Scheduling has long been a bottleneck in healthcare. When appointment booking processes break down, there are immediate consequences for both care providers and patients.
We've all experienced this. As patients, we've spent hours in physician waiting rooms tediously awaiting our turn. For healthcare providers who increasingly need to maximize capacity utilization, double-booking patients as a buffer against no-shows puts administrative staff on the defensive and diminishes patient satisfaction right from the start.
That's why it's in everyone's interest to streamline appointment scheduling. Better scheduling means:
- Clinical staff won't have to constantly scramble to pacify unhappy patients.
- Care providers can focus on doing what they do best: helping patients.
- Patients can receive the level of care they expect when they need it.
In other words, better appointment scheduling creates value across the whole system.
Better Scheduling Empowers Patients and Creates Industry-wide Value
Think about what Uber and Lyft have done for people who need rides. By putting the taxi dispatch controls on customers' phones (and thus solving a big supply-demand inefficiency), those two companies have changed the way people get around.
Similar inefficiencies are endemic across American healthcare. Consider what Drs. Pooja Kumar, Vaneesh Soni, and Saum Sutaria at McKinsey & Company found when they looked into patient access issues in outpatient care:
"In our experience, most health systems that evaluate their outpatient performance find that 10 to 30 percent of their clinicians' capacity is unused or under-used, yet long patient wait times persist."
The key to solving this inefficiency, they say, is to empower patients the same way ride-sharing apps have made it easier to get a ride where and when you need it. This means:
- Removing the friction from scheduling
- Letting patients book treatment when it's convenient for them
- Coordinating with other providers in the industry so patients can move easily to the next steps in their care continuum, whether that's to a pharmacy or a specialist
So, let's give patients the appointment scheduling tools they need to book appointments when they need them, where they need them. This is what value-based care models are all about. It's also how forward-thinking providers can grow their businesses. To understand why, we must first understand the expectations of patients who behave as normal customers would.
Patients Are Beginning to Demand This Level of Service
Modern customers in most industries are already accustomed to frictionless booking, whether that's hailing a rideshare or booking a hotel.
But when faced with a byzantine patient-intake process at their local physician's office, these same people are left perplexed. "For today's tech-savvy consumers, patient-centric care begins before they step foot in the doctor's office, hospital or clinic," Modern Healthcare's Rachel Z. Arndt writes.
"It starts with the patient trawling the web for provider reviews and ratings. But until recently, online options for scheduling appointments were few and far between. That's unacceptable to today's impatient consumers."
After all, why should booking a doctor's appointment be so frustratingly old-school? Patients today understand that an app or an online form would make scheduling much, much easier.
Sara Heath at Patient Engagement HIT argues that scheduling software should make the booking experience feel almost like shopping for clothes online, at least from the patient's perspective. In the background, the scheduling software would identify care providers who are available when the patient needs care, then help filter those choices so patients can shop according to price, distance from home, or reviews from other patients.
Providers who get this right now will position themselves for future growth.
Legacy Scheduling Practices Cause Providers to Bleed Money
An Accenture report calculates that by the end of 2019, more than a third of appointments will be self-scheduled through web forms, apps, or some other digital interface. Across American healthcare, Accenture estimates, these self-scheduled appointments will create $3.2 billion in value.
To see how, it's important to understand where money currently leaks in legacy scheduling processes. Many patients need to see a healthcare provider immediately: The team at PatientPop says data from their online booking software shows 26 percent of people are looking to book same-day or next-day appointments.
The problem is legacy appointment-scheduling processes aren't flexible enough to meet this demand. That can force a tough decision: Double-book patients and hope your team can work it out, or tell a quarter of the patients that the provider cannot see them, in the moment, when they need care.
When a provider has to turn away patients, the provider is sacrificing both short-term and long-term revenue. Lawson Boothe, founder and COO of Vital Interaction, explains:
"Take, for example, a basic wellness check that is routinely administered by primary care physicians, pediatricians, and other similar medical specialists. We can assume that the wellness exam is worth $150 a year to the practice. If each provider sees 10 patients a day on average and one doesn't come back, the practice loses $7,500 in future revenue -- and that's not including sick visits and other common office visits. When one patient turns into two and then into 50, the losses begin to add up quickly."
These Efficiencies Let Providers Focus on Delivering Better Care
Beyond shoring up revenue cycles, streamlined booking processes have benefits that ripple out into every other aspect of care provision. This, perhaps, is the greatest promise of making scheduling a more customer-centric process.
Below are three such benefits providers could expect from better booking.
1. It Takes Pressure Off Admin Staff
By building out and promoting an easy online appointment process, you can begin to wean patients off telephone scheduling. As any front office person knows, the telephone is both an inefficient way to handle appointments, and a distraction from other work.
"If these calls can take as much as eight minutes each, that is a lot of time saved," Tom Giannulli, MD, MS writes at Physicians Practice. "And that time can be reallocated to other revenue-generating tasks like patient recalls, follow-up on patient collections, or online reputation management."
What's more, phone-based appointments are limited by the fact that someone must be available to answer a call. However, YellowSchedule co-founder Martina Skelly says 35 percent of appointments are made after 6 p.m., when many admin staff have already gone home. This means staff have to spend time returning calls the next morning, when phones are already very busy. Having an app or web form to handle appointments would catch these potential patients who might otherwise look elsewhere for treatment.
2. It Can Highlight the Practice's Need to Grow
Judy Capko, a practice management consultant at Capko & Morgan, says providers, with more demand than they can handle, often rely too heavily on double-booking as a Band-Aid, but that this temporary solution can settle into normal operating procedure.
This, however, "compromises efficiency and customer service," Capko says. A smarter appointment system will clearly show you how many people you're double-booking everyday. If that number exceeds just a few patients each day, it might be time to hire more people to meet patient demand.
3. It Can Help the Practice Set Expectations for Patients
When the staff at a clinic or a hospital is scrambling every day just to keep operations running close to schedule, it doesn't have time to take a step back and evaluate ways to make the patient experience better.
But once scheduling becomes more manageable, through streamlined booking, the staff will have bandwidth to begin solving bigger problems, such as handling no-show patients and prioritizing patients in a more logical fashion.
Ashley Riley at Advisory.com offers two such workflow tweaks that other practices have found useful:
- They have implemented and clearly communicated a 30-minute no-show policy. Patients who turn up more than 30 minutes after they are scheduled must then be moved out of the treatment-ready workflow.
- A lead nurse can be designated to handle some treatment-ready patients, whether that's in a communication capacity or as a way to offer some level of treatment. This kind of workflow is almost impossible without reliable scheduling that lets staff easily identify which patients are ready for treatment.
In a value-based healthcare model, anything that can be done to improve patient experiences creates win-win situations all around. Streamlined booking is a relatively easy change for most care providers to make, and its many benefits would be immediate.
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Tags: Health Innovation, Providers