A couple of years ago we noticed that although we’d had a great year as far as new patients were concerned, our return visits seemed to have flattened out. Patients seemed pleased with the service, success rates were high, but it still felt like we were gaining new patients but not growing.

The problem, of course, was in the scheduling.

If your office is reasonably busy, a great booking strategy can increase your profitability almost overnight. If you’re not-so-busy, there’s good news here as well: Effective booking drives return visits like nothing else.

Here’s how we worked with our staff to create a more effective appointment strategy.

Strike While The Iron’s Hot
There will never be a better time to book the patient in question than right now. Whether they’re on the phone, or standing at your front desk, do it now. The patient who doesn’t book now is going to come back fewer times. Or never. It’s that simple.

Tell, Don’t Ask
You need to approach booking from a place of confidence. Adopt the attitude of assuming patients will book/rebook. Why? because your inner confidence is reflected in how you speak, in subtle ways that shift the likelihood of success.

  • Wrong: “Did you want to schedule a follow up?”
  • Right: “Let’s schedule your follow up.”

Small difference in words. Big difference in outcome.

Leverage Our Love of Routine
Humans tend to be creatures of habit. We like consistency. Giving your patients recurring appointments in the same time slot makes it easy for them, and gives them a sense of ownership in the process.

  • Wrong: “When would you like to come back?”
  • Right: “If this time slot is convenient, I can get you in at the same time on Wednesday at 10:30.”

If you can’t offer the same time, offer the same time of day: “We can get you in again on Wednesday morning next week.”

Narrow the Options
While you’re at it, consider offering just two options for any appointment. It’s easier for everyone. There’s some surprising research that shows that people buy more when their choices are not overwhelming.

  • Wrong: “What day is good for you?”
  • Right: “We have an opening on Wednesday at 10:30 again, or Thursday at 2:15.”

Don’t Create Islands
When you’re offering up those two time slots, pick them carefully. Cluster your appointments back to back. You’ll work more effectively than if you schedule appointments haphazardly over the day, and you won’t end up with tiny windows that people who might need longer appointments, like new patients, can’t fit into. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a day full of holes, but not being able to see a new patient.

Create Scarcity
Many people (like me) don’t want to book a follow up if it’s too far in the future. Others just don’t want to commit ever. What gets me every time is the idea that if I don’t book, I might not get an appointment.

  • Wrong: “Okay. Call us in three months.”
  • Right: “The schedule tends to fill up quickly. We should book it now so that we can be sure to get you in.”

Remind People
I also don’t like to book too far out because I’m afraid I’ll forget. Reassure your patients by giving them an appointment card, and by telling them you’ll call a few days before the appointment to remind them.

Step On a Crack
We also have a monthly protocol for catching those stray patients that might fall through the cracks. Every month, we print a list of every patient whose birthday is in that month. That report shows the patient’s status (active, inactive, etc.) and when their next appointment is. Every active patient who doesn’t have a next appointment is examined to make sure we haven’t lost someone along the way.

If you know the annual value of a patient, it’s not hard to see that the few minutes it takes to scan through a few pages of names is well worth the time.

Protect the Schedule
All your best scheduling efforts are in vain if your patients don’t respect their appointments. Read our master list of tips for reducing no-shows, cancellations, and reschedules so that your booking strategy pays off.

Implementing most of these strategies is as simple as educating your staff. This list is essentially the blueprint that we used to write up a short booking policy for our front-line people. Use it if you find it helpful. What works even better is to use this list as a starting point for discussion – have your staff read it over, and then discuss any additional ideas and adjustments they might have.

Then, of course, let us all know in the comments!

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12 Responses to “How to Design the Ultimate Patient Booking Strategy”

  1. Ingrid Cliff says:

    Another great article – these ideas also work for writing copy for your business
    1. Go for immediate action – get someone to act now, not later.
    2. Assume a sale – always assume a sale/positive outcome and ask or write accordingly.
    3. Get a routine happening – make doing business with you regular, systematised and expected. For example I always send my newsletters on Friday mornings – people begin to expect to hear from you regularly. It also helps build your reputation for consistent delivery.
    4. Narrow the choices – too many choices means people have difficulty making ANY choice. With your copy give a maximum of three choices on price points or packages – any more and you lose customers.
    5. Remind people – if someone contacted you for more information then you need to keep in touch and remind them you would love to work with them. You can do this simply through autoresponder programs or drop them a postcard.

    exuberantly yours


  2. Dan says:

    Thanks Ingrid. You’re right – there is parallel there with copywriting. I never noticed, but it makes sense. Much of effective scheduling is really marketing, when you get down to it.

    Hmmm…that could be another post in itself… :)

  3. jb says:

    You mention printing monthly reports of birthdays and last appointment dates for patients, I’m wondering what sort of practice management software you use? I’ve been evaluating various softwares that will enable us to better manage our patients but can’t seem to make a decision on the best one. Any suggestions? (Particularly for Canadian practitioners?)

  4. Dan says:

    Hey jb,

    We use a software package called “Bridges”. It’s designed for naturopaths, but there’s not much that’s particularly ND-specific about it, so I think it could work for many practitioners.


    It’s been pretty good to us, actually. It’s network ready, does multiple practitioners, multiple rooms and a pile of other stuff. I think we’ll eventually upgrade to something more robust, but for the price (it’s cheap for association members) it’s actually been really great.

    You should be able to get a demo from them if you’re interested. And if you find any better software that you’d recommend, please let us know!

  5. jb says:

    Thanks for the tip! I have heard of Bridges from other naturopaths but because we are acupuncturists, it’s a bit more expensive. I’ve looked at ClientTracker by Ginkgo Software or AcuBase Pro by Trigram Software specifically for alternative health practices but I don’t know if the price is justified for buying practice software on top of accounting software (already using QB) that needs renewing every year, as well as if we will be doing scheduling in another program (considering online booking service). The other option would be integrating it with accounting software by purchasing a plug-in for Quickbooks or by looking at Sage Software’s (of Simply Accounting) health software line, though I don’t see options for Canadian customers.

    I guess my concern is investing the expense of specialized software if it is not even tailored to Canadian businesses (ie. federal and provincial tax) or Canadian insurance billing needs (which at this point we really don’t need insurance modules in our software). I would love to hear what other people are using or any one else’s suggestions on this topic as it’s something I’ve been wrestling with for some time now!

  6. Dan says:


    Chinese Medicine Tools has a long thread dedicated to the topic that you might find useful – it’s more acu-specific:


  7. […] great article from AlternativeHealthPractice.com – this time about how to get repeat appointments for your […]

  8. […] about staff is having them kicking around a too-quiet office. However, if you’ve got an effectively booked schedule, you can cover just those hours that are booked, without falling into the trap of hiring full-time […]

  9. You are right on about telling not asking. So often it comes down to your posture. This was a great article – One I am going to ask my assistant to read as well.

  10. […] they aren’t serious about the job of booking appointments, you’ll feel […]

  11. Nick says:

    I am a massage therapist and I do my scheduling with GenBooks. I like it, however since it is on-line scheduling (and I do not have access to my computer in my office) it’s tricky to ask clients to re-schedule right then and there. Any tips on this? Thank you!

  12. Dan says:

    Hi Nick,

    Why not put a computer, tablet or laptop in your office? You could do your scheduling right on the spot. And I’m guessing it’ll pay for itself in no time.

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