Patient appointment scheduling varies depending on the type of health care facility involved and the reason for the visit, whether a routine medical appointment, a specific medical condition or an urgent matter. Additionally, there may be some distinctions, depending on whether the doctor works in an individual practice or in a group practice with several other doctors.
Primary Care Practice
A significant segment of the population uses one of the most broad-based types of physician practice as a primary care provider, usually either a family practice or an internist office. Some patients may use a specialist as a primary care provider, such as a gynecologist for women or an endocrinologist for patients with diabetes or a thyroid condition. In the broad-based category of primary care practices there are typically three types of appointment designations available. Primary care practices may offer specific time blocks for full physical appointments, follow up visits and urgent care appointments. Most primary care practices reserve some time blocks for seeing urgent care cases on a same day or next day basis.
A patient’s medical requirements for specialized care with a particular doctor can range from a single visit to an ongoing series of appointments that occur over a period of years; some patients may see several specialists over the same interval of time. Within a specialist's practice, appointment scheduling may fall into such categories as a consult or the initial visit through referral by another doctor, initial appointments that do not require a referral and follow up appointments. While some specialists may need to see patients on an urgent care basis, such as cardiologists, many specialists are unlikely to see patients except as scheduled.
Inpatient care at a convalescent or skilled nursing facility also incorporates some events that require scheduling within the facility. Appointments in these settings deal with circumstances that require the availability of particular medical personnel, not necessarily doctors; these may include medical device technicians, physical therapists, visiting nurses and respiratory therapists. The appointment scheduler at the inpatient facility may need to make out-bound calls to the patient's doctor for the scheduling of diagnostic testing, such as computed axial tomography (CAT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound testing, that the inpatient facility does not provide. For testing protocols that the facility has the capacity to provide on-site, the appointment scheduler must obtain information from all the technicians involved in providing these diagnostic protocols to avoid scheduling conflicts.
Medical facilities use proprietary software to streamline their appointment scheduling. Increasingly, medical office practices are also using automated appointment reminder software that initiates a telephone reminder call to the patient a day or two before an upcoming appointment. Also, those doctors' offices that work with hospitals increasingly make use of shared computer systems, allowing for more efficient handling of medications, treatment plans and payment by insurance companies.