Who Should Fill Your Last-Minute ‘Appointment Available’ Slots?

Author: Ravi Kalidindi
A doctor holds a tablet showing his very busy schedule with only 2 last minute appointments available.

Patients don’t like waiting. None of us do. But we often have to wait for doctor’s appointments.

Take someone who develops severe ear pain. They want to see an ENT, and they want to see them now. But they’re hard-pressed to find a practice with a last-minute appointment available; more often, they’re scheduling several weeks out.

Quote: Who Should Fill Your Last-Minute ‘Appointment Available’ Slots?

Acute problems make patients more willing to forego their normal vetting processes (reading patient reviews, checking “best doctor” ratings, etc.) and instead scour the landscape for a provider who can get them in fast.

Herein lies the opportunity for your practice.

The Big Missed Opportunity

All practices experience cancellations and requests to reschedule. It’s a reality of the healthcare world, and the typical response is to fill those vacant calendar spots by moving a “similar type” appointment up in the schedule. By doing this, you often end up moving existing patients to the open slot.

However, this strategy misses a tremendous opportunity, especially for specialty practices.

Moving existing patients up is an easy and guaranteed way to fill empty slots, so it has become the standard practice. But that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective.

Existing patients with non-urgent appointments don’t need you to move them up in your calendar. Instead, those newly vacant appointment slots provide an opportunity to move new patients up on the schedule, getting them in the door before they find another practice that can see them sooner.

By purposely tailoring your appointment filling this way, you help a new patient, earn their loyalty, and consistently win new business.

Of course, you don’t want to lose existing patients experiencing an urgent issue, either. If they can’t get a timely appointment with you, you simply end up trading existing patients for new ones. The point is that filling open slots by moving up existing patients with non-urgent appointments doesn’t do your business any favors.

Three Criteria to Fill Open Slots

The bottom line: When a slot opens in your office schedule, first look to make that last-minute appointment available to a new patient (or secondarily, to an existing one) who’s having an urgent issue.

Follow these three criteria, in this order, when filling vacancies in your schedule:

  1. Strive first to accommodate a new patient with an urgent need. It gives you an advantage over other local practices to win that person as a regular patient.
  2. Make an impression on the remaining new patients by seeing them sooner than they expected. They’re more likely to stick with your practice vs. trying a competitor.
  3. Schedule an existing patient who has an urgent need. You’ll reinforce their loyalty and prevent leakage to other practices.
Infographic: Who Should Fill Your Last-Minute ‘Appointment Available’ Slots?

Setting Up Your Wait List

Practices typically use one of two methods to ensure they assign last-minute appointment slots to patients who meet these criteria:

  • Handle it manually: Teams manage a waiting list manually, scheduling patients for distant dates but asking if they’d like to be notified when an earlier slot opens up. If they would, a staff member then reaches out to the first person on that list with an appropriate appointment type when a new spot becomes available.

Automate it: Using the criteria above, practices set rules in an automated system, such as the “Fill Canceled Appointments” function on the Simple Interact platform. When a last-minute “appointment available” opens up, the system applies your rules and automatically reaches out to the patients who match those criteria.

A graphic demonstrating how Simple Interact's cancelled appointments feature automates filling spots.

For example, it might text the top 10 qualifying patients on the list, offering the newly available slot on a first-come, first-served basis. The first patient to respond is immediately notified that the open slot is theirs, and the system automatically reschedules them in the calendar.

A graphic showing how Simple Interact's cancelled appointments feature contacts patients to fill last minute empty spots.

Help Patients, Win Business

Following our three criteria to fill a newly opened slot makes good business sense and helps the patients in greatest need.

Simple Interact is happy to demonstrate how our “Fill Canceled Appointments” and other features can make scheduling processes more effective and efficient in your practice. Schedule a chat or demo.

Have questions?

We would love to share our expertise in front office automation.

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