Six Ways to Optimize Online Self-Scheduling

One of the primary values of a consumer-facing technology like online self-scheduling is the ability to attract new patients by making access easier. However, a recent study revealed that only, “a third [of hospitals and health systems] offer widespread, online self-scheduling for existing patients, but few offer this service for new patients.”

This is surprising that the primary benefit of the technology, making access easy for new patients, is not being utilized. The competitive advantage that online scheduling provides is all but lost when it’s limited to existing patients only. We’ve heard from many healthcare organizations that they are just waiting for their EHR provider to develop the functionality. It’s true that some capabilities have been developed – but mostly there are just a lot of empty promises.

Beyond simply making online scheduling available to new patients lies an even tougher challenge – how to make online scheduling work reliably and accurately across multiple specialties. For the few that have enabled online scheduling for new patients, even fewer have mastered the ability to schedule into their specialists. Most are only offering primary care appointments for online scheduling, which is a good place to start, but it needs to go further. The Iowa Clinic and CareMount Medical are two examples of groups that have optimized their online self-scheduling capabilities: new and existing patients can book, and they can do so across multiple specialties.

The reality is, not all online scheduling solutions are created equal, some offer robust capabilities and others are very limited. However, despite what you may have been told, there is a way to enable all these things and, as can be seen in the two examples above, it can be done today.

To really get online scheduling right, several strategies can be employed. It starts with a technology platform that can be customized to your needs. Without this, you might as well be trying to build a car engine with glue and popsicle sticks…but once the proper technology is in place, there is a mix of things you can do to optimize and promote your online self-scheduling platform. Here are the top six:

  1. Guide Patients to the Right Care
    If you are looking to leverage the full capabilities of online scheduling, you need a solution that provides decision support to patients booking an appointment. This involves a series of simple but important questions and answers that enable the system to narrow down the appropriate providers for the patient’s needs – ultimately resulting in the best match provider and appointment. For more on what to look for “under-the-hood” when it comes to online scheduling, read this.
  2. Make it User Friendly
    This one follows from the above. It is important to choose an online self-scheduling solution that is user-friendly – it is, after all, a consumer-facing product and an extension of your brand. Look for a solution built on sophisticated business rules that will optimize which answers you need from your patients and prioritize the order in which those questions are asked. Simple, straightforward questions with easy to click through screens make self-scheduling quick and efficient. This will no doubt increase the conversion rate of those who may be likely to start booking yet stop midway because the process is too time-consuming or confusing.
  3. Catch Patients’ Attention with Prominent Website Placement
    If patients are going to your website to schedule an appointment online, it should be immediately clear to them where and how to do so. Take prominent healthcare provider CareMount Medical, for example, which displays a clear and visible button at the center of the homepage enabling patients to launch into online scheduling with one click. The service is easily identifiable for patients enabling them to quickly execute their appointment. Additionally, promoting your service on the homepage redirects patients who would normally call-in to book an appointment.
  4. Leverage Signage in the Waiting Room
    Inevitably, most patients will be spending some time in the waiting room before they see their physician. Take this as an opportunity to advertise your online self-scheduling service and provide them with information about how they can book their next appointment digitally. This will increase the chances of patients using this tool to book appointments in the future.
  5. Spread the Word on Social Media
    Social media is a perfect channel to promote the availability of online self-scheduling as it helps further the reach of your messaging. This will let more patients know that online scheduling exists and help them remember to use it for their next check-up. Plus, it’s simple to target paid social media ads to your largest demographics, such as parents of young children.
  6. Implement Automated Outreach
    Automated outreach may already be a program in place at your organization, but did you know it could be made even more effective by including the option for patients to self-schedule an appointment during the outreach process? When reaching out to patients, either via text message or interactive voice response (IVR), you can give patients the opportunity to schedule their next appointment on the spot. No need to call back or check schedules – patients can book in real time. More on this, here.