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Online Patient Scheduling – Best Practices

Everything you need to know to make online patient scheduling work for you

Person holding phone with QueueDr' automated patient access solution on screen.
Patient Access + Online Scheduling
Go Hand in Hand

If you are a health system or medical practice who has invested in online patient scheduling, you may be slightly disappointed. Even though 80% of patients prefer a physician who has online patient scheduling, only 15% of doctors’ appointments are scheduled online. What’s going on? How can health systems make online doctor appointment scheduling more appealing? Scheduling software can be a substantial investment financially and operationally. Making sure you get that investment right

What is Online Patient Scheduling?

Online patient scheduling enables patients to book appointments directly onto the schedule of their doctors. Patients book appointments through one of three avenues.

RELATED: The Definitive Guide to Healthcare Automation

Owned Patient Portal/Website

Most medical offices have their own patient portal that enables online scheduling on their website for patients with portal accounts. Unfortunately, while patient portal adoption rate is above 90%, only 1/3 of patients accessed their health information via the portal.

Third Party Patient Portal

You read (we hope) QueueDr‘s blog posts because we sweat the details. While, pretty much, all patient portals are created by a third party (Epic, athenahealth, Greenway Health etc), there is a slight difference for medical office scheduling software. Some health systems allow patients to access their patient portal and schedule appointments from their own branded mobile app. However, other groups require patients to download their EHR’s mobile app. In this case, the appointments to be scheduled are performed by the EHR software. This slight difference can have an impact. A patient may find it harder to find the mobile app and health systems will have to share the branding. Conversely, building your own healthcare mobile app is quite difficult and takes continuous attention.

Third Party Appointment Marketplace

Instead of coming to a medical office website, patients can book on a website or app that aggregates the appointments of multiple physicians. ZocDoc is the main example of a marketplace for doctor appointment scheduling. They’ve been around for about 13 years and scheduled millions of patients. This is most likely the most common online scheduler used by patients of the three. If the third party has successfully proven they can drive patient traffic, then physicians will not only make it easier for existing patients to book appointments online, but also open themselves up to new patients looking for a doctor. However, in a marketplace there is competition with other doctors listed.

Is Easy to Use Online Scheduling Software Bad?

At QueueDr, simplicity and seamlessness is our core value. We have spent thousands of hours on the details to make everything look easy. Medical patient appointment scheduling software companies have been competing for over a decade. As a result, it is pretty easy for patients to book appointments online. This race to simplicity is a double edged sword, particularly when relying on a third party marketplace. If it is super simple for a patient to book an appointment online for your doctor, it is also super simple for a patient to book an appointment online for another doctor. Patients can, and do, book appointments for multiple doctors at once then no-show all but one of them. It’s part of the explanation why only 6 of 21 online scheduling studies found a mention of reducing patient no-shows.

impact of online patient scheduling

RELATED – The Definitive Guide to Patient No-Shows

Why is Online Scheduling So Popular Right now?

Medical patient appointment scheduling software is all the rage right now. It’s no accident you are reading this now. There are three main explanations.

EHR Adoption

You must crawl before you walk. Weirdly, my son might walk before he crawls, but I digress. Health systems and medical offices weren’t going to adopt online scheduling software until they were 100% setup with their EHR. The EHR is the main database of patient records and scheduling. Online scheduling software is valuable add-on. EHR companies build most online scheduling softwares too. Often, you can’t get one without the other. Finally, now that almost 90% of office based physicians use an EHR, they can focus on other electronic software.

Natural Technical Evolution

Online doctor appointment scheduling has existed for over two decades. But patients needed to be more comfortable with using booking systems elsewhere, like with restaurants, before trusting them with healthcare information. In addition, the rise of mobile usage which brings location to booking systems, increased the adoption of doctor appointment scheduling.

Patient Consumerism

Patient satisfaction is a hot topic right now. It should always be. Health systems are wondering how to please patients as they become more discerning with whom they trust their care. In addition, patients now have more choices than ever with the rise of urgent care centers and virtual visits. Online patient scheduling is a part of making patient access a more pleasurable experience.

Why Only 15% of Doctors’ Appointments are Scheduled Online

Patients say they want online scheduling, but the numbers show differently. Always trust the data. Online scheduling for flights is now the norm and is growing rapidly in restaurants. However, healthcare is not seeing the same growth. Here are two main reasons:

Patients Want Expert Advice

Online patient scheduling actually INCREASES call volume for health systems by 24%! One of the main reasons healthcare systems buy online scheduling is to ease the burden on their staff. Looking at the chart above, less than half of the studies of online patient scheduling found an easing of staff burden! Patients will often go through the entire booking process and then call the office before pressing the book appointment button. That’s because patients want to talk with front office staff for comfort and expert advice. While front office staff aren’t usually nurses, PAs, or physicians, they do see a lot of cases. It is comforting for a patient to know that their specific ailment is not unusual. Front office staff often act monotone and nonplussed to show patients that their issues are normal!

Poor Patient Access

There is a second reason that patients call even though they can book a doctors appointment online. The average patient wait time for an appointment is up 30% since 2014 and is well over three weeks. Changing the mechanism by which a patient can book an appointment does not solve that problem. As a result, online patient scheduling systems show doctors booked out weeks for an appointment because they are! Unless a patient gets lucky and happened to get to the screen at the exact time a patient cancellation occurred, they are out of luck. So, many patients see how far out their physicians are booked and call the office hoping to sweet talk their way into an earlier appointment. It’s like slipping the maître d’ a $20 to get the best table at a restaurant.

RECOMMENDED – The Definitive Guide to Patient Access

How to Increase your Usage Rate of Online Appointment Scheduling

To make scheduling online doctors appointments work for your medical office, there are a couple of things you should do first.

Shorten Your Patient Wait Time

The very first step to take before introducing online scheduling is to shorten your patient wait time. We recommend, autonomous patient access and waitlist management software. In addition, utilizing online patient scheduling for physicians with lower utilization is a better starting point than for all providers.

Organize Your Appointment Templates

Front office staff are very protective over their schedules, and rightfully so, it’s their day! Work with them to make sure that the schedules are templated out specifically as they want them. The whole care team must be ok with a third party booking a specific appointment type in a specific time. This is the biggest impediment to internal buy-in for online patient scheduling. It’s a tough task, so feel free to utilize the best practices from The Definitive Guide to Appointment Types below.

RECOMMENDED – The Definitive Guide to Organizing Your Appointment Types

Educate Your Patients

Use your website, poster boards in the office, and on hold messages to educate patients about online scheduling. Telling patients where and how to book online is the most important message to convey. Unless you are using a third party marketplace, which is good scheduling software for those with lower utilization, anticipate that established patients will be the predominant online schedulers in the beginning.

Check-in Post Launch

Have a goal of what percentage of appointments you want booked by patients beforehand. Break that goal down by new patients vs established patients. Check on that goal monthly for the first year. In addition, monitor the patient no-show rates, third next available, and (if possible) call-in volume broken down by online schedulers vs. on the phone schedulers.

Conclusion: Online Patient Scheduling

There is no silver bullet for physicians and health systems to solve their scheduling woes. Online patient scheduling is an important piece of creating a good patient experience, improving patient engagement, and growing physician utilization.