Four Reasons to Use Online Medical Appointment Scheduling

October 17, 2014

There are four good reasons to consider an investment in online scheduling, including attracting new patients and retaining existing ones.

Sometimes, there is a disparity in healthcare between what providers say they want and what practices actually do. A perfect example of this is patient scheduling. According to the 2014 Great American Survey, Sponsored by Kareo, more than one-third of practices say that patient growth is very important. An even larger number, nearly 50 percent, say that patient satisfaction is a priority. But, there is a lack of follow-up in using tools that can really improve these areas.

One good example is online scheduling. It is one of the easiest ways to improve patient satisfaction, increase patient growth, and reduce manual tasks in your practice. According to Google, 77 percent of patients performed a Web search before booking an appointment. And yet, the American Academy of Family Physician's TransforMED suggests that only about 20 percent of practices offer online scheduling for patients.

Here are four reasons why you should consider making online scheduling your next investment:

1. Get new patients. Using online scheduling can make it faster and easier for patients to find you and come in to see you quickly, especially new patients. In a recent review of their own data, ZocDoc found that about 85 percent of the patients using their online scheduling tool were new patients.

2. Fill open appointments. Every open appointment slot costs you money. You've determined your charges per visit based on your costs, and many payers may reimburse at a lower rate than your practice fee schedule. So, if you don't fill those spots on your calendar, you're losing money you need to stay in business. For primary-care providers, the average patient visit is worth about $100 to $150. If you allot 20 spots a day per provider and don't fill 20 percent of them, that is up to $2,000 a week per provider in lost revenue. Online scheduling is great for last-minute and same-day scheduling. It can help you fill those empty slots.

3. Increase patient satisfaction. Two common complaints from patients are long wait times on the phone, and the time it takes to make an appointment. Online scheduling can help address both these issues and improve the patient experience. A recent Accenture study showed that on average it takes as much as eight minutes to schedule an appointment over the phone, and at least 30 percent of that time is spent on hold. No wonder patients are frustrated and even look elsewhere for care. With online scheduling, the patient can access your appointment schedule at his convenience and pick a day and time that work in a matter of seconds, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

4. Reduce manual tasks. All sorts of technology products promise to reduce manual tasks in your practice, but online appointments really can help. The more you promote it with patients, the more they will use it. As a result, you'll see fewer and fewer calls into the practice over time. If these calls can take as much as eight minutes each, that is a lot of time saved. And that time can be reallocated to other revenue-generating tasks like patient recalls, follow-up on patient collections, or online reputation management.

In general, Yelp says that more than 85 percent of consumers use the Internet to find local businesses. So, there is little doubt that you need an online presence. Offering online appointment scheduling allows you to make the most of that presence by enabling those patients to make an appointment at the moment they first interact with you online. And it is one piece of technology that can show a clear return on investment. A monthly fee for an online scheduling service should pay for itself with a single patient visit added each month. If your EHR's patient portal offers appointment scheduling it should be included in your monthly costs.

Tom Giannulli, MD, MS, is the chief medical information officer at Kareo. He is a respected innovator in the medical technology arena with more than 15 years of experience in mobile technology and medical software development. E-mail him at marketing@kareo.com.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Physicians Practice.