online scheduling

What My Doctor Told Me About Online Scheduling

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When I recently told my primary care physician that my company sells online appointment scheduling, he replied with “there are a lot of those companies...we get calls from them all the time”. While I was taken aback by his comment, he isn’t wrong—there is an increasing number of companies that offer online scheduling. Despite these many choices, there is a lack of information on the topic of online scheduling, especially through publicly available, digital channels. More importantly, there isn’t an abundance of companies that provide accurate online scheduling.

I elected against explaining these nuances to my physician, as he clearly didn’t have the time (which is a separate healthcare issue that you likely already know about). Instead, I nodded in agreement, and we moved forward with the consultation.

This quick exchange stuck with me after the appointment was over. Some things that I knew about the online scheduling market, including the fierce competition and constant outreach by “cookie-cutter” solutions, were all made much more real by experiencing it first-hand. For my physician, these realities translated to a lot of noise—which he and his staff classified as such.

Winning versus cookie-cutter solutions: accurate online scheduling

Accurate online scheduling is a winning proposition. However, a majority of online scheduling solutions today do not meet the accurate qualifier.

What is accurate online scheduling?

Accurate online scheduling is an online application that intelligently navigates patients to the right provider in the right setting at the right time. It replicates your rules, workflows and protocols. The result is a solution that works for patients, providers and health systems.

What are the key benefits of accurate online scheduling?

1. Improved care quality

According to Nitin Goyal, MD, who contributed to the Forbes article “What Healthcare Technology Will Do The Most To Improve Patient Care?”, online scheduling is listed as part of improving patient care. In this article, DocASAP is called out as a top example. Conceptually, by matching patients to the right provider, proper care is delivered which improves health outcomes.

2. Improved patient satisfaction and retention

Patients are beginning to expect online scheduling, and choose their providers based on the ability to book online. According to Accenture, 77%  of patients think that the ability to book, change or cancel appointments online is important. This functionality is and will continue to be used widely by patients. By the close of 2019, 64% of patients will book appointments digitally. Moreover, patients will increasingly switch providers for the ability to schedule appointments digitally—adding online scheduling to the increasingly long equation of patient satisfaction.

3. Increased new patient acquisition

New patients are acquired via streamlined patient access. By improving patient access, health systems, hospitals and practices create a digital front door through which patients can enter. Access drives acquisition which in turn drives growth—a goal for most leading health systems and hospitals.

4. Reduced overhead costs

A newly released article by Modern Healthcare describes why online scheduling drives down costs. According to the article, “Patients might call a clinic and make an appointment by talking to a digital assistant, they might type out their request to a chatbot online, or they might self-schedule through a patient portal. Each of these methods saves money by freeing up administrative staff time.”

Accurate online scheduling enhances these cost-saving effects by ensuring that front office and call center scheduling rules are replicated accurately. This results in an automation that works effectively and more efficiently.

Why does accurate online scheduling matter?

You may be wondering—what is the big deal about accurate online scheduling? Why does it matter whether a health system implements accurate online scheduling versus a cookie-cutter solution?

It’s simple: cookie-cutter solutions are ineffective. Without the ability to replicate rules, workflows and protocols, physician schedules become filled with suboptimal appointments. This situation leads to negative experiences both for patients and providers. Moreover, inaccurate scheduling leads to losses in revenue for the provider, which, when replicated across an entire health system, can cost millions of dollars in lost revenue over time.

Implementations of cookie-cutter solutions cost a significant amount of time and money. Additionally, physicians tend to become distrusting of online scheduling once they have had one bad experience. This distrust only adds more barriers and friction to solving a health system’s access challenges.

Accurate online scheduling helps health systems, hospitals and independent practices solve their access-related challenges. Cookie-cutter solutions, which are widely available, fail to address these issues.

While many providers, including my primary care physician, may never understand the difference between accurate online scheduling and cookie-cutter solutions, those that do can benefit greatly. It’s important to remember that not all solutions are created equal—and vendor selection can determine whether or not your practice or health system solves its access challenges.

Dead Ends and Green Lights: The Value of Intelligent Navigation

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Have you ever enjoyed seeing a “Dead End” sign while driving?

Not really?

Well, this is how a patient feels when they aren’t given alternative options while searching for a care provider. The solution for this is intelligent navigation, which steers patients to the optimal provider.

What is intelligent navigation?

