Patient Appointment Scheduling Moves to the Digital Age

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It’s not so long ago that scheduling a doctor’s appointment was a rather uncertain procedure that taxed human memory and left many a chance for error.

If patients telephoned a provider organization for an appointment, they often experienced long hold times waiting for an operator. Sometimes they hung up in exasperation. In other cases, patients and staff played several rounds of phone tag before agreeing on a time.

If a patient scheduled an appointment in person at the clinic, he might have been handed a 2” X 3 ½” reminder card on his way out the door. Only the well-organized patient could be trusted to transfer the appointment to his personal calendar…and remember the appointment.  Thus, to mitigate “no shows”, healthcare organizations invested in costly telephone and postal systems dedicated to reminders.

How times have changed!  Today, patients – and that means consumers of healthcare services – are more sophisticated and demanding than ever.  Most have been “spoiled” by being able to make direct, online reservations for everything from planes, hotels, and restaurants to appointments for test-driving a new car or scheduling a fitness class at the gym.

As a result, today’s patients ask no less from their healthcare providers!  To meet these demands, a growing number of healthcare organizations are deploying patient portals that offer the latest in online patient scheduling functionality. With direct scheduling, a patient can go to her practice’s website, select her provider from a drop down list and then view and click on an ‘open slot’ that is convenient for her schedule. This convenience may increase the possibility that the patient will show up for the appointment and reduce revenue-draining “no show” rates. For example, Carolinas Physician Network has achieved a no-show rate of 1% for appointments directly scheduled through their patient portal.  In addition, patients can request an appointments online to arrange for more complex visits, (such as scheduling an X-ray or a lab test prior to seeing the doctor), since the logic behind a multi-step appointment can be built into a web-based eform.

Online scheduling is also moving into the mobile world!  For example, appointment reminders can now be sent to a patient’s smartphone. If the patient is traveling or simply has forgotten about the appointment, she can notify the clinic of her intentions to keep the appointment by confirming or cancelling with just one click. This gives the clinic even more time to fill the time slots created by last minute cancellations.

Any time a patient wishes to check his appointment times and dates, he can log in to his patient portal account – instead of searching for those little cards!  And through connectivity to the organization’s practice management system, appointments scheduled online are automatically recorded in providers’ practice management system, saving clinic staff time and effort as well.

The future is online and increasingly mobile….and patient scheduling technologies are in play to meet or exceed patient and clinic expectations.


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