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Patient self-scheduling offers advantages for busy medical practices

Demand for greater convenience will change the way patients schedule appointments in the near future.

Approximately two-in-three patients (64 percent) are expected to book medical appointments online by the end of 2019, according to research conducted by Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company.

“Just as consumers use online tools to book restaurant reservations or request a cab, patients want the same experience in self-booking a doctor’s appointment,” says Dipak Patel, managing director of Accenture’s patient access solutions. “Evidence also shows health systems can use self-scheduling tools to boost appointment capacity, reduce costs, and/or increase productivity.”

Anticipating change

Health care providers, recognizing the advantages, are expected to embrace new ways of patient scheduling.

Accenture estimates that by the end of 2019, two-thirds (66 percent) of U.S. health systems will offer self-scheduling tools for patients to book, change or cancel their appointments online. Health systems that offer patients the ability to book their medical appointments online will be able to divert 80 percent of their appointment volume, on average, through patient self-scheduling.

Accenture estimates 38 percent of total appointments—986 million appointments—will be booked in 2019 using self-scheduling tools. Research finds that self-scheduling tools have the potential to enable health systems to reallocate as much as $3.2 billion in scheduler capacity in 2019 alone, based on average salaries and productivity.

According to Accenture research, it takes just under a minute to schedule medical appointments online, as compared to scheduling an appointment by phone, which takes an average of 8.1 minutes, with staff transferring patient calls 63 percent of the time.

The firm’s research also shows that 40 of the top 100 health systems offered patients the ability to self-schedule about half of appointments in 2014, as did 10 percent of smaller U.S. health systems. Across all health systems, Accenture estimates self-scheduling was offered for only 11 percent of appointments, and patients exercised this ability only 2.4 percent of the time, indicating a tremendous opportunity for the adoption of self-scheduling tools.

“Adopting self-scheduling delivers value by enabling call center capacity and workforce to be reassigned to more complex activities,” says Patel. “By making general appointment scheduling available online, health systems can reduce excess capacity, offer 24/7 scheduling, and better manage schedules to maximize availability and capacity.”

Tapping technology

Medical practices looking to utilize self-scheduling tools don’t have to look very far to find a solution. There are numerous products on the market, for practices of every size.

Often, self-scheduling tools are a feature of medical practice management software. Before shopping for a new solution, check with your vendor to see if the product you’re currently using includes a self-scheduling component.

NueMD Medical Practice Management Software, for example, has a self-scheduling option. Patients are linked to the system via email and can use the portal to schedule appointments whenever it’s convenient for them. In the portal, patients can choose a provider, date and time, and a location (the system is set up to accommodate practices with multiple locations). NueMD is also Meaningful Use certified and the patient portal meets all requirements.

Similarly, PrognoCIS, a HIPAA compliant software solution from Bizmatics Inc., features a patient portal where patients may request appointments at their convenience. Bizmatics, however, has taken convenience a step further with the recent release a patient portal app for mobile users. PrognoCIS My Health Records is available for iPhone and iPad, as well as Android devices. Among the many features of the app is the ability for patients to schedule appointments.

YellowSchedule offers scheduling software for a variety of environments, including medical practices. The product, which allows for patient self-scheduling, is HIPAA compliant. Because the product’s entire focus is scheduling, YellowSchedule offers options like the ability to quickly schedule recurring appointments and a calendar sync feature.

These are only a few of the self-scheduling options available in today’s marketplace.

Again, check with your vendor to see if your system already has this feature. As Michael Glass pointed out in a recent Medical Office Manager webinar, many users are not aware of software features they already have. Indeed, one study finds 40 percent of system features are never used.

Health care is moving toward patient self-scheduling. Will your practice be ready?

Note: Medical Office Manager does not endorse any products mentioned in this article. They are provided for informational purposes only.

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