Understanding patient patterns and seasonality

Understanding patient patterns and seasonality

Do you have a good idea of when your office is busiest? Patient volume can be a bit of a mystery, and the ebb and flow of appointments across the week, month, or year can seem random at times. What affects patient booking the most? Is it payday? The full moon? All jokes aside, it’s something worth investigating. Finding a reliable way to track and understand patient patterns can have a direct impact on the patient experience in your practice. In survey after survey, respondents cite wait times as a major factor in patient satisfaction score.

National trends

A recent survey by ZocDoc tracked the most popular appointment times across the country. The resulting data showed some very strong trends. 10 am to 1 pm were by far the most popular appointment times. Patients want to pop into the doctor on their lunch break, but many practices close for lunch. The most popular time for appointments was 10am on Fridays, but the overall busiest day of the week actually ended up being Tuesday. The survey also found that most pediatric appointments are scheduled on a Monday.

Tracking for yourself

Consider setting up a simple system to track not only booked appointments, but also cancelled and missed appointments, as well as requested times. It’s also worth conducting occasional surveys of your patients. When would they prefer to be seen? When do they tend to call your office, and why? You may begin to notice repeating trends, on a weekly or monthly basis. This is valuable information which you can use to improve your patient services.

Seasonal patterns may be a bit more obvious to your practice: allergy season in the spring, cold and flu season in the winter. However, there may be other monthly spikes worth considering. January is a popular month for appointments, most likely due to the millions of patients making health-conscious resolutions for the New Year. The end of the summer may also spark a surge in vaccination appointments as parents prepare to send their children off to school.

Getting a good picture of the busiest times in your practice has obvious implications for the way you run your practice. Knowing when to have adequate staff on call will help to reduce wait times and ensure a better patient experience: no one is at their best when they’re rushed and over stretched. You may notice that certain populations are looking for appointments at specific times, which can help you offer more individualized care. Offering after hours slots for routine appointments might help you attract more men to your practice, and offering kid-friendly services early in the week might make your office more attractive to young families.

After analyzing patient tendencies you may realize that your practice has a particularly quiet day of the week, which would be a great time to offer educational programs or immunization clinics. When it comes to understanding what makes your patient population tick, information is power.