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In the movies, making plans is effortless. In the real world, however, scheduling takes work and a high level of organization. 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 for social service organizations, where staff spend a lot of their time booking appointments and other activities. Thankfully, there are lots of scheduling management system options out there, and choosing the right one can transform the way your team works. Staff members who book appointments at your agency need to have an up-to-date view of availability across the organization to avoid scheduling conflicts.
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.
1. Track all items that require booking
Your employees do more than provide services, and your software’s scheduling functionality needs to reflect that. It’s important that your system allows 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. Your software should allow you to track:
Effectively booking services like one-on-one appointments and group sessions is the main reason most agencies 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.
Ensure that your scheduling management software can record:
- Offsite services: Whether you’re operating out of multiple offices, facilitating meetings around the community, or providing home visits, your system needs to be able to store the addresses of each appointment’s location. This way, workers can quickly see exactly where they need to be without having to check any external apps. Look for a solution with one-click access to directions so workers can save time and track mileage easily.
- Recurring appointments: If a substance abuse support group will be held every Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the next three months, staff should be able to book all these appointments at once instead of having to go into the system every week to add meetings individually. This saves time and blocks off the relevant workers’ calendars well in advance so they won’t be double-booked.
- Group services: You may have different methods for tracking services like group therapy, drop-in classes, training programs, and community presentations. Managing all the variables involved in group service tracking, like setting the length of each program or establishing multiple processes for enrollment and attendance, should be second nature for whichever case management system you choose.
Collecting and tracking this information in a simple, organized way is essential for creating accurate reports. Streamlined processes also ensure that your agency is prepared in the event of an audit or court order.
It would be great if service providers could spend 100% of their time at work helping clients, but in reality, there are other tasks that also require their attention. Staff need to be able to book and track 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 add color-coded blocks of time to their calendars to easily indicate their general availability. They might have different colors for the times of day they’re available to see clients, when they prefer to conduct assessments, times they’re generally out of the office doing site visits, and so on.
It’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.
2. Integrate with existing tools
When weighing your options for case management software, having the ability to integrate with scheduling tools you already use can be a lifesaver. Many organizations have a legacy scheduling management system they’ve been using for years and can be intimidated by the thought of moving to 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 you already use.
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.
3. Automate scheduling tasks
We know manual scheduling can be very complicated. To eliminate risk, your case management software should allow you to automate scheduling workflows and check off your to-do list items for you.
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 on 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.
These are only a few examples of tasks that can be taken off your staff’s to-do list when your system allows for workflow automation. Make sure the system you choose allows you to create personalized automation rules that reflect how your organization works and streamline the way clients move through the system.
Zooming out: The impact of having an effective case management system
Scheduling and service tracking can be incredibly diverse, making it crucial for your organization to have a case management system with a scheduling tool that takes those challenges into account and has the functionality to accommodate them.