Overbooking in Medical Centres

We all know that airlines and medical centres are highly different operations, but one similarity is that both airlines and medical centres depend on people being present. Flying an aeroplane, for instance, with empty seats, costs the airline a fortune. Likewise, no shows can cost a medical centre a considerable amount of money and result in increased patients labelled as no shows or DNA’s – (Did not attend).

The costs involved re patients not showing up are estimated to cost the UK (NHS) around 1 Billion Pounds a year. (www.medicaldirector.com)

In the US, as a comparison and another example, it costs more like $150-$200 billion a year in the USA. (www.forbes.com)

Those amounts mentioned above are enormous and will be costing individual clinics very noticeable amounts of money. So it does make sense why clinics would be looking for ways to reduce this cost. Hence why some consider or, in fact, use overbooking.

So what does overbooking means?

Overbooking for an airline is when multiple potential passengers have been allocated to the same seat for the same flight; of course, this then means that people will miss out if everyone shows up.  None of the passengers involved would be aware of this.

At a medical centre, it means that more than one patient has had their appointments booked by the clinic for the same date and time. However, each patient would go into your clinic believing that their appointment time is their’s alone. So schedule your appointments with a good practice management software company!

So, why do some medical clinics do this?

Essentially it is to try and save money by preventing having glaring no shows on their books.

Increasing the number of patients scheduled on any given day could temporarily decrease the impact of the consequences of patients not showing up. But in turn, it can invariably increase wait times.

What does overbooking mean for your patients?

It can mean a few things.

It could mean that one patient’s appointment is on time, which should help increase the chances of them being pleased with the service from the clinic.

On the other hand, it could mean that another patient has a much longer wait for their scheduled appointment because the other person and all remaining patients scheduled at the same time got to see the practitioner first.

The increase of delays then has the possible outcome in patients considering whether or not they will book in the future with your clinic.

Overbooking not only impacts on patients, though, it can also affect the staff who will be under pressure from trying to keep frustrated patients happy and possibly mean them having to work longer hours.

If you do overbook, however, are there any benefits to doing so?

Possibly. If only one of the patients turns up for each double-booked appointment, you have a full day of patients, which is positive because it means no loss of revenue and a day of happy patients.

Clinics use a variety of models to work out ways to deal with patient flow and experiment with different ways of doing things. For instance, they might overbook several appointments but leave others as single patient appointments. Done strategically, this could mean the following:

First up, if every patient turns up for the overbooked appointments, but some of the single patient appointments are no shows, then the overflow could potentially still be seen. This system has a risk factor, though, in that everyone could show up for their appointments, so instead of a free-flowing day, you have a day full of delay and frustration.

When an airline uses overbooking even just by one, there is a chance that every passenger will show up. They then have the dilemma of who to turn away. They all will have their methods to deal with this situation.

 It is worth mentioning that in this situation, potentially only a single passenger will be inconvenienced.

At a medical clinic, however, the impact can be more significant. If an overbooked appointment is for, say, first thing in the morning and every patient turns up, the clinic will run late.

If your clinic prefers less wait time for your patients, then overbooking may not be the best plan.

Another factor to consider in this topic, though, is not only whether to overbook or not to it but also why your clinic has no shows in the first place. Do you have effective appointment reminders set up for patients, i.e. emails or an SMS? Granted, this is a whole other topic in itself, but it is certainly worth touching upon.

If you want a patient to show up, you have to cover a range of methods to ensure that every patient knows about their appointment and remembers to attend. There must also be a straightforward system that allows them to change their booking before their appointment. These are aspects to consider regarding no shows. The point is that if you can reduce no shows, you can, therefore, limit the need even to consider overbooking at your clinic.

As a clinic owner, you need to allow for missed appointments, as they are always going to happen. Yet that does not mean you cannot do some in house clinic research. Maybe there are common times of day that are missed, for example. There is a possibility that by paying attention to the reasons behind the no shows, you could then reduce them from occurring. It is important to have proper UK Practice Management Software to be able to keep up to capacity and keep on top of everything!

So should you use overbooking in your medical clinic?

Will you lose patients and or revenue?

How do you balance the two – patients and revenue?

What can you control in regards to patient input and output?

Is overbooking a tool your clinic would consider using if it does not already?

It is clear that there are several questions and theories out there in regards to overbooking, and it is quite a complex issue. As a clinic owner, you need to weigh up the pros and cons and decide if it could work for your clinic and how it could work.

Rachel Maria

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