Mastering Seasonal Scheduling for Higher Quality Outcomes

By Larissa Long Mar 23, 2023
Mastering Seasonal Scheduling to Achieve Higher Quality Outcomes

Seasonality—the cyclical changes that occur around the same time each year—lends a certain predictability that countless industries have learned to leverage to their benefit. One prominent example: Holiday shopping season. Every fall, shoppers have come to expect holiday decorations lining store shelves and enticing sales to lure them in. Since retailers rely so heavily on this season to boost profits, they plan months in advance to achieve success. 

Medical practices can use the same concept of seasonality to drive incentives, improve quality outcomes, and increase patient satisfaction.

According to Kate Iovinelli, senior director of quality outcomes and process improvement at Innovista Health, seasonal scheduling allows physicians to capture target audiences during times of the year when preventive care services are more heavily sought.

Nowhere is this concept better illustrated than in the pediatric and adolescent population. 

Seasonal Scheduling & Well Season 

As spring approaches every year, “well season” should be top of mind at pediatric practices. Spanning from April to October, well season is historically a time when pediatricians see much higher patient activity. This is usually when children ages 3–17 come in for their required wellness exams and sports physicals for the new school year.

Seasonal scheduling is a way for offices to adjust their schedules to make room for this higher influx of wellness exams. Iovinelli calls it “flipping the schedule.”  

She explains, “More illnesses typically occur in the winter months, so physicians’ schedules during that time of the year will reflect more sick visits. In that April to October time frame, though, fewer germs are going around. Provider schedules should reflect more availability for wellness exams. Offices should also take steps to make it easier to accommodate patients who need to get in for those preventive care appointments.”

Seasonal Scheduling Benefits Everyone

The practice of seasonal scheduling benefits parents, patients, and physicians alike. 

Unless children are due for a vaccine or need a physical for school or sports, oftentimes parents/guardians do not bring them in for wellness exams. By prioritizing well visits in the spring and summer months, and sending out appropriate reminders, physicians tend to see better compliance and an increase in the number of appointments that get scheduled.

Parents appreciate seasonal scheduling, especially when practices offer early morning or evening appointments that do not interrupt their work schedule or interfere with school hours.

“We know the biggest deterrent in an office is long wait times for appointments,” says Iovinelli. “If an office is using seasonal scheduling, the benefit to the parent or guardian is access and availability. When they call for an appointment, they are going to be able to get in quickly because the doctor’s schedule allows for it.”

Without seasonal scheduling, wait times can be long—sometimes several months—which often leads to dissatisfaction. If they can’t get in when they want to, parents may end up using a standalone clinic for their child’s wellness exam. Physicians may also risk losing a member.

Seasonal scheduling benefits patients too. It keeps them in their established practice, with their regular doctor who is familiar with their medical history and healthcare needs.

Maintaining optimal health and wellbeing is vastly important in the pediatric/adolescent population. Up-to-date vaccination largely impacts mortality from preventable diseases. And a comprehensive head-to-toe wellness exam identifies any potential health concerns and eliminates unnecessary emergency department and hospital visits.

Physicians benefit from seasonal scheduling as it helps prioritize and incentivize annual wellness visits—the cornerstone of good health management. Just as importantly, it fosters stronger relationships with patients and members. This leads to higher satisfaction, greater engagement, and better health outcomes.

Where Else Can Seasonal Scheduling Work? 

Pediatrics isn’t the only area where seasonal scheduling can be implemented. For adults, though, there’s no “season” for wellness exams. They pretty consistently take place all year long, so Iovinelli recommends piggybacking on health awareness campaigns to promote screenings and other preventive care. Some of the most prominent health campaigns include: 

  • January: Cervical Cancer Awareness
  • February: American Heart Month  
  • March: Colorectal Cancer Awareness 
  • May: Skin Cancer Awareness  
  • June: Men’s Health Month  
  • October: Breast Cancer Awareness  

Another factor to consider is that by the end of the year, medical offices may see an influx of members wanting to schedule wellness exams or other visits for several reasons:

  • Insurance deductibles have been met and/or funds in flexible spending accounts need to be used before January.
  • Use-it-or-lose-it paid time off prompts some people to handle doctor appointments at the end of the year. For people who prefer not to use PTO for medical purposes, many take advantage of company holidays around Thanksgiving and Christmas to get wellness exams or medical procedures. (In fact, Iovinelli says end-of-year colonoscopies are surprisingly common for this very reason.)

How to Leverage Seasonal Scheduling

There are several things medical offices can do to promote seasonal scheduling and increase wellness exam appointments during those specific times of the year:

  • Educational videos in waiting rooms, plus pamphlets and/or signage throughout the office encouraging proactive scheduling of wellness exams
  • Email, text, and/or snail-mail postcard reminders to patients
  • Reminder phone calls to patients who are overdue for their wellness exam (even better if the office has same-day or same-week availability to offer the patient so they can come in right away)
  • Promote the practice’s online portal so patients can self-schedule with their preferred doctor

Finally, availability and accessibility are key. One of the most important things physicians (especially pediatricians) can do to make their practice stand out is to offer extended hours: early-morning, evening, and/or Saturday hours whenever possible.

Another simple yet highly effective tactic is to have a “doc of the day” on staff. This provider (doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner) should have an open schedule to handle all same-day appointment requests, thus allowing more time in the schedule for other providers to handle wellness exams.

The Bottom Line

Seasonal scheduling can help physicians transform their practice, allowing them to meet patients’ needs in a sustainable and productive way. In a medical landscape where people are easily frustrated and disenchanted by long wait times and lack of appointment availability, seasonal scheduling is a unique solution to increase patient satisfaction and achieve higher quality outcomes.