Have you ever watched a kid get frustrated with a piece of technology, like a tablet or smartphone? You’ve probably seen it in a restaurant, maybe even given one to them yourself to keep them quiet while the grownups eat. Maybe the wifi is slow or the app they want to play on takes a few seconds to load, but that slight delay is all it takes to send them into tantrum territory. They want their technology, and they want it now.
It may seem funny, or like a concerning sign of the times, but the truth is we’re all living in a society where immediacy is becoming the norm. We all expect our digital experiences to happen instantaneously, even in healthcare.
Patients and consumers are busy, juggling multiple schedules from home and work, searching through a mountain of content for the best providers and experiences, and they simply don’t have time to wait when making a healthcare decision.
One consumer experience tool that is emerging as a solution for time-crunched consumers is digital self-scheduling — online tools to book appointments yourself, on your own time, for yourself or a family member. For healthcare systems that offer online self-scheduling, usage rates