Assessing Online Scheduling as an Emerging Trend in Physician Appointments

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01/12/2018 in Blog

Before making decisions, consumers have grown accustomed to an information pursuit, researching and evaluating options online.  Not only do consumers expect instant access to information that informs their choices, they also expect to access it from anywhere on their smartphones. The ability to compare and follow through on a purchase or booking has transformed industries such as retail, travel, and hospitality, and is poised to transform the healthcare industry. These changes have shifted cost burdens to consumers, delivered benefits to them as well, and made healthcare more efficient.

Online appointment scheduling (OAS) has become increasingly important. According to a recent Healthgrades study, 83% of consumers are familiar with online scheduling, mostly through travel and restaurant websites and apps. For about 35% of consumers surveyed, online scheduling is a major deciding factor when choosing among competing options.

In healthcare, technology has not kept up with changing consumer expectations. Consumers have not yet seen the robust online-booking solutions found in other industries. As a result, about 85% of consumers still schedule doctor’s appointments by phone.

There are many reasons for the healthcare industry’s tardiness, including complexity, lack of transparency, siloed provider systems, privacy concerns, and lags in technology adoption. However, that means there is now an opportunity for healthcare providers to catch up to other industries and find meaningful ways to meet consumers expectations. Findings from the study show the value of offering online scheduling.

Online scheduling can be a differentiator that allows practices to capture more patients, and also improves practices’ operational efficiency. In fact, nearly 60% of doctor’s appointments are now booked outside of office hours.1

The study also found that about 80% of patients prefer a physician who offers online scheduling across both primary care and specialties. The patients who most prefer online scheduling book more appointments (for themselves and others) and tend to be younger, more affluent, and higher-educated.

The results also highlighted compelling insight into consumer behavior.  When given a choice between physicians with similar experience, proximity, availability, and patient satisfaction ratings, the vast majority of consumers (81% for PCPs, and 77% for specialists) choose the physician who provides online scheduling.

Scheduling appointments over the phone takes eight minutes on average, and only one minute online. That said, there is a patient base that will always prefer to speak to another human being when making an appointment, so it is important to have a call center in place even when your organization begins to offer online scheduling. Having both a call center and online appointment scheduling helps attract the largest number of patients. In fact, doctors who offer both see a 24% increase in calls when online appointment scheduling is available.2

Online scheduling also makes physicians more competitive. According to the study, consumers will choose to see providers who are farther away but have online scheduling by a 2-to-1 margin over those who are closer and do not.

The ability to schedule an appointment online is often more important than appointment availability itself. When choosing a specialist, consumers prefer — by a 4-to-1 margin — to see a physician with less availability but who has online appointment scheduling, compared with an identical physician who has greater availability but no online scheduling.

As providers shift to tools that allow patients to book appointments online, they will need to make a concerted effort to communicate change, cancellation, and no-show policies. This is another valuable opportunity to engage with the patient base. This additional opportunity for patient engagement has real benefits, in that it can help to reduce no-shows by as much as 25% when text and email reminders are implemented.3

As practices and hospital systems continue to improve the patient experience, online appointment scheduling represents a clear opportunity to meet increasing consumer demand. Adding online scheduling to an omnichannel approach helps providers capture demand, improve office efficiency, and remain competitive. The transition will require thoughtful communication with patients and a culture shift for physicians, but offers value to both patients and practices. 

1 Healthgrades analytics, September 2017.

2 Healthgrades analytics, December 2016.

3 Healthgrades analytics, 2016.