From The Editor | January 3, 2013

The ROI In Patient Self-Service

Ken Congdon, Editor In Chief of Health IT Outcomes

By Ken Congdon, Editor In Chief, ken.congdon@jamesonpublishing.com
Follow Me On Twitter @KenOnHIT

Patients have been clamoring for the ability to schedule appointments, request prescription refills, view medical records, and perform a variety of other simple healthcare tasks via the Internet for some time now. Healthcare providers have been slow to provide these services for several reasons — an unwillingness to change, technology limitations, and privacy concerns are among them. However, one of main reasons some providers have been hesitant to deploy online patient portals is because they’ve had difficulty calculating an ROI that would justify the expense of the system. This is starting to change. More and more, providers are beginning to view patient portals as more than merely a tool that enhances patient convenience — but as a competitive differentiator that drives revenue to their facilities.

I recently spoke with David Bradshaw, Chief Information Planning & Marketing Officer for Memorial Hermann regarding the health system’s Schedule Now platform. Developed in conjunction with HealthPost, Schedule Now is Memorial Hermann’s online patient scheduling portal. The health system launched the platform nearly one year ago, and most of Memorial Hermann’s affiliated primary care and specialty physicians are currently using the portal. The provider also has it imaging centers, four ERs, and one colonoscopy center linked to Schedule Now.

Memorial Hermann patients can use Schedule Now to set or reschedule office appointments with their physicians or to schedule procedures such as CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, and colonoscopies. With Schedule Now, patients can also view a list of times available at each of the four ERs linked to the system and reserve their place in line by selecting a time slot online before they even leave for the ER. It’s this functionality that has had the most profound impact on the ROI Memorial Hermann receives from the system according to Bradshaw.

“We’ve done a careful ROI analysis around our use of Schedule Now in the ERs, and have found it to be a high-return proposition,” says Bradshaw. “This is primarily due to the payer mix the solution attracts. In other words, we’ve found that patients that go online to schedule services are more likely to have the appropriate insurance coverage and payment capabilities than patients that walk into the ER off the street. The ROI we’ve seen in this area alone has allowed us to pay for the entire platform.”   

Bradshaw also described the competitive advantage Schedule Now provides Memorial Hermann over neighboring health facilities. He referenced a first-hand account where one of his son’s friends was experiencing abdominal discomfort en route to a basketball game. The child had a history of gastrointestinal illness, so the boy’s mother called her family doctor. The family doctor advised that the boy be seen in the ER right away because the symptoms the child was describing were indicative of a twisted bowel. The mother logged onto Schedule Now to see which of the nearby Memorial Hermann ERs her son could be seen at first, reserved the time slot, and arrived in the ER at almost the exact minute of her reserved appointment. She didn’t have to endure an excruciating wait in the ER. Her son was seen and treated immediately.

“Some might argue that since our ER was in the vicinity, there’s a good chance this particular patient would have elected to be seen in our facility whether we had Schedule Now or not,” says Bradshaw. “However, the patient may have just as easily gone to the local Children’s hospital which is also nearby. The fact that Schedule Now provided the patient with a real-time view of ER availability, and allowed the patient to reserve a place in line, definitely influenced their decision to be treated at our facility. This capability goes way beyond convenience. It provides the patient with peace of mind.”

Because of the impact Schedule Now has had on business operations and the patient experience, Memorial Hermann continues to expand its use of the platform throughout the enterprise. For example, the health system is currently linking its sleep centers to the platform and is allowing patients to schedule classes and seminars (e.g. Lemaze, etc.) via Schedule Now in addition to medical appointments.

Experiences like Memorial Hermann’s should be the norm rather than the exception. Health providers need to realize the mutual benefits patient portals can provide to their organizations and their patients. Once they do, we can expect to see an explosion in the adoption of the technology. Perhaps 2013 will be the year of the patient portal.