Making appointments a click away
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.”