Why wave scheduling may improve on-time performance

Despite the clear benefits of customizing patients' appointment time slots, many doctors still operate on a so-called “stream” approach, simply scheduling patients in equal intervals throughout each office session. Thus, a doctor may be committed to see patients at 9 a.m., 9:10 a.m., 9:20 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and so on, regardless of the variations among those patients. Little wonder, then, that the late arrivals and time-consuming patient problems compound themselves as the day progresses.

Wave scheduling takes a different appointment approach, scheduling a number of patients at one time (hence, a “wave”) and none in the succeeding time slots, in the expectation that visits will average out in time usage. Thus you might bring in an hour’s worth of patients at the top of the hour, and see each in turn. Modified wave scheduling books smaller groups at intervals throughout the hour.

Both methods keep a ready supply of patients on hand while minimizing physician down time caused by no-shows and late arrivals. Although we still encounter some physicians and staff members who resist the approach, saying we have seen it applied successfully by a variety of practices.

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