Intelligent navigation is the utilization of algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence in conjunction with navigation applications like online appointment scheduling. For the navigation to be intelligent, alternative options must be presented to the patient to avoid the dreaded “dead end”.

For intelligent navigation to reach its potential, the goal, and measures of accuracy, need to be defined. This allows intelligent navigation to optimize toward a specific outcome. In the case of online appointment scheduling, we have to define who the “optimal provider” is for a patient.

So, who is the “optimal provider” for a patient?

We define the optimal provider as one who meets the following criteria:

  • Can treat the patient’s need based on stated medical requirements and visit reason

  • Has specific expertise and experience with the specific visit reason and sub-visit reason reported by the patient

  • Is in-network

  • Is geographically close to the patient

  • Has convenient availability based on the urgency of the patient’s needs

Notice that this definition of the optimal provider is one that meets more than the patient’s clinical needs. Beyond clinical needs, a patient’s needs include time and setting. For online scheduling, these needs translate to operational protocols. It is a mix of clinical and operational protocols that navigates patients to the right provider in the right setting at the right time. This seemingly small nuance is a key differentiator between intelligent navigation applications and cookie-cutter technologies.

What are the benefits of intelligent navigation?

Intelligent navigation is not jargon. The optimal provider, similarly, is more than a platitude. Intelligent navigation is the vehicle that steers patients to the right provider in the right setting at the right time.

The right provider means that the patient’s clinical needs are being met by an expert who is capable of providing excellent care. The right setting means that the care is being provided in the appropriate context. The right time means that the patient’s access to care is timely and as urgent as the need requires. The result is quality care, which translates to better health outcomes and reduced healthcare costs. For providers and health systems, initiatives that improve health outcomes and reduce costs merit consideration.

Patients deserve better than dead end signs when they are trying to find care. Better options, or “green lights”, already exist. Intelligent navigation is one of these green lights—steering patients not only to your providers, but to the optimal provider.

To learn more about intelligent navigation, visit our website.

Trust: The Key Component to Finding a Doctor

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How can I trust a stranger, whom I have never met, with the most precious asset—my health?

In the past, when selecting a provider, trust was established primarily through word of mouth referrals in addition to baseline qualifications such as education, licenses, and experience. This information allowed people to make judgments on both a provider’s character as well as their competence.

While these mechanisms still apply, the increasingly digital, fast-paced and less personal 21st-century world has largely replaced word of mouth with modern technologies. These technologies include 5-star rating systems for doctors, and more recently, advertising platforms that require providers to pay money to show up on a provider search function. However, these technologies fail to match patients with the right provider - and thus do both patients and providers a disservice.

Doctors dislike 5-star rating systems because they are:

1. Skewed to negative ratings - one or two poor ratings based on a misunderstanding can ruin a provider’s patient flow.

2. Patients want “the best” - only providers with the highest ratings will take a majority of the patients when in reality there are many more competent doctors with better availability than those with highest ratings.

3. Higher star ratings do not reflect fit - care providers with five stars are often not the best fit for the patient’s specific needs. Star ratings inherently cause sub-optimal patient traffic to each doctor, creating a poor experience for both parties.

In a similar vein, sponsored provider search ads have appeared recently in an attempt to mimic the paid search engine experience available on leading search engines.

However, sponsored provider search ads create a pay-to-play system that:

1. Rewards providers who spend on advertising instead of the physicians that are the best fit for each patient

2. Profits off the patient’s lack of knowledge, and lack of trust, about who their best provider should be

3. Treats providers and patients as commodities and not as humans looking to provide and receive care

Additionally, these technologies do not align with a provider’s or health system’s objectives. In a world where health systems need to drive triple aim to be successful, and volume-based care has been replaced with value-based care, quality, accuracy, and humanity need to be prioritized over volume, inaccuracy, and commodification.

DocASAP: Using Technology to Restore Trust in the Physician-Patient Relationship

Fortunately, there are technologies today that guide patients to the correct provider while aligning to the needs of providers and health systems. The most notable of these technologies is intelligent online appointment scheduling. Intelligent online appointment scheduling has many facets, all of which are central to its ability to meet the needs of patients, providers, and health systems.

