Third Next Available Appointment: 5 Ways It Improves Patient Access

doctor appointment

Healthcare access is a fundamental need of patients, especially those with ongoing and chronic medical problems. However, healthcare leaders don’t have a universal measure of patient accessibility.  

Patient access refers to the doctor’s availability for a face-to-face healthcare visit. When medical leaders discuss this topic, the benchmark to measure patient access varies across different health systems. Therefore, the Third Next Available Appointment is one way to unify and monitor patient access to primary medical care. 

What Does Third Next Available Appointment Mean? 

The Third Next Available Appointment (TNAA) refers to the measure of the length of time patients gain access to healthcare providers when they set up an appointment. The TNAA duration must ideally be the same day or one day.   

For many medical practitioners and healthcare facilities, tracking TNAA is crucial to preventing long wait times to ensure high patient satisfaction rates and excellent quality of care. TNAA is a vital metric that measures how they effectively and efficiently manage their practice and meet their patients’ needs.  

Learn how the Third Next Available Appointment can help improve patient access below. 

It Measures True Healthcare Accessibility  

TNAA can help dramatically reduce patient wait times and delays in primary care. Because this value reflects the accurate accessibility of patients to healthcare, TNAA is considered a key performance indicator in medical care practice.   

But how can medical practitioners and healthcare facilities record TNAA? Here’s how:  

Open And Check The Patient Scheduling System 

Check the date the patient requested the appointment and count the days to the TNAA. If there’s a scheduled appointment on the present day, count it as zero days. Subsequently, the next-day TNAA counts as one day.  

Include All Days 

When tracking TNAA, including weekends, days off, and holidays is a must. This step is necessary to compare patient wait times across several providers accurately. Furthermore, scheduled urgent visits aren’t included in the TNAA computation.   

woman and doctor

Use A TNAA Worksheet 

Using a TNAA worksheet is advisable to track and record appointment data, such as the number of returning or new visitors. This tool helps monitor appointment wait times and related changes over time.   

Most medical practices have a zero and one-day TNAA. However, the time can vary based on the field of medical specialization or the nature of the practice.   

It Rectifies Specific Patient Access Problems  

New patient access monitoring involves standard metrics. One is lag days or the period before a new patient appointment is scheduled. Moreover, many healthcare providers also measure the percentage of new clients scheduled within the threshold. And the third is new patients scheduled for TNAA. With TNAA, providers can resolve specific patient access problems to ensure satisfaction and optimum quality of care.  

While there’s no ideal patient-access-formula for all medical practices or healthcare providers, identifying changes is necessary. These changes may include cancellations or no-shows due to inclement weather conditions or other reasons and a sudden increase in appointment requests.   

With TNAA, healthcare providers can accurately check the best next slot to accommodate a patient. This metric can help eliminate guesswork, preventing appointment rescheduling or cancellation.   

It Aligns Medical Payments To Patient Access 

Because patient access depends on the healthcare provider’s availability for a face-to-face healthcare visit, many medical payment schemes have primary reimbursement channels. Most patients prefer these payment schemes because healthcare practitioners are more ready to assess their physical condition and signs and symptoms. They’re more prepared to establish a good patient-doctor relationship.   

TNAA monitoring can help medical providers set up the most reliable payment schemes. It can also help patients choose the best insurance plan according to their healthcare needs and preferences.   

For example, a patient who knows the TNAA of their preferred doctor can choose the right health insurance plan to cover the medical provider’s services to avoid out-of-pocket expenses. Likewise, healthcare providers can help their patients maximize their insurance coverage by providing the best patient care services included in their plan possible. This approach can help promote better patient-and-doctor relationships.   

It Helps Find Other Patient Access Alternatives  

TNAA can help medical practitioners, insurers, and healthcare facilities find other ways to increase patient access when there’s a problem with supply and demand. For instance, if a pediatrician has a high patient access demand based on TNAA calculation, the receptionist can check if other doctors with the same specialty have open slots.   

Improving TNAA is an excellent way to enhance patient access. Therefore, implementing effective ways to refine TNAA is advisable by checking other options, such as the following:  

Even Patient Redistribution  

Medical clinic receptionists or secretaries can evenly redistribute patients among clinicians. This strategy can help increase patient traffic to new medical providers with many open appointments and reduce wait times with more experienced providers. 

nurse taking appointment

Clinic Hours Extension  

Healthcare facilities can extend their clinic hours to open more available appointments. 

Promote Self-Scheduling 

Medical providers can encourage patients to set up online appointments. The self-scheduling patient portal of telehealth or similar apps can help increase used consultations and decrease open appointment slots. This tactic can also help reduce the annoyance and frustration of waiting for the receptionist to inform the patient’s next appointment.       

It Maximizes Practice Efficiency  

Tracking TNAA can help medical providers shorten their average patient wait times for an appointment. In that way, healthcare professionals can establish trust and rapport, especially new ones in the service.   

With TNAA, they can obtain a more accurate measurement of patient wait times than the next or second next available appointment. Experienced doctors, other healthcare professionals, and facilities can maximize their operations by accurately predicting open and blocked appointment slots. Therefore, once-a-week computation of the TNAA for each healthcare provider can help improve practice efficiency, patient access, and overall satisfaction.  


With TNAA, clinics and hospitals can improve patient access to healthcare providers when they intend to schedule a checkup or medical appointment. TNAA tracking can benefit both the patient and the healthcare provider. Patients don’t have to wait too long to be seen by a doctor, while healthcare providers can maximize their time and practice by avoiding no-show appointments and ensuring they get paid for their primary healthcare services.