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June 1, 2023
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3 min read

Why outbound scheduling is one of the best tools to prevent patient leakage

Explore how outbound scheduling can drastically reduce patient leakage, while enhancing revenue and patient satisfaction for your health system

Trevor Jonas
Why outbound scheduling is one of the best tools to prevent patient leakage

Much has been written about the macroeconomic environment and staffing shortages in healthcare, and for good reason. However, the ability of health systems to attract and retain patients is equally, if not more, important when it comes to driving financial sustainability. 

One of the critical challenges that health systems face today is 'patient leakage' - a term that refers to the situation when patients seek care outside their primary health system. With increased pressure from both traditional and nontraditional competitors, the financial impact of not addressing patient leakage is significant. Consider that nearly half of healthcare executives reported that patient leakage costs them at least 10% of their annual revenue. Understanding and managing patient leakage is crucial, as it not only leads to substantial revenue losses but can also negatively affect patient outcomes. 

Unpacking the problem: patient leakage

The impact on revenue and margins can be significant, however, patient leakage is more than just a financial concern; it's often a symptom of deeper systemic issues within healthcare. The reality is that multiple factors contribute to patient leakage, including a lack of timely follow-ups, scheduling complexities, and communication gaps. 

“Patients will find the path of least resistance to schedule care,” said Susanne Katz, Head of Patient Access Operations at Notable with prior experience managing the clinical operations and patient access teams for a large New York-based specialty hospital. “If others are offering that path with alternative and personalized ways to schedule, patients will take advantage of that convenience.”

For instance, imaging service line leaders often struggle to get patients to complete their care because scheduling appointments is not intuitive, it often involves multiple phone calls or generally requires extra work for the patient. Rather than navigate this complex web of systems, many patients simply seek care elsewhere or forego care altogether, thus contributing to patient leakage. In addition to lost revenue, even small disruptions in the continuity of care can potentially lead to poorer health outcomes and reduced patient satisfaction.

What is outbound scheduling?

Outbound scheduling is the strategy of proactively identifying and engaging patients to digitally self-schedule the care that they need. Health systems across the country are adopting outbound scheduling to proactively engage patients to close care gaps, schedule referrals, schedule provider follow-ups, or schedule pending clinical orders. 

A majority of healthcare scheduling today is inbound in nature, meaning that the patient is searching for and initiating care themselves. Although inbound scheduling plays a significant role in capturing and meeting patient demand, it is dependent on the patient to initiate care and does not ensure continuity of care within a health system. Conversely, outbound scheduling enables health systems to proactively identify patients in need of care and allows those patients to self-schedule that care, ultimately minimizing any risk of patient leakage. 

How outbound scheduling helps manage patient leakage

Traditionally, appointment scheduling in healthcare has relied on the telephone, with front desk staff or entire call centers established to handle the back-and-forth between patients and providers. In fact, 64% of patient access leaders in a recent survey reported that more than 60% of their patient appointments are scheduled by telephone. This method of scheduling is not only highly inefficient, but it is not something the majority of patients or staff enjoy. 

Outbound scheduling, which can be automated and executed digitally, is proving to be a highly effective tool for health systems looking to combat patient leakage. It involves proactive engagement with patients at the right moment, through their preferred method of communication, to ensure they adhere to their recommended care plans. Examples of outbound scheduling include: 

  • Orders-based scheduling: Health systems can proactively prompt patients to schedule orders that have been placed but remain unfilled – from mammograms to ultrasounds and beyond.
  • Care gap scheduling: By automating the identification and notification of patients to missing recommended preventive care services like screenings or annual vaccines, health systems can improve health outcomes at scale.
  • Referrals scheduling: Ensures patients are able to digitally self-schedule referred care once their referral has been received by the health system and processed within the electronic health record (EHR).

While enhanced patient retention can deliver increased revenue and reduced costs of acquiring new patients, there are indirect financial benefits as well. Typically, a health system will see improved patient satisfaction due to streamlined scheduling and better communication. This helps improve the overall reputation of the healthcare system and can lead to increased referrals and stronger patient loyalty, both of which are vital in solidifying a health system’s financial stability.

A 2X increase in new patient appointments?

This health system pulled it off and achieved a 96% patient satisfaction rating in the process.

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