The Scheduling Features Your Client Management System is Missing
Romantic comedies are impractical in a lot of ways, but the thing that always frustrates me most is how the leading lovebirds “plan” their first date. They meet in some adorably clumsy way and realize they’re perfect for each other, then one asks the other to “go to dinner Friday night” before jumping into the back of a cab or disappearing into a crowd. Wait, what?? Where are they going? What time are they meeting? Have they considered each other’s dietary restrictions? Do they even know if their star signs are compatible?? If I have this many questions, I can’t imagine how many the person left behind would have. But we’re talking about a movie, here, so despite the lack of details, both characters will show up to the same place at the same time and live happily ever after. Classic. In the real world, making plans isn’t quite so effortless. If you want to schedule something, whether it’s a date or a doctor’s appointment, you need to know all the key details and have somewhere safe to store and keep track of them. Having tools that make scheduling easy is especially important in social service organizations, where staff spend a lot of their time booking appointments and other activities. Thankfully, there are lots of options out there, and choosing the right one can transform the way your team works. Whether scheduling is managed by administrative staff or service providers, the people at your agency in charge of booking appointments need to have an up-to-date view of availability across the organization to avoid scheduling conflicts, and the best way to get this view is to have a scheduling tool that’s built right into your case management system. Keep reading to discover what your system’s scheduling tool should be able to do for you!
Track all items that require bookingYour employees do more than provide services, and your software’s scheduling functionality needs to reflect that. It’s important for your system to allow staff to book things like organizational resources and personal time in the same place they book client appointments to get a holistic view of what’s going on in the organization at any time.
ServicesEffectively booking services like one-on-one appointments and group sessions is probably the main reason you have a scheduling tool. Staff need to be able to indicate where, when, and why each appointment is taking place, as well as who is providing the services. Collecting and tracking this information is essential for creating accurate reports and ensures that your agency is prepared in the event of an audit or court order.
Offsite ServicesMany organizations offer services at more than one location, whether that means operating out of multiple offices, facilitating meetings or presentations around the community, or providing home visits. Your case management system needs to be able to store the addresses of each location so they can be easily associated with appointments. This way, workers can quickly see exactly where they need to be without having to check any external apps. It’s a bonus if your system also shows them how to get to where they’re going, by linking each address in the system to a tool like Google Maps. One-click access to directions saves time for workers and enables easy tracking of service-related items like travel time and mileage.
Recurring AppointmentsStaff should also be able to schedule recurring appointments in advance. If a substance abuse support group will be held every Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the next three months, for example, staff should be able to book all these appointments at once instead of having to go into the system every week to add each one individually. This saves time for the person scheduling the appointments and blocks off time in the relevant worker’s calendar well in advance, ensuring they will not be double-booked.
Group ServicesMany social service organizations offer programs designed specifically for groups, like group therapy, drop-in classes, training programs, and community presentations, and they often have different methods for tracking each one. Some group programs are more formal, being delivered to the same group of clients on a regular basis and becoming part of their case history, while some are more casual, being delivered sporadically to whoever enrolls or happens to drop in. Managing all the variables involved in group service tracking, like setting the length of each program or establishing multiple processes for enrolling attendees or taking attendance, should be second nature for whichever case management system you choose.
Non-Client TimeIt would be great if service providers could spend 100% of their time at work helping clients, but that just isn’t realistic. Staff need to be able to book time in their calendars for things other than service delivery, like meetings, lunch breaks, vacation time, and administrative time. Some systems also allow staff to put colour-coded blocks of time in their calendars to indicate their general availability, like the times of day they expect to be available to see clients, when they prefer to conduct assessments, times they’re generally out of the office doing site visits, and so on.
Organizational ResourcesIt’s not uncommon for social service organizations to provide caregivers and admin staff with resources to help make their jobs easier. Resources may include items like laptops, tablets, or agency-owned vehicles for off-site appointments. Each type of resource is typically limited to a certain quantity, which means loaning them out needs to be a very organized process. With a scheduling tool that allows staff to book resources far in advance, you can ensure that staff get the materials they need when they need them.
Integrate with existing toolsSomething you may overlook when weighing your options for case management software is its ability to integrate with the scheduling tools you already use. Many organizations have a legacy scheduling system they’ve been using for years and can be intimidated by the thought of getting rid of it to make way for a new one. The system you choose should offer the best of both worlds: a comprehensive built-in scheduling tool that can sync with whichever scheduling system your organization already uses. For example, imagine your organization uses Microsoft Outlook for scheduling. When a worker books an appointment within your case management system, it should automatically be pushed to Outlook and appear in relevant staff calendars. This way, staff are always in the loop, whether they’re signed into the main system or not.
Automate scheduling tasksIf you didn’t know before, you probably know now: scheduling can be really complicated. Each step comes with its own checklist of “to-dos”, and things can go very wrong if any of them get missed. To eliminate that risk, your case management software should allow you to automate scheduling workflows, essentially checking off your to-do list items for you. For example, imagine your organization uses Microsoft Outlook for scheduling. When a worker books an appointment within your case management system, it should automatically be pushed to Outlook and appear in relevant staff calendars. This way, staff are always in the loop, whether they’re signed into the main system or not. Let’s say a client calls and requests an appointment with their usual service provider. The staff member taking the call would have to look at the provider’s availability and book an appointment in their calendar. Based on how your organization set up its automation rules, your system may be able to automatically:
- Send the client an email or text confirming that the appointment has been booked
- Send the service provider an email or text notifying them that they have a new appointment in their calendar
- Send the client an electronic document or survey to fill out and send back before the appointment
- Send the client an appointment reminder closer to the date to reduce the likelihood of a no-show