Mak­ing ap­point­ments a click away

Modern Healthcare - - INNOVATIONS - By Rachel Z. Arndt A ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle also ap­peared on Mod­ern Health­care's Trans­for­ma­tion Hub. Read more at ModernHealth­­for­ma­tion.

For to­day’s tech-savvy con­sumers, pa­tient-cen­tric care be­gins be­fore they step foot in the doc­tor’s of­fice, hos­pi­tal or clinic. It starts with the pa­tient trawl­ing the web for provider reviews and rat­ings. But un­til re­cently, on­line op­tions for sched­ul­ing ap­point­ments were few and far be­tween.

That’s un­ac­cept­able to to­day’s im­pa­tient con­sumers. “Mil­len­ni­als don’t even want to pick up the phone,” said Travis Moore, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket so­lu­tions for Kyruus, a com­pany that makes soft­ware for sched­ul­ing and match­ing pa­tients to providers.

Providers are re­spond­ing by part­ner­ing with on­line sched­ul­ing ser­vices. That’s a boon for pa­tients and providers alike, as the for­mer ex­pe­ri­ence shorter wait times and the lat­ter im­prove ef­fi­ciency and pa­tient sat­is­fac­tion.

But the prac­tice is still not wide­spread. About a fifth of ap­point­ments were self-sched­uled in 2016, ac­cord­ing to Ac­cen­ture, up from 9% in 2015. There’s also ev­i­dence that many providers are mov­ing back­ward on wait times. Ac­cord­ing to a 2017 Mer­ritt Hawkins sur­vey of physi­cians’ of­fices in 15 ma­jor cities, the av­er­age wait time for a new pa­tient is 24 days, up 30% since 2014.

All that may soon change. “Con­sumers ex­pect in health­care the sim­plic­ity and con­ve­nience they get from other in­dus­tries,” said Brian Kalis, manag­ing direc­tor of dig­i­tal health for Ac­cen­ture.

By 2019, the con­sult­ing firm pre­dicts, 64% of pa­tients will sched­ule ap­point­ments dig­i­tally at U.S. health sys­tems, com­pared with just 34% in 2016. The firm also pre­dicts that all the top 100 U.S. health sys­tems will pro­vide dig­i­tal self-sched­ul­ing.

For some, this is al­ready a reality. Ev­ery month, 6 mil­lion pa­tients use Zoc­doc, an on­line sched­ul­ing ser­vice that launched in 2007. Providers pay a sub­scrip­tion fee to be listed on Zoc­doc, which then syncs with their prac­tice man­age­ment soft­ware, finds ap­point­ment avail­abil­ity, and, in some cases, di­rectly writes the ap­point­ments into their cal­en­dars.

The goal, said Zoc­doc CEO Dr. Oliver Khar­raz, is to have pa­tients see a doc­tor within three days. “Typ­i­cally, we over­achieve,” he said, be­cause most ap­point- ments hap­pen within a day.

Khar­raz said the ul­ti­mate goal is to make get­ting to the doc­tor “as seam­less as or­der­ing from Ama­zon.”

Be­cause on­line sched­ul­ing gives pa­tients ac­cess to many doc­tors from dif­fer­ent health­care sys­tems, it can un­der­mine pa­tient loy­alty to spe­cific providers. In an ef­fort to keep pa­tients on their own web­sites—and there­fore in their own prac­tices—some providers are choos­ing to host on­line sched­ul­ing them­selves, rather than on a third-party site such as Zoc­doc.

That’s the ap­proach Kyruus takes. The com­pany’s soft­ware al­lows health sys­tems to dis­play physi­cian pro­files and rat­ings on their site, where the pa­tients can also sched­ule the ap­point­ments. Moore said this ap­proach helps build pa­tient loy­alty.

Even when pa­tients don’t sched­ule ap­point­ments on­line, their waits can be re­duced. “Pa­tients dis­like waits of an un­cer­tain du­ra­tion, waits that are not ex­plained to them, and waits they per­ceive as un­fair,” said Mike Burke, CEO of Clock­wise.MD.

More than 20% of the ur­gent-care mar­ket and some large providers, such as Geisinger Health Sys­tem and Caroli­nas Health­Care Sys­tem, use Clock­wise.MD soft­ware for on­line self-sched­ul­ing. It also of­fers virtual queues that pa­tients can check on­line to avoid long waits in providers’ wait­ing rooms. “By manag­ing the wait ex­pe­ri­ence ef­fec­tively, we sub­stan­tially im­prove not only the pa­tient’s ex­pe­ri­ence but the fa­cil­ity’s through­put,” Burke said.

Large hos­pi­tal sys­tems aren’t the only ones of­fer­ing on­line book­ing. Re­tail clin­ics are also giv­ing pa­tients ways to sched­ule ap­point­ments and mon­i­tor wait­ing times be­fore leav­ing the house.

The goals are the same: re­duc­ing fric­tion for pa­tients. “Once they get to your web­site, you need to make it easy for them to find the provider they’re look­ing for, and then of­fer in­ter­ac­tive calls to sched­ul­ing,” Moore said. “It’s an ex­pec­ta­tion. You just got off Ama­zon—this in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion is the world we live in.”

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