A recent Stax Inc. study commissioned by Healthgrades found that about 80% of patients prefer a physician who offers online scheduling, across both primary care and specialist physicians. The patients who most prefer online scheduling book more appointments (for themselves and others) and tend to be younger, more affluent, and higher-educated.
When given a choice between physicians with similar experience, proximity, availability, and patient satisfaction ratings, the vast majority of consumers (81% for PCPs, and 77% for specialists) choose the physician who provides online scheduling. So, it comes as a surprise that around 80% of new patients still end up scheduling their appointments by phone.
Online scheduling is faster, more convenient, and reduces data entry errors encountered while taking information over the phone, so making sure you’ve made it easy for new patients to schedule online benefits both your practice and the patient. However, some practices have yet to fully integrate online scheduling into their practice for a variety of reasons — which may include:
- Additional cost for their EMR
- Concern over allowing new patients control of their schedule
- Concern over the difficulty in implementing scheduling on their website
Online Scheduling Portals for Patients Make Things Easier
Some providers worry that by allowing online scheduling, they’re giving up control over their schedules to patients. Nothing could be further from the truth. An online schedule request is no different from a phone appointment request except in one major way: a phone call wasn’t required to complete the process. That doesn’t mean a phone call can’t happen.
If a patient requests a time that ends up being unavailable for any reason, your front office staff can call the patient to reschedule, exactly the same as they would if the original appointment had been scheduled over the phone. The difference is, for the vast majority of online scheduled appointments, no call will be necessary at all. The national average time of an appointment phone call is eight minutes. For online scheduling, it’s only one minute, and no staff interaction is required.
Additionally, since online scheduling portals live on your website, they run 24/7, unlike your staff. And, they reduce after-hours voicemails which require additional time to listen and respond.
Implementing Online Scheduling Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult
With most modern EMR patient portals, integrating them into your website is far easier than you might suspect. In most cases, you will either drop in a snippet of code on your web page to create an embedded display, or you will link a button or text to an offsite URL where your patient portal lives. This can frequently be done in as little as 15 minutes. If your EMR provides an app, chances are that it already features this functionality in the app.
It’s important to make sure that the scheduling functionality is easy to find for your patients. Having a consistent button in the header or footer which draws the eye is ideal for both offsite links and embedded scheduling solutions.
3 Best Practices When Setting Up Online Scheduling
1. Set Up Rules Around What the Schedule Allows
Generally, most EMR patient portals allow for scheduling rules such as: what days to allow appointment requests, a window of days from the current one before the calendar shows availability, and custom availability by appointment type, patient type, or provider selection. You can also set up minimum blocks of time taken by an appointment to help avoid double booking.
2. Provide Honest Expectation Around Patient Wait Times
In a perfect world, your appointments would always run flawlessly on time, and your patients would experience almost no wait time. In reality, some appointments run long, some patients show up late, and a myriad of other factors may contribute to your schedule running on a delay. If you don’t have an idea of your average delay, have your front office staff capture that data over the course of several weeks. Then, add some text on your scheduling page setting that expectation. If your wait times are consistently exceeding the national averages, it might be time to do some business analysis in your practice to see how they can be reduced.
3. Confirm Online Appointments 24 Hours in Advance
Generally, the online scheduler will have a reminder functionality to assist with this, but at the very least, you should make sure that your front office staff confirms the appointments. Depending on the EMR, it may even be integrated into the system itself, allowing patients to confirm in as little as clicking a link in a text message. This will help reduce no-shows, and allow you to quickly adjust your schedule should someone cancel last minute.