will see your patient. When multiple visits need to be made in a week, a predictable Monday-Wednesday and Tuesday-Thursday pattern seems to do the trick. While standing appointments are not possible for all patients and every circumstance, consistent scheduling almost always guarantees a completed visit. Not only do the patients appreciate knowing what to expect, it will help other therapists and providers gain consistency as well. 

6. Make a reminder call the night before

Every evening, usually between the hours of 5 and 6 pm, I make a quick phone call to remind my patients of our scheduled visit. If there is going to be a conflict that requires a change of plans, there is more time for rearranging visits the night before. These quick calls take less than two minutes and significantly reduce the chances of a missed visit.

7.  Give them the choice of how to communicate

Everyone loves choices, so offer your patient the option:  Do you want me to call you, or does texting work better? This way, you are sure your message will be received, and received messages lead to less frustration and fewer missed visits. Also, double check:  Is this the best number to reach you? 

8. Use texting 

When appropriate, text messaging is an easy and effective way to communicate with your patients and their family members. While you should always schedule your initial appointment by phone, you can use texting to send reminder messages, to change appointment times and to let your patient know you're running late. Text messages can easily be exchanged any time of the day (or night) and allow people to respond at a time that is convenient for them. Texting is clearly a win-win...just don't do it while you're driving. 

9.  Remind them: communication is a two way street

As my dad would put it, "The phone works both ways!" So, be sure to encourage your patients to call you if they foresee a conflict or need to adjust the appointment day or time. If my dad's approach doesn't suit you, then try the Carly Rae Jepsen approach:  "Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here's my number. Call me maybe."

10.  Tell them about the consequences of a missed visit

Without being overly dramatic or threatening, remind the patient that missed visits have consequences:  the visit may not be rescheduled, the make up visit may be made by an unfamiliar person, the visit may have to be re scheduled to Saturday, the missed visit is reported to the agency and, in most cases, it's also reported to the doctor. (That usually gets their attention!) There are also various possible financial consequences of excessive missed visits, but discuss those only as a last resort.

No matter what you are scheduling, and to matter where you're doing it, these tips will help you better manage your time and your appointments. Get started today and have fewer missed visits tomorrow!

Respect the people who find time for you in their busy schedule. But love those who never look at their schedules when you need them.