Decision Trees to Optimize Scheduling Practices

As part of our ongoing Consultancy and Advisory series, this week we are talking to one of our foremost expert consultants, Dana Cameron, about the complex but essential work of scheduling optimization.

Prior to joining RelateCare over 10 years ago, Dana worked at the  Cleveland Clinic for 35+ years as Lead Systems Analyst, and was instrumental in the design and implementation of their Electronic Scheduling Protocols. Currently, Dana leads the design team with RelateCare, working on complex change management projects centered around coordination of care models with emphasis on scheduling and patient access. Dana’s areas of expertise encompass optimizing patient access pathways, process mapping and designing future state, streamlining scheduling practices and data analysis.

Get in touch with Dana here:


What are decision trees?

Decision trees are algorithms that map out a scheduling process to guide patients to the right appointment with the right provider, based on their medical history and symptoms. We work with clients to design the algorithms, then they are built into their scheduling systems so that scheduling procedures do not vary from person to person or clinic to clinic. We do this to improve the efficiency, accuracy, and consistency of the scheduling process.”

What are some of the key challenges and problems you see in organizations requiring scheduling support?

We have found that a lot of organizations have clunky or inefficient scheduling practices. They might rely on physical folders and binders handed down from previous staff. Which makes it difficult to train new staff on all the rules and to make sure scheduling practices are standardized across the organization.

Also, many organizations don’t know what they don’t know in terms of the abilities within their scheduling systems.  Over time the scheduling teams would have learned some of the  features that they have access to, but they don’t come close to learning all of them. This is no one’s fault of course; often staff do not have the time or resources to dedicate to learn all the functionality within the system.  The systems knowledge can also vary in from service line to service line on how to make adjustments to make the system work more efficiently.

What is the approach RelateCare take when working with a new client partner?

We really emphasize a partnership approach from start to finish. So we meet with the key stakeholders of patient access: clinical managers, head physicians, physician chairs, scheduling managers, secretarial managers and of course schedulers themselves.  Through in-depth meetings we review scheduling guidelines, service line and provider requirements and restrictions, and collaboratively develop efficient processes.

Following on from that, our expertise goes into designing the algorithms or ‘decision trees’. The Decision Trees are then built it into their scheduling system. Then we test it with their teams and begin to train schedulers in how to use the decision trees. We assist our clients in the creation of their training material so that it is standardized across the organization; a lot of the time training material is not always current and is kind of ad hoc and anecdotal. We get them ready and support them for the first week of go-live. We do this for each service line.”

What are the benefits of this approach?

“All aspects of scheduling the same type of patient at multiple locations are analyzed.  An efficient path is then drafted.  That path would include patient type, provider and preferences, length of visit, communication to scheduler or patient if any and/or SOP (I.e. send message to XXX indicating XXX).  Inclusion of instructions or embedding SOPs reduces talk time with the patient, reduces communications with office staff for guidance, and increase accuracy.

How does this effect the on-boarding process for new hires?

“Before our solutions are implemented, schedulers usually need to retain information that is gleaned from training material, emails, sticky notes, and/or anecdotal information they have gathered over time.”

When decision trees are designed, they are designed with a new hire in mind. We know that in every healthcare organization there are long term schedulers who are excellent and who know everything already. But we also know that getting this information into new hires is difficult. What usually happens is schedulers tend to ask their neighbor how to do something, and eventually the message and instruction gets diluted and adapted as it moves along. Decision trees infuse standards so everyone is hearing and doing the same thing.”

Does this have any effect on interaction with the patients themselves?

We craft verbiage for the schedulers to say to the patient when they call to get an appointment. Guaranteeing an excellent patient experience is key to this entire process. We ensure that the same message is being relayed, which hopefully increases patient satisfaction and engagement.

Again, this reduces the training time for new hires and guarantees that there will be no drop off in quality as someone learns the ropes. It also increases the scheduler’s confidence which in turn increases the patient’s confidence in the organization.

There is an increase first call resolution – the right patient with right provider at the right time.”

How would an organization know if Decision Trees are right for them?

“Many organizations are simply unaware of just how much more efficient their scheduling practices can be. The best thing to do is come to talk to us! Get in touch with RelateCare and have a conversation. Open a dialogue. Our team will be happy to speak with you, or even arrange for a visit so we can carry out an analysis to see whether Decision Trees would be suitable.


If you would like to find out more about RelateCare’s Decision Tree and patient scheduling service or ask our experts any questions, then get in touch with us at!