By Jim Higgins, Solutionreach
When it comes to choosing a healthcare provider, patients are looking for the extras. They expect that providers will be competent doctors, but they want someone who will also be focused on their experience in the office, and provide the extra conveniences to make the process a little easier.
For many patients, those conveniences mean digital communication. Whether that is through texted appointment reminders, emailed educational newsletters, or online scheduling, patients want their providers to make more of their processes digital. Almost three quarters of patients think the ability to book or change an appointment online is important when they are choosing a provider. Research shows it takes over eight minutes to schedule an appointment over the phone. Patients are busy, just like providers, and that’s time neither the practice nor the patient wants to spend on the phone. Instead, offering an online scheduling option gives patients the freedom to schedule an appointment whenever it’s convenient. Some providers are hesitant to provide this option because they feel they will lose control of their schedule. But if a practice implements these five strategies, both the staff and their patients will see the benefits.
Practice Management Integration
When choosing an online scheduling tool, it’s important to select one that integrates with the existing practice management (PM) software. This allows the practice staff to make updates in one place, ensures both other staff members and patients looking online are always seeing an up-to-date schedule with accurate appointment openings, and prevents double-booking.
Just because a practice offers the option to schedule online, it doesn’t mean that every appointment type and time have to be made available for patients to choose from. If a certain type of appointment, like a procedure, requires a consultation before scheduling, those options shouldn’t be available to patients who are scheduling online.
Practices should also be conscious of the available times listed online. If the doctor is going to be out on a certain day, a staff meeting is scheduled, or the office is closed for a lunch break, practice staff can block out those times so patients aren’t able to select them when choosing an appointment. The practice can and should maintain complete control of their schedule, even when offering self-scheduling.
Create A Process
Practice staff should decide on a process for handling appointments requested online. When an appointment is requested, it doesn’t necessarily mean the appointment is booked. The time is blocked out to prevent double-booking, and the practice staff receive a notification and can either confirm the appointment or contact the patient to reschedule. Offices should designate someone to be responsible for keeping up with the requested appointments to ensure requests aren’t overlooked. This person can also verify patients have chosen the correct appointment type for their treatment needs, and that the practice has all the necessary information from each patient.
Spread The Word
It doesn’t do any good for a practice to offer self-scheduling if patients don’t know it’s available. Sending a newsletter or text message is a quick and easy way to let patients know about the new convenience. Practices can also put a note on their website, hang a sign in the office, create a social media post, and record a custom hold message to tell patients about the self-scheduling option. The staff member in charge of check-in can tell patients about scheduling online as they visit the office, and even give a demonstration of how easy the process can be.
Include The Link
Once a practice has distributed the initial communication about the availability of online scheduling, they also should provide the link everywhere they can, including the practice’s website and social media channels. The link can be included in automated recall messages and newsletters. Self-scheduling is a feature most patients want, and the easier a practice makes it for patients to find the online schedule, the more patients will use it.
Providing the option for patients to self-schedule doesn’t have to be a difficult process. In fact, online scheduling can reduce the amount of time practice staff spend on the phone, and improve the patient experience. It’s easy for the practice to implement, and can play a large part in keeping current patients satisfied and attracting new patients to the practice.