The components of intelligent online appointment scheduling include:

1. Matches patients with the right providers in the right setting at the right time

2. Increases patient access to care through omni-channel pathways

3. Replicates the health system’s workflows, rules and protocols

4. Gives the provider 100% control over their schedules
 

The best care can be provided by matching patients to the optimal provider based on the patient’s needs. More importantly, in this model, providers and patients are treated as humans instead of commodities. Accurate clinical protocols ensures that patient needs are awarded the consideration they deserve, while accurate operational protocols drive patients to the right provider. Lastly, because DocASAP focuses on retaining patients within a health system, increased retention leads to longer-lasting relationships between the providers and patients.

To summarize, the physician-patient relationship can still be built on trust, even in today’s digital world. To achieve this, however, healthcare technologies must meet the needs of all parties and treat them as humans, not commodities.

How to Reduce Waste in Your Health System by Tackling No-shows

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You’ve seen it time and time again—the patient schedules an appointment, your provider waits for them a few minutes past the appointment start time, the patient doesn’t show up at all. No text, no call. It isn’t just a poor experience for the doctor involved — it’s hurting the health system’s bottom line.

It’s no secret that hospitals and health systems across the nation are having issues with profitability. A large part of this equation has to do with keeping costs down. While you can’t just choose not to invest in your infrastructure, technology, or your people — something you can control is the money lost by no-show appointments. These no-show appointments are a colossal waste that lurks in your scheduling process and is estimated to cause the healthcare industry an estimated $150billion in losses each year.

What is a no-show appointment?

A no-show appointment is an appointment that a patient 1) makes with a provider; 2) fails to arrive at; 3) does not cancel before the time of the appointment. These are different than cancellations. In a cancellation, the patient reaches out to the provider before the appointment, giving the provider sufficient time to fill the slot with another patient.

Why are no-shows so wasteful?

With cancellations, there is an opportunity to schedule another patient in the canceled time slot. Usually, the window that you have to fill these canceled appointments will be as short as 24 hours but can be as long as three weeks. We call this the replacement window because this is the amount of time that you have to replace the canceled appointment with a new patient. In a no-show, the replacement window is zero, which is why you cannot get your money back. These no-shows translate to lost revenues which hurt your health system’s bottom line. By allowing your health system to continue this wasteful process systematically, you are undermining its profitability.

What tools exist for reducing these wasteful no-show appointments?

Fortunately, there are a few different approaches and tools at your disposal for tackling no-show appointments. The first approach is the old-fashioned punish and reward system. It goes like this: financially punishing no-shows while rewarding (either through a small discount on their bill or another incentive like a sweepstakes drawing) patients who show up on time. However, this carrot-and-stick method isn’t enough to move the needle by itself. While you may limit the return of no-show patients, you aren’t increasing the replacement window or maximizing patient volume.

Thankfully there are technologies already on the market that are designed to reduce no-show appointments and maximize your replacement window. The most effective of these are digital, multi-channel appointment notifications. To appeal to a broader range of patient demographics, we recommend offering reminders via several media, including text message, email, and phone calls. To maximize the effectiveness of reminder notifications, they should include appointment confirmations with options to cancel or reschedule. Additionally, these notifications should have appointment reminders within 24 hours of the appointment start time, and any other information pertinent to the appointment. Examples include directions to the appointment location and appointment preparation procedures.

For additional engagement, some solutions like DocASAP’s Consumer Connect include a calendar appointment that can be saved to the patient’s schedule. Consumer Connect provides a mobile-first, patient-centric solution that helps not only with patient engagement, but also reduces no-show appointments. On average, DocASAP’s Consumer Connect solution, which includes DocASAP Reminders, cuts down the no-show rate by over 35% in the first year after deployment.

How online appointment scheduling maximizes the replacement window

If appointment reminders are a powerful way of reducing no-show appointments, then online appointment scheduling is its significant other, maximizing access which optimizes the replacement window. Think of it this way: you are now reducing your no-show appointments, but still have some patients who elect to cancel or reschedule. Online appointment scheduling, proven to expand patient access, increases the chance that another patient will be able to fill your empty timeslot. By expanding patient access, you can increase the likelihood that you fill empty slots in your provider’s schedule. This maximizes patient volume, which translates to money in the bank. Appointment reminders can truly work in tandem with online appointment scheduling to improve your health system’s bottom line.

To summarize, if you want an impactful reduction in no-show appointments, you need to use an appointment notification service that includes multiple notification types and mediums. To make further improvements, you need to maximize your replacement window by implementing intelligent online scheduling. Marrying reminders with online scheduling is one of the most impactful ways to start reducing waste in your health system — ASAP.

