Traditional scheduling: A new patient bottleneck

Online self-scheduling is now commonplace in many industries. You can schedule an appointment with an admissions counselor at Columbia University, book a truck rental at Penske and arrange a broker appointment at Charles Schwab. Yet the healthcare field is lagging far behind these pacesetters. PwC’s Health Research Institute has found that more than half of consumers want to shop and self-schedule for healthcare, but they’re seldom given the opportunity. That’s a huge amount of untapped new business.

Would-be patients are turned off by the embarrassingly analog way that many providers still book appointments. A recent Accenture study found that patients spend an average of more than eight minutes on the phone making an appointment the old-fashioned way – and about two-thirds of that time is spent being transferred from one staffer to another. That same appointment can get booked in under a minute using online scheduling technology.

Due to HIPAA concerns, implementing self-scheduling technology in the healthcare setting is more challenging than arranging a broker appointment. The onboarding process includes education (explaining the efficacy of self-scheduling to senior leadership), gathering data on insurance accepted and scheduling rules (e.g., won’t see patients under 18) and integrating systems at each participating practice to ensure that appointments booked online get integrated into existing systems. In most cases, staff members need some additional training to allow them to adjust preferences and personalize services.

One leading health system conducted a year-long pilot of self-scheduling technology at select physician practices and reported an increase of about four new patients per month per provider. The results were so encouraging that the health system is now rolling out the technology to hundreds of its practices.

A recent Think With Google report revealed that eight out of 10 healthcare consumers are visiting provider websites before becoming new patients. Those offering convenient self-scheduling will have a significant advantage in patient acquisition. According to Accenture, 77 percent of today’s patients feel that scheduling and changing appointments online is a top priority.

The healthcare field has been slow to recognize that the customer is king. Giving people the option to self-schedule will turn many prospects into patients by eliminating the eight-minute hassle that drives them elsewhere.

Tom Cox is CEO of MyHealthDirect in Nashville,Tenn.