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Self scheduling of appointments for healthcare services can have a positive impact on patient health but adoption in the healthcare sector lags behind that for other industries.

With satisfaction with healthcare services at a reported all-time low, the ability of healthcare providers to offer better patient experiences not only positively impacts the relationship between the payer and provider but also contributes to improved patient care.

Self-scheduling services allow patients to book their own appointments with their healthcare provider, rather than book their appointment through a clinic reception or hospital call center.

Such services offer direct benefits to both patients and healthcare providers:

  • Convenience – patients can self-select appointments and make bookings at any time of day and night
  • Reduced labor costs – staff at healthcare clinics can devote more time to patient care rather than administering appointment booking systems
  • More regular and reliable patient attendance – easier access to booking results in better attendance and as a result, more frequent and timely health monitoring

Obstacles to the patient uptake of self services

With the majority of patients still preferring to call a clinic directly or attend the clinic in person to make an appointment, there is lots of scope for healthcare providers to encourage patients to make use of self-service systems.

Studies have indicated that while younger patients are more willing to use alternative methods for booking appointments such as online portals or apps, the majority of patients, particularly older patients have a marked preference for talking directly to a human operator to make their appointments.

 

self scheduling preferences by generations

Source: 4 Ways Healthcare Providers Can Provide a Better Member Experience

While traditional call centers offer human interaction, they can have a number of drawbacks:

  • Lengthy call queues to make appointments

At busy times, many patients may simply ‘give up’ on the call and not make a timely appointment, resulting in poorer quality of care.

  • Patient attrition tends to be higher

When appointments are selected by the reception staff for the patient, there is less accountability from the patient and appointment slots chosen might not be best suited to the patient’s personal timetable.

Easier appointment booking leads to better health outcomes

It’s estimated that missed appointments cost the US healthcare industry around $150 billion per year with around 65% of patients facing difficulties making an appointment with their physician. Self-service options can both help reduce the rate of patient attrition and reduce the costs associated with administering the patient booking systems.

A recent JMIR study of visit timeliness at healthcare facilities noted:

“appointment wait times and scheduling difficulties can negatively affect patient satisfaction, access to care, patient safety, and health care use and organizational reputation”

While there are many factors to be considered when evaluating contributing factors that improve patient outcomes, research into easier scheduling through self-services suggests a host of benefits for patients and providers:

 

Source: Impacts after implementing web-based scheduling systems

Self-scheduling is not only convenient. It also increases patient accountability and commitment in the booking process. Patients who have booked their own appointments are not only more likely to attend their appointments, but are also more likely to book appointments regularly or when they feel they need to consult a physician.

The direct health benefits to giving patients easy access to appointment bookings with physicians are that they are more likely to make and attend regular check ups and screening and seek earlier preventative interventions. This ensures both higher quality care and cheaper medical treatment in the long term.

Improving the patient uptake of self services

Technology offers a way for healthcare providers to affordably offer automated services that allow patients to book their own appointments with software managing the booking system to ensure optimal booking patterns based on open appointment slots and physician availability.

There are three main ways healthcare providers can offer self-service appointment booking services:

 

Online patient portal Automated chat services Automated voicebot services
Online portals are one of the dominant ways healthcare providers offer self-service appointment bookings. Patients can search a calendar for an available slot with their physician and create an appointment directly within the calendar. Automated chat services enable a patient to ‘chat’ with the service to request an appointment. The automated software is able to parse the chat content, relay availability of appointment slots and complete the booking for the patient. A newer technology, automated voice services make use of AI-powered ‘vociebots’ who function as virtual receptionists with whom callers can converse naturally and are able to comprehend natural language expressions. The voicebot can interact with the provider’s booking system to complete bookings without the need for human intervention.

 

Each of these approaches is affordable and offers the advantages of reducing the burden on reception staff to handle the majority of patient bookings, the convenience of 24/7 booking services, as well as other benefits such as automatic reminders being sent to patients of their upcoming appointments.

There are distinct advantages and drawbacks for each approach that are either related to the technology or the demographic features of the patients who will be using them. The following table summarizes the main advantages and drawbacks:

 

Online portal Chat Voicebots
Advantages A graphical representation of the schedule makes it easy for patient to visualize the appointment calendar Chat is a familiar format that patients can use asynchronously to make appointments at any time Many older patients still prefer to call to speak with someone. Voicebots offer a ‘middle’ approach between automation and human interaction
Drawbacks Older patients might find the technological competence required to navigate the interface challenging and therefore avoid it Chatbots can be frustrating when complications arise because of the limited ability of the user to interact with the service beyond the set procedural routines Many people are still not yet comfortable with interacting with voice automation although this is changing as the voice parsing technology improves

 

Read more about the benefits of healthcare providers offering an omnichannel communication system.

Improving the overall patient experience

Automated self-service appointment booking systems are being widely adopted across industry verticals such as logistics, hospitality and tourism yet its adoption by the healthcare sector is lagging in comparison.

Labor shortages are already putting pressure on healthcare services so it is likely that we will see a more widespread adoption of self-service automation by the sector in coming years as providers turn to technology to plug gaps in their workforce.

Importantly, being able to offer improved patient care and better patient experiences is critical to the healthcare industry. A recent survey of healthcare executives indicated that 75% of respondents felt that ‘patient leakage’ was a significant obstacle to achieving their financial goals with patient leakage costing organizations an estimated $200 million to $500 million per year.

Although improving the management of the appointment system remains just one piece of the larger puzzle towards achieving better patient health, self-service appointment booking solutions are accessible for most healthcare providers, with affordable and easy to implement technology solutions.

Get in touch with our experts

If you are interested in learning more about ways you can implement self-service appointment booking systems, get talking with us.