Top Tips for Scheduling Preventive Visits
by Laurie Morgan, partner and consultant, Capko & Morgan
Preventive visits in most cases are billed 100% to insurance, with no copay or deductible—a boon to patients and practices alike. Patients benefit from focused time with their physician, and they won’t have to delay the visit to save money; practices benefit from visits that are predictable to schedule and generally easy to bill.
Despite these advantages, in our experience at Capko & Morgan, few practices proactively schedule preventive visits. Instead, most let patients decide when to book their check-ups. That may seem patient-centered, but many patients neglect preventive care, sometimes for years (especially adults who are feeling fine). And others book only in response to external reminders, such as schools prompting parents to book pediatric check-ups. That can lead to a crush of preventive visit requests during a brief window, making it harder for patients to secure an appointment at a convenient time.
By adopting a more proactive approach to scheduling, your practice can help your patients stay on top of their health and take full advantage of their preventive care benefits. You’ll also likely improve the patient experience—and you’ll even boost your practice’s finances at the same time.
Recalls during slower periods are a win-win
Some primary care practices experience lower volume in the first quarter and most slow down during the summer vacation season. These dips can mean big drops in revenue that make expense planning more difficult.
Recalling patients who’ve fallen behind on preventive care can boost revenues when problem-oriented visit volume drops. Data in your EHR and/or PMS can help you identify patients who are overdue for preventive care. (Reach out to your vendor or user group for help if you’re not sure how to create these queries.)
Once you’ve identified patients to recall, prepare your schedulers with a compelling script that focuses on patient benefits like getting current with important screenings and vaccines.
Develop a protocol for recalls
Many practices find when they start planning recalls that more patients are overdue for preventive services than they expected—sometimes more than can be booked immediately, even during the slowest time of the year. If that’s the case in your practice, the clinical team should guide the front office in setting priorities for the recalls. For example, doctors may want patients reaching age thresholds for particular screenings or vaccines to be top priority. Or, perhaps they will want scheduling to be based on the lag time since the last visit, medical history, or other criteria.
If your practice employs nurse practitioners (NPs) or physician assistants (PAs) and they’re less fully booked, your physicians may prefer to shift some preventive visits to them. Be sure your schedulers know how to positively introduce the idea of seeing an NP or PA. For example, statements such as, “Mrs. Jones, Dr. Smith noticed you’re overdue for a check-up, and she’d like you to come in and see our nurse practitioner, Susan Johnson” can help reassure patients that their doctor is still overseeing their care.
Reexamine workflow and preparation
Most practices book 30 minutes or more for a preventive visit—a significant block of time. Make sure that all of that time is well-spent—especially the physician’s time. Tasks that can be done by staff should be appropriately delegated.
Setting up portal accounts for new patients as part of the scheduling process can save time and improve information flow. Use the portal to send important advance information such as where and when to get lab tests and explanations about which services are considered preventive care with no cost-sharing, and which may require a copay.
Bolster your reminder policy
After your first wave of recalls, you may find that patients prefer the same day and time for future preventive visits. But when appointments are booked months or even a year ahead, plan to add an extra reminder about 30 days in advance. This way, if the patient has forgotten about the appointment, there will be plenty of time to reschedule (and to rebook the slot with someone else). Be sure to collect email and/or text information from patients so that you can remind patients electronically and not just by phone.