Scheduling appointments effectively is critical for managing patient or customer flow and ensuring profitability. How appointments are scheduled can vary greatly by industry. For example, medical providers often need to see many patients in a small window of time, whereas spa appointments are lengthier and have a dedicated service provider for every client.
Type of Scheduling
Most businesses requiring one-on-one appointments
Medical practices wanting to book patients based on the severity of their condition
Grouping similar appointments together for efficiency
Larger businesses wanting to schedule multiple appointments at the same time
Larger businesses wanting to stagger appointments
Giving patients or clients the freedom to book their own appointments
Providing first-come, first-serve appointments
Why Use Different Types of Scheduling?
Many small businesses use straightforward stream scheduling to book one customer at a time in a designated time slot for each service provider. However, medical practices and larger businesses that need to accommodate many appointments at once, including last-minute or walk-in appointments, use additional types of scheduling to fit in a larger number of clients. No matter what scheduling strategy a business uses, having an appointment scheduling software is critical for keeping appointments and customer data organized.
Features of Different Appointment Scheduling Techniques
There are many ways that an appointment-based business can choose to schedule patients or customers. The type of appointment scheduling that works best for each business depends on the industry and appointment volume. Some businesses need lots of dedicated time with each customer, whereas others need to handle large volumes of people at once.
Most small businesses, especially those with one or a few providers, deliberately book appointments one at a time, giving each customer a designated time slot. However, businesses like medical clinics, and even nail salons, need a system in place to accept walk-in appointments. No matter what type of schedule you use, working with an appointment scheduling template and software program will make the process of booking and managing appointments a lot smoother.
Stream scheduling is when a business gives a single customer an individual appointment time. This ensures that each service provider is only working with one client or providing one service at a time.
Stream scheduling is the most common type of scheduling, especially for small businesses. The term stream scheduling is most commonly used in the medical field but can apply to any kind of business. Services like counseling, massage therapy, and nutrition coaching are typically booked using stream scheduling because the provider needs to focus on one client at a time. However, repair services, salon appointments, tax filing, and sales calls are also usually booked using a stream scheduling system.
Triage scheduling is typically only used in medical practices. Triage scheduling requires businesses to prioritize patients based on the severity of their conditions or symptoms.
Triage scheduling is common at emergency medical practices like urgent care centers and emergency rooms. Businesses that use triage scheduling typically leave a few same-day appointments available in anticipation that there will be some walk-ins or emergencies.
Cluster scheduling is when a business schedules similar procedures or services together during the same day or time frame. For example, a medical clinic might perform all of their flu shots on Thursday afternoons, or a spa might only offer acupuncture on Wednesdays.
This type of schedule is ideal for businesses that have employees with specific specialties. Cluster scheduling can also allow businesses to see a large number of customers or patients in a short amount of time because service providers are performing a repetitive task.
Wave scheduling is when a business schedules many appointments to start at the same time. If a business has all of its appointments start on the hour, it is also called top-of-the-hour scheduling.
Wave scheduling is typically used by very busy medical practices with limited providers. There is an assumption that some patients will be early and others will be late, allowing the provider to see each one in a reasonable time frame. Wave scheduling also typically leaves extra time at the end of the hour for physicians to catch up on notes between patients or tend to any emergencies.
Other businesses that have designated class times or are by appointment only, such as spas or fitness centers, will also use wave scheduling so that the front desk only needs to be staffed on the hour. In these businesses, front-desk staff often have responsibilities in other areas of the business, so wave scheduling helps ensure someone is at the front desk when a customer walks in.
Modified Wave Scheduling
Modified wave scheduling is when appointment times are staggered by 15 or 20 minutes. This type of schedule is typically used by medical practices and salons to help ensure that every patient or client arrives separately. With wave scheduling, wait times should be minimal because the appointments are staggered.
However, this type of schedule does not work well for lengthy services that require the service provider to give the client their uninterrupted attention. For example, a consulting business or massage therapist would not be able to use a wave schedule. However, wave scheduling is common in family doctor offices and nail salons.
Self-scheduling is when a business allows customers or patients to book and manage their own appointments, typically through an online portal. Self-scheduling can be used in conjunction with other appointment booking techniques, including stream and modified wave scheduling.
Many customers and patients expect businesses to have self-scheduling options so that customers can choose a time that works best for their schedule. Self-scheduling also allows customers to book an appointment outside of normal business hours. Giving customers the ability to book their own appointments online is good for customer service.
Open-book scheduling is when a business does not set firm appointments. Instead, the business accepts walk-ins on a first-come, first-served basis. Open-book scheduling is also known as open-access or same-day scheduling.
There are a few different ways open-book scheduling can work. Some businesses will only accept walk-ins. Others will require you to call to book same-day. Businesses that require a same-day call will often provide customers with a time frame, such as 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., instead of a specific appointment time.
Open-book scheduling is designed to reduce no-shows, which often happen when a patient is required to book months in advance. Open-book scheduling also helps ensure that every patient or client who needs an appointment can receive service the same day. However, open-book scheduling can also come with long wait times and extremely unpredictable schedules for service providers.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Types of Scheduling
There are countless ways a business can set up its appointment book. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. If you need more tips for scheduling appointments, here are a few common questions and concerns.
What is a scheduling system?
A scheduling system is a process for arranging and managing the workflow of a business and allocating human resources based on need or availability. A scheduling system organizes customers and employees so that customers can receive services in a timely manner.
What type of scheduling best accommodates the patient or client?
The type of schedule that’s best for the client depends on the type of business you have and on the client’s personal preference. For many businesses, offering stream scheduling with self-schedule options can best accommodate the client because they are able to choose their own dedicated appointment.
However, in medical practices where a patient wants to be seen same-day, wave or open-book scheduling can help ensure there is time available for last-minute appointments.
What is double booking?
Double booking is the practice of scheduling two appointments at the same time for the same service provider. Generally, double booking is only used in cases of an emergency or clerical error and a business needs to fit in an additional appointment when there are no open time slots.
Types of scheduling vary greatly depending on the industry, the size of a business, client demand, and personal preference. The goal of a scheduling system is to maximize the number of clients a business can accommodate without sacrificing quality or customer service. The best scheduling systems also empower clients to have control over their appointments with self-scheduling options.