Appointment Scheduling and the OpenTable Generation

The word is out that I am working with healthcare startups and the soccer moms are bringing me their latest healthcare access problems. Sitting on the sidelines at my daughter’s last soccer game, a mom shared her frustration with her daughter’s bouts of strep throat and the difficulty with scheduling an appointment with her family physician.

Eight months ago, with the first episode of strep, she stayed home from work. She called the doctor’s office the next morning and waited on hold forever with the rush of patients calling for same-day urgent appointments. Although the average time for a patient to complete a scheduling call is 8.1 minutes, she feels like this statistic does not hold true for her when she calls at 8:00 AM. She finally reached the receptionist who told her that the first available time for an appointment was at 3:45 PM. She missed an entire day of work!

Three months ago, with the second episode on a Sunday, she tried a different approach and went to the local urgent care. She waited a long time in a waiting room full of sick people. After she left, she noticed that the prescription, although it was for the same antibiotic, had a much different dose than the last. She called the doctor’s office the next day, sat on hold again, and waited to verify whether the dosing was correct. This time she lost half of her Sunday, another 20 minutes at work, and still had to wait to start treatment with the prescription issue.

Last week with the last bout of strep, this mom was on the edge and mad at the situation she was in. Her daughter tells her that she has a sore throat just before dinner.  This is every parent’s worst nightmare at 5:45 PM when the doctor’s office closes at 5:30 PM. With mom having a big meeting at work tomorrow, the child with recurrent strep was becoming unmanageable. The mom wished she could just go online and book her an appointment for tomorrow with her own physician. She needed to know in advance how to juggle her busy workday.

In the age where I book an Uber to go to the airport and use OpenTable for my dinner reservations, as a parent and health consumer, I can relate to the frustration of waiting to call your provider for an appointment when an issue arises after business hours. We really need healthcare providers to jump on the electronic appointment scheduling bandwagon if they want to stay relevant in this digital age. A 2015 study by TechnologyAdvice Research found that 60.8% of patients state that digital health tools play a central role when choosing a doctor. However, only less than a third of patients report that their physicians offer digital services. The younger generation is demanding this service as 41.2% of 25 to 34-year-olds state that they would like their physician to offer online scheduling.

Patients are looking for convenience. I have switched to a hair stylist that books appointments online. I take my kids to Supercuts and even they offer online check-in now! The healthcare consumer expects more, and medical practices need to keep up! Accenture estimates that by 2019, 66% of health systems will offer digital self-scheduling and 64% of patients will book appointments online. Accenture states that this translates to 986 million appointments being self-scheduled. If in 2013 77% of patients think that the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online is important, imagine how high this number will rise in 2019! 

Electronic scheduling will also bring in new patients to a medical practice. A survey finds that the 63% of online appointments are scheduled by new patients. As patients leave one practice and look for alternatives, they are seeking medical practices that offer online scheduling.

Practices looking to save time and money should consider how electronic scheduling will benefit them.  With conservative estimates of providers seeing 20 patients a day and 8.1 minutes to complete a scheduling call, even with half of these appointments being self-scheduled, you have freed up 5.4 hours of time for the reception desk managing 4 providers. Pair online scheduling with a platform that provides automated appointment reminders and electronic payments before the appointment and you have just doubled the time savings. 

Embrace electronic scheduling and you will improve patient satisfaction, attract new patients looking for convenience, and improve your practice efficiency! Welcome to the age of electronic scheduling where you can be the OpenDoctor of the OpenTable generation!