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Types of Scheduling Appointments

The typical healthcare facility is a busy place, with patients coming and going all day long. Some of the patients have scheduled appointments, some are walk-ins, and a few are there because of medical emergencies. In order to manage the flow of patients efficiently, it’s essential to use the right type of appointment scheduling for your healthcare practice.

Using any of the types of appointment scheduling below does more than just keep calendars organized; it also has benefits for both healthcare professionals and patients. Any healthcare facility that uses proper patient scheduling can boost staff productivity, reduce no-shows, and shorten wait times for patients. Staff members won’t have to manually manage appointments, which will free up more time for other tasks. Patients will be able to set appointments that work better for their schedules, which will cut down on the number of missed appointments. When patients arrive as walk-ins or to have a medical emergency treated, a well-managed appointment schedule can result in less time spent waiting.

This is especially true for facilities that integrate patient scheduling with a comprehensive patient engagement solution like TeleVox. This allows patients to manage their own appointments through features like SMS-based Live Chat, phone-based Live Connect, or a troubleshooting AI virtual assistant . For example, patients could receive automated appointment reminder texts, with the option to reschedule or cancel. If they wouldn’t be able to attend an upcoming appointment, they could make the necessary changes from their mobile devices. The patients get a convenient way to manage their appointments, and healthcare providers get more accurate appointment schedules.

Given how many types of appointment scheduling there are, it only makes sense to wonder which one is the best. While it’s true that some methods are more efficient than others, the “best method” will depend on the needs of each healthcare facility.

Time-slot scheduling

This is one of the most common types of appointment scheduling, and doesn’t require much management by healthcare office staff. When a patient wants to schedule their next visit, the desk staff will show them available time slots on the calendar, and the patient will choose their preferred appointment time. Last-minute cancellations could be filled with patients who were on a waiting list, or kept open for walk-ins.


  • Healthcare providers can reserve blocks of time as needed for other tasks. 
  • Patients can select the exact time slot they prefer, which can reduce the chances that they won’t be able to make their appointments.


  • If and when a patient arrives late to their appointment, the rest of the day’s schedule could be disrupted.
  • The most desirable time slots will fill up first, leaving late-comers with fewer options.
  • Patients who arrive without an appointment could end up waiting for hours if the day’s schedule is already fully booked.

Wave scheduling

In settings like an emergency room, it’s normal to experience waves of patient visits. Some parts of the day could be extremely hectic, while at other times there’s a lull. This dynamic is imitated with wave scheduling but in a much more structured way.

The typical wave schedule involves booking three or four appointments for every 30-minute slot. Instead of being asked to come at a specific time, patients will be given a window of time during which to arrive. The healthcare provider sees patients on a first-come, first-served basis; if anyone ends up having to wait, it’s usually only for a few minutes. When multiple patients arrive at one time, the doctor will prioritize the most urgent cases.

What about walk-ins or emergency visits? These can usually be worked into the schedule without causing too much disruption, but not always. If there simply isn’t time to accommodate casual walk-ins, they may be asked to come back another day. Urgent cases, on the other hand, are given priority over routine checkups; this could result in delays or lost time slots. When this happens, it’s important for healthcare providers to let patients know that their upcoming appointments will have to be delayed or rescheduled.

Wave scheduling + walk-in

Some healthcare facilities have fairly predictable appointment schedules, while others regularly attend walk-ins as well as scheduled patients. The wave scheduling + walk-in method, also known as modified wave scheduling, is ideal for the second type of facility. Just like with wave scheduling, three or four patients are scheduled per 30 minutes; however, the second 30-minute slot of each hour is left open.

This time is used to accommodate walk-ins and urgent medical cases, as well as appointments that run long. Some types of appointments are difficult to accurately schedule, so the wave scheduling + walk-in method gives healthcare professionals the flexibility to take their time with each patient.

The main disadvantage of this method is that there’s always a risk of downtime. If scheduled patients get attended to quickly and there are no walk-ins, healthcare professionals could find themselves with little to do until the next patient arrives.

Open booking

This scheduling method is even more flexible, with patients asked to arrive within appointment slots of a few hours – for example, between 1 PM and 4 PM. Although open booking is more likely to result in longer wait times for patients who arrive during a rush, it’s better for those who have urgent cases. In some ways, this scheduling method imitates the dynamic of an emergency room. Healthcare providers generally see patients based on the order of arrival, but give priority to urgent cases. Facilities that employ part-time specialists often use this method, since it works well for healthcare professionals that are only available for a few hours per day.

Patients with medical emergencies benefit from the open booking method, since it reduces their wait time. However, other patients who are there for more routine matters could end up waiting much longer than anticipated. This isn’t always the case, but it’s certainly a possibility if too many patients arrive at the same time.

Cluster scheduling

Healthcare facilities that have fairly predictable schedules often favor this method. Patients can still choose which time slots they prefer, but they’ll be grouped according to their case types. For example, a general practice family doctor could have the first scheduling block reserved for routine checkups, the second block reserved for seasonal illnesses, and so on.

The main benefit of cluster scheduling is for healthcare professionals, as it lets them focus on one thing at a time rather than having to constantly switch gears. It could be compared to setting up a healthcare assembly line, in which doctors and nurses provide similar types of support to one patient after the next. Not only can this improve focus and accuracy, but it can also increase efficiency and reduce wait times.

While there are obvious benefits for both healthcare providers and their patients, the main issue is that patients don’t have as much flexibility when scheduling their appointments. Instead of having the entire day, they may only be able to choose an appointment within a two-hour block of time.


As the name implies, double-booking involves scheduling two patients for the same appointment slot. This method isn’t necessarily preferred by most healthcare practices, but it does have advantages under certain circumstances.

For example, one patient could be scheduled for a simple checkup, while another could be there for a time-consuming procedure. The doctor could attend to both patients, but the second patient could also be taken care of by a nurse when the doctor was unavailable.

The double-booking method is ideal for healthcare facilities with large patient volumes, but it can result in lower patient satisfaction. Since there’s almost no flexibility for delays, just a couple of late arrivals or extended appointments could disrupt the rest of the day’s schedule. Also, patients are more likely to feel like they’re being rushed through their appointment, which could make them less satisfied with their overall treatment. At the same time, double-booking makes it possible to schedule more last-minute appointments; this is a major benefit for patients with urgent cases.