Best Practices for Online Patient Booking

The Future of Patient Booking is Online.

These days it seems like our entire lives are online in some fashion or another. We make travel plans and book vacations online. We stream our favourite television shows online, and buy movie or concert tickets using our phones or tablets. Of course, healthcare delivery faces different regulations, especially in regards to protecting patient privacy, than shopping on Amazon or binging the latest Netflix hit. That’s why it’s understandable that the transition to online services for healthcare delivery has taken longer than in some other industries.

Better for Patients.

However, that transition is finally occurring as healthcare providers begin to realize the overwhelming demand that exists for online medical services. According to Canada Health Infoway, up to 90% of Canadians want the ability to book medical appointments online [1]. Online booking solutions allow for greater flexibility for patients by providing the opportunity to make appointments any time, rather than being forced to abide by potentially inconvenient clinic hours. Moreover, it’s not just scheduling an appointment that is of interest to patients. The flexibility of online booking, including the ability to cancel an appointment, is also appealing; patients value the flexibility and convenience of online medical services [2].

doctor-899037_640 (1)Because of this ease of use, online booking is expected to explode across North America over the next few years. It’s been estimated that by 2019 online self-scheduling will be available for 60% of health systems in the United States alone, and almost 40% of the appointments made will take advantage of the option [3]. That’s a staggering 986 million annual self-scheduled online appointments [3].

Better for Clinics.

Online services aren’t just good for patients, though. There are proven benefits for healthcare providers as well [4]. Phone call scheduling of appointments is the least efficient method when compared to online solutions. By allowing patients to self-schedule, receptionists and scheduling resources are freed up to focus on more important issues. When you consider that phone scheduling takes an average of four minutes per call [5], the time and cost savings of implementing online appointment scheduling becomes clear. Every appointment scheduled online means four minutes of staff effort that can be devoted to higher value work. Over the course of year, this can mean significant savings for a provider.

Request and Approve.

Allowing patients the opportunity to book appointments online can be incredibly valuable, but that doesn’t mean scheduling should be left entirely in patients’ hands. Every clinic or practice has unique needs. That’s why it’s important to protect administration’s ability to accept or deny an appointment request.  Using the “request and approve” process is a best practice. This is when patients request their appointments but clinic administration has final approval over whether to confirm the appointment.

Part of the value of online scheduling systems is that they give patients flexibility with their appointments. While appointments should be still be approved by administration, be sure your patient portal lets patients make changes. This doesn’t mean letting patients make last minute changes that cause disruptions. Of course, there needs to be a cut off time (perhaps if the change is to occur within 24hrs of the scheduled appointment) at which point patients would be required to call in to get their appointment changed. Nevertheless, it’s important to allow patients a reasonable opportunity to make modifications to their appointments through the online portal.

Support Different Appointment Types.

Online Appointment Form
An example of an appointment form generated by the Synoptec patient portal for Lung Cancer Screening.

Online scheduling software will only be a benefit to you and your patients if it fulfills both parties scheduling needs more efficiently and conveniently than other scheduling options. Make sure your scheduling system allows for different appointment types in accordance with the different services you actually provide. Because different appointment types have different preparation requirements, it’s good practice to ensure that your system supports appointment types and can include a preparatory checklist along with confirmation emails. A patient portal that provides important details about the appointment, like the one shown here provided by Synoptec, is important to realizing all the benefits available from providing online scheduling options.

Reminders.

Many healthcare providers already engage in the practice of reminding patients of impending appointments. However one of the many benefits of online appointment systems is that they dramatically reduce no-show rates among patients [6]. Many provide the ability to send reminders directly to patients, using modern communications techniques, including SMS texting and email instead of direct calling. When setting up your online booking solution be sure that it takes advantage of modern communications channels for reminders to keep no-show rates to an absolute minimum.

Scheduling Data to Drive Billing.

Another important aspect to consider is how the solution operates with your billing system. A good patient portal for online scheduling will operate smoothly with existing systems. Make sure whichever online scheduling system you choose exports according to the HL7 SIU standard to ensure that schedule data conforms to the expectations healthcare insurers have for medical scheduling information.

As online services continue to evolve, patients are increasingly taking to online solutions to self-manage day-to-day tasks, including those related to their health. Clinics that offer the ability to self-schedule online not only give patients added flexibility and convenience, but they also take advantage of improvements in staff and clinic efficiency. By keeping these best practices in mind when setting up your online scheduling, you can ensure an exceptional patient experience while reaping the benefits of improved efficiency and fewer no-shows.

References:

 

  1. eBooking. Canada Health Infoway website. https://www.infoway-inforoute.ca/en/solutions/consumer-e-services/e-booking. Accessed January 17, 1026.
  2. Paré G, Trudel MC, Forget P. Adoption, Use, and Impact of E-Booking in Private Medical Practices: Mixed-Methods Evaluation of a Two-Year Showcase Project in Canada. JMIR Infomatics. 2014 Sep 24;2(2):e24.
  3. Patient Engagement: Digital self-scheduling set to explode in healthcare over the next five years. Accenture. https://www.accenture.com/t20160130T021350__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-6/Accenture-Patient-Engagement-Digital-Self-Scheduling-Explode.pdf. Accessed Jan 17, 2016.
  4. Pearl R. Kaiser Permanente Northern California: Current Experiences with Internet, Mobile, and Video Technologies. Health Affairs. 2014 Feb;33(2):251-7.
  5. Appointment-plus.com. The Benefits of Online Appointment Scheduling to the Medical, Healthcare and Wellness Industries. Accessed Jan 17, 2016.
  6. Kim H. A Study on the Effects of Online Appointment Systems on Patients and Hospitals. International Journal of Applied Engineering Research. 2016; 11(14): (2016) pp 8213-8216 .