The Iowa Clinic’s Journey to Improving Patient Access

Oct 23, 2019

Online self-scheduling is common in most industries, but for healthcare

Online self-scheduling is a common offering in most industries-just think about hotels, flights, dinner reservations, and so on-but for healthcare, few providers have adopted this seemingly ubiquitous technology. There are a variety of reasons for this, but I’m not going to delve into those right here. Rather, we are going to take a look at how one of our customers approached this innovation and applied it to their organization to improve patient access.

The Iowa Clinic, like many other provider organizations, wanted a way to make its services more consumer friendly, while also improving access to care. It was imperative that the organization connect patients to providers in the most convenient and flexible way possible, not only for improving the patient experience, but for a competitive advantage among other local provider organizations.

An independent, physician-owned multi-specialty group with more than 250 providers and 170,000 unique patients, The Iowa Clinic decided the best way to accomplish these goals was with the use of online self-scheduling.

Before online self-scheduling, when a new or existing patient wanted to schedule an appointment at The Iowa Clinic, they had to call. This process was often inconvenient for patients-calls had to be made during office hours, and once connected, patients were on the phone for several minutes, often on hold, while call center agents combed through provider calendars to find the right appointment. The process was equally frustrating for call center agents, who were overwhelmed with the volume of routine scheduling calls each day-often handling hundreds in a single business day.

It was clear that a better way of scheduling was needed, but different leaders at The Iowa Clinic-specifically stakeholders in the IT, clinical operations, and marketing departments-had certain requirements for whatever solution was to be put in place.

Tasked with navigating the complex technical challenge of integrating the solution and managing it on an ongoing basis, the IT department wanted a solution built to last; one that could ‘play nice’ with other systems already in place. This meant finding a solution with a proven track record of integrating with electronic health record (EHR) and practice management (PM) systems.

Where IT wanted to ensure the solution functioned as required, clinical operations wanted to determine where and how deployment of online self-scheduling should be handled to best address the organization’s pain points-in particular, the way appointments were being scheduled. The solution had to offload appointment volume from the call center and offer the same calendar availability to patients that they would get if they called in.

Marketing, a team with a true pulse on the patient population in terms of wants, needs, and concerns, had to work hand-in-hand with both IT and clinical operations to ensure that the patient experience was top of mind every step of the way through implementation and that the final product was customized according to patient preferences.

The Iowa Clinic ultimately turned to MyHealthDirect, who’s online self-scheduling platform met all the leaders’ different demands.

The platform’s direct integration into The Iowa Clinic’s GE practice management system gives patients a real-time view of provider calendars, and offers the same appointment options that they would get from the call center. This was critical to The Iowa Clinic’s vision for how they wanted patient access to look for their organization.

To ensure that online bookings were as accurate as those booked through the call center, decision support questions are answered by the patients while scheduling to qualify the type of care a patient is seeking, while automated business rules take into account providers’ scheduling protocols, all helping to quickly guide the patient to the best provider and appointment time possible. By qualifying appointment bookings, every patient and provider has the opportunity to have the best experience possible.  

Patients of The Iowa Clinic have adopted the use of self-scheduling in record time and have consistently reported high satisfaction with the tool. Since implementation, the appointment scheduling process has been completely transformed and the organization has experienced some powerful results.

After just eight months of use, 15 percent of all appointments are booked via online self-scheduling. That number is projected to keep increasing as patients continue to take advantage of this new method of access.

The availability of online self-scheduling has also offloaded 30 percent of the call center volume from the organization’s centralized call center. This has freed call center agents up to tend to patients that need a human touch while on the phone, while also creating better overall operational efficiency.

Improvements to the patient experience were expected, but The Iowa Clinic also experienced great success in terms of patient acquisition and retention. New patients are continually coming to The Iowa Clinic due to the convenience of online self-scheduling. At least eight new patient appointments are booked per provider per month.

Thanks in part to calendar reminders sent immediately after booking, the patient show rate for appointments scheduled online has consistently remained around 97 percent. Providers at The Iowa Clinic feel confident that when patients book online, they are well-qualified patients and they show up. This level of reliability has helped physicians and specialists across the organization maximize their capacity each day. 

Online self-scheduling has also given The Iowa Clinic a clear competitive advantage over the rise of urgent care centers in the area. With same-day scheduling as an option, patients are able to book an appointment with their own primary care physician rather than wait at a local urgent care facility to see someone new. This has enabled The Iowa Clinic to meet urgent care needs with their existing clinics and locations rather than having to invest in additional capital-intensive urgent care centers.

The results of online self-scheduling speak for themselves, but it is important to note that these solutions can be even more effective with the input from and collaboration with different departments throughout a healthcare organization. When teams work together in unison, the impact is greater and the benefits to the organization are amplified.

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