All mental health professionals have a lot on their plates. Especially solo practitioners and small practices with a limited administrative staff. Scheduling patient appointments, handling necessary administrative work, and collaborating with other industry professionals can make it challenging to effectively manage your schedule. This can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed and overworked. Without some type of correction, it can lead to a serious case of burnout.
There’s no doubt about it, burnout can take the job you love and make it feel like a chore. If you have been stressed out due to scheduling issues in your behavior counseling practice, you might want to consider adopting one or more of the following tips.
Set Firm Scheduling Policies
When you are a solo practitioner or a member of a relatively small practice, you are essentially a small business owner. When striving to grow any business it often seems like the answer has to always be “Yes” and then you make the opportunity for growth happen. While this might translate to short-term financial success, it can lead to long-term burnout problems.
Developing a formal scheduling policy allows you to share it with everyone on your team and with your patients. This ensures everyone is on the same page and has the same expectations for your scheduling methods. Of course, putting scheduling policies in writing also helps hold your practice to certain standards to make sure that each patient receives the same level of care.
Establish A Written Cancellation Policy
Last-second cancellations can be extremely frustrating. You set aside time to focus on a patient, only to have them their appointments last minute or don’t show up at all. Unfortunately, most patients don’t realize that this is also hurting you and your practice. Establishing a written cancellation policy and making sure that all your patients are properly informed and having your patients sign off on it reduces the frustration of time and potential revenue lost to last-second cancellations.
This might include things like setting specific fees in your policy for cancellations made within 48 hours and no-shows. The overarching goal is to both inform and hold your clients accountable for their appointments. While still providing them the reasonable ability to cancel or reschedule if necessary.
Use The End Of An Appointment To Schedule The Next
Most patients need multiple sessions and some have treatment plans that span months if not years. Asking a patient to schedule their next appointment at the end of the current appointment is an easy way to improve your schedule. This saves a great deal of time trying to contact them later to set up a follow-up appointment. It also makes it easy for both of you to coordinate your schedules to find the best possible time.
Make Sure To Set Aside Time for Administrative Tasks
While scheduling as many patients as possible seems like a great way to maximize your potential revenue stream, it can deprive you of the necessary time to take care of other essential tasks, like record keeping, submitting pre-approvals, coding, and medical billing.
Trying to simply force those administrative tasks to the end of your day can add up to a lot of extra hours, time away from family or personal life, and compound your stress level. If you don’t have an in-house administrative staff, you need to make sure that you are scheduling yourself a modest amount of time each day to handle administrative tasks yourself. This might mean leaving some open time at the beginning or end of your day or perhaps setting aside an hour or two block of time around your lunch hour to make sure your administrative duties are being completed on time.
Schedule Break Times For Yourself
Just like if you worked in an assembly line factory, everyone needs some break time to refresh, change focus or simply eat a snack to keep your blood sugar levels nominal. Making sure to also schedule time for your own breaks will help keep you from feeling run down. It will also help you to stay properly focused when you are in session with a patient.
Make An Effort To Stagger Every-Other-Week Patients
Patients that you see each week tend to be relatively easy to schedule, as they typically prefer to come at the same time and on the same day. However, some patients may need to have appointments every other week. Staggering your every-other-week patients serves to spread out your appointments evenly and to ensure every other week isn’t booked more heavily than the other weeks.
Give Yourself Time Between Difficult Patients
Some patients are more challenging than others, and some sessions that are more difficult than the norm. This might be a patient who requires more attention or has a complex situation that poses certain challenges, these appointments tend to take more energy out of you. Taking the time to plan a little time in between these more challenging appointments lets you stay fresh and focused at all times. It will also go a long way to help with stress management.
Use Dedicated Scheduling Software
These days information technology and digital scheduling tools are intuitive and easy to use. Whereas paper scheduling leaves you more likely to run into scheduling errors. This can leave you with large inefficient blocks in between patients, or worse, cause you to accidentally book two separate patients into the same time block.
Not only do these errors make your practice look unprofessional while also being frustrating for both you and your clients. Compounding this is the very real fact that you will likely lose even more time to having to reschedule. You might even face the stress of losing a client. Not to mention the insurance providers might have questions about your reporting inconsistencies.
Set Up Scheduling Reminders For Patients
A lot of patient scheduling software suites include reminders, notice, and alert features. They can often be synched up with your practice’s primary e-mail address. This lets you send out scheduling reminders to your patients a day or perhaps even a few days before their scheduled appointment to make sure they are aware and ready to show up ready. It also reduces your chances of suffering last-minute cancellations or no-shows.