In continuing the quest to ensure that my colleagues are seeking ways to improve patients access to care; I thought a discussion regarding the 3rd Next Available Appointment would be beneficial. The 3rd Next Available Appointment metric is often misunderstood, and as a result, not utilized. I would venture to say, if this metric is not one of your top three Patient Access Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s), you need to make it so. Some might say, “why not measure the calendar days between the day a patient makes a new patient appointment with a physician and the next available appointment? What makes the 3rd available appointment a better indicator of access to care?”
The 3rd Next Available Appointment is preferable to the next available appointment because it is a better reflection of slot availability within your scheduling system. Given that patients cancel appointments at the last minute, reporting the first available appointment may give a physician practice manager a false sense of timely access. For example, you are the manager of a busy orthopedic practice. You are measuring the next available appointment time by physician in an effort to provide patients with a new patient appointment in under three days. Despite the fact that you confirmed your appointments for the day, a new patient calls to cancel her visit for this afternoon. Moments later, another patient calls to cancel his new patient appointment for tomorrow with the same orthopedic surgeon.
If you were to report on this surgeon’s Next Available Appointment, and you ran this report from your scheduling system right now, your next available appointment for Dr. Smith would be this afternoon. As a manager, I would assume this means Dr. Smith’s new patient availability is under the three day threshold and my patients are receiving timely access to care.
Now let’s run the third next available appointment for Dr. Smith. In doing so, you find that the 3rd next available appointment for a new patient is 19 days. The two cancellations received today, while providing an open slot for another new patient to fill, is not a true reflection of Dr. Smiths’ patient availability and as such, intervention should be initiated.
Most scheduling systems include this report as part of their standard package. If you have access to it, run it for every physician in your practice. Run it often and act on any adverse results. You’ll find a significant increase in patient satisfaction as well as a positive boost in revenue will be your reward.