Promises, promises. How to get everything you deserve from your Online Appointment Scheduling (OAS) solution partner

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Picking a technology partner can be difficult and confusing. And it doesn’t help when your partner makes promises that they can’t keep. A good OAS solution partner should help you understand the value of their solution –  meaning, how they’ll help you meet your stated business objectives, such as a volume or percentage increase in traffic, a jump in total number of appointments or a boost in revenue. 

But don’t just take their word for it. Everything about OAS is digital and has the ability to be measured. A good OAS solution partner will show you how running analytics on your data can help you reach and report on your progress. In addition, make sure to talk about the difference between reports and insights. The key to meeting your business objectives is uncovering what the data is telling you and mapping it to your objectives in order to determine the business impact of your new OAS solution.

Below are some key metrics that an ideal OAS solution should analyze and how you can use the insights to make informed business decisions about your healthcare clinic or system. 

  1. Patient demographics: Demographics are captured at the time of booking an appointment, so you’re able to see daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly data trends. This data helps you identify trends in online scheduling such as average patient age, highest performing care center or most common visit – all reasons that could also impact your staffing, hours, locations and other business functions. 
  2. Patient booking behavior: What time of day do patients generally book appointments? Often it’s after hours when your office is closed. How many days before an appointment do they book? What devices are commonly used to book? These questions all have clear answers when we take the time to look at the data. And the insights can help you modify business processes or staff behaviors to better meet the needs of patients. 
  3. No show data: It’s important to understand the reasons behind no show appointments because they cost you money. Your OAS solution should capture information that provides visibility into why an appointment was canceled. Knowing how far in advance the appointment was scheduled, if the patient had insurance, and other data points can help you visualize behavioral trends so you can take proactive steps to reduce future no shows.

When evaluating an OAS solution partner, make sure to discuss your business objectives up front. Then, have your potential partner walk through all the ways you can positively impact your business objectives by tapping into patient behavior data and insights. Only by showing you how they can support your business over the long haul shows you how an OAS partner keeps their promises. 
 

Is ‘Book and Hook’ real? How online appointment scheduling should work to promote your brand

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There’s been some chatter in online appointment scheduling (OAS) circles lately about “book and hook” – the perception that centralized booking channels slowly eat away at a health system’s or clinic’s brand to “steal” patients. So, we thought we’d sort out fact from fiction and talk about how we think a true OAS should work hand-in-hand with your brand. This is part one in our two-part series of using an OAS to protect and grow your brand. 

Fiction: All OAS solutions siphon your patients away and erode your healthcare brand. 

Fact: Not all OAS solutions work the same way - so providers should evaluate potential partners and make smart decisions. A good OAS solution should provide visitors with the information they want, based on their personal health care needs and facilitate an easy and fast booking – all while promoting and supporting the provider’s brand. To avoid a “book and hook” scenario, look for an OAS partner that offers advanced features that actually protect your brand. These brand-building features should include: 

  1. Private label branding: When an OAS partner redirects patients to their own portal to book, the experience should be completely private labeled for your health system. Bingo. Branding issue solved. Using single sign-on (SSO) with your own credentialing system (patient portal) also amplifies your brand. 
  2. Omni-channel presence: Once patients have a preferred doctor or specialty, they will search online for appointment information. Your OAS partner should be on all those channels as well (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). This ensures that patients can book directly with you, regardless of their patient’s preferred channel. It actually creates a funnel directly to your brand.
  3. Intelligent patient-provider matching: An OAS should ask the same questions an appointment scheduler would ask, and in many cases, should be even smarter. For example, does Dr. Smith treat children? No. Then the first field requests the patient’s birthdate. It seems simple, but you’d be surprised at how some OAS solutions don’t take this level of detail into account. And a bad experience booking can easily damage your brand.
  4. Insurance verification: Patients often don’t know their insurance details. Your ideal OAS partner should only list the insurances accepted by each provider and automatically verify the insurance prior to the appointment. Unfortunately, some OAS solutions still require manual verification that has to be done after the appointment is made. Having to tell a patient that you don’t accept their insurance before (or even worse AFTER) an appointment is definitely a brand-killer. 

So there you go. A good OAS shouldn’t feel like it is collecting patients and serving them up to your competitors. But some do. Pick the right one and see how much better your brand can be in the eyes of your patients.