Guest Post — Do Your Patients Want Online Scheduling Options?

by Kim Williams-Justesen

Marketing Communications Manager, Solutionreach

For better or worse, technology has become a ubiquitous aspect of modern life. We work on computers for our jobs and continue using them when we get home. Our cellphones have more computing power individually than all of NASA had for the lunar landings. We are a tech-savvy society, and your practice needs to keep pace.

According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Americans looked online for health information, and 77 percent used a search engine to locate a healthcare provider in 2013. Not surprisingly, this number is expected to continue growing as more and more Americans integrate laptops and smartphones into their daily lives.

One of the most interesting and important developments in this area is the desire for people to be able to schedule appointments online from their computers and smartphones. Many industries such as restaurants, salons, and even auto body shops, have been offering this service for a number of years. The technology already exists and has shown to be reliable. Yet despite the software being available, only about 20 percent of healthcare providers offer an online scheduling service to patients.

Some of the reluctance is based on fear of privacy issues, and some is a general reluctance to add yet another automated component to the practice. Still other providers fear their costs will increase with more technology to pay for. However, these fears prove to be unfounded when held up for examination against the facts. For example, as with any technology in the dental field, privacy and security are paramount concerns. Software offered for scheduling has to be HIPAA-compliant and include encryption. It also needs to be user friendly and compatible with mobile devices. Several platforms providing technological services to the healthcare industries have already implemented these programs and have demonstrated both their convenience and ease of use.

The expectation that another automated element in the practice will create problems or be cumbersome has also shown to be unwarranted. Automated scheduling actually frees up resources in your practice and allows you to be more efficient. When staff members are freed from handling the majority of scheduling calls, they are better able to work one-on-one with patients who are present in the office. This builds better patient-practice relationships which also improves patient loyalty and reduces attrition rates.

Providers who are worried that a digital scheduling system will cost more money are surprised to find this isn’t the case. Monthly maintenance fees are usually reasonable, especially when compared to the costs associated with staff members handling the same calls. The average call to schedule an appointment takes just over 8 minutes. If your practice is receiving 20 calls a day to schedule appointments, that’s 160 minutes, or more than 2 ½ hours out of each day for your employees. That time could be better spent on important tasks like helping in-office patients, attending to paperwork or billing, or preparing exam rooms. In addition to improving office efficiency, online scheduling works 24/7, something your staff can’t do. Patients select the type of appointment they need from a drop down menu, and only the available slots that fit the appointment type are offered for them to choose. Once the appointment is booked, your digital schedule is updated instantly, and your staff is notified to confirm the appointment so there is no risk of over-booking.

The efficiency and convenience are obvious, but an additional benefit to online scheduling is the ability to recruit new patients with limited effort. If a prospective patient uses a search engine and finds your page, the likelihood of that prospect becoming a patient increases if they have the opportunity to schedule an appointment right then. Your staff can confirm the appointment when they return to the office, minimizing the amount of time your prospective patient has to wait for the appointment..

It’s also important to consider who your future patients are. Millennials, those Americans between 18-34 years old, are the largest segment of the American population, outnumbering even the Baby Boomers. This generation was raised on technology. They had computers in their pre-school classes and they played games on their parents’ cell phones from the time they were toddlers. This group expects to have digital access through their phones or laptops to both information and appointments. Not providing online scheduling to this group of potential patients is the same as telling them you don’t want their business.

Technology is the future, and the future is now. Those practices that have adopted this automation are already reaping the rewards. When you look at all the facts, it’s clear: online scheduling is not science fiction, it’s healthcare fact.

Solutionreach is a provider-led, cloud-based company that revolutionizes patient relationships and optimizes the patient experience.   Its web site is https://www.solutionreach.com/, and the toll-free phone number is (866) 605.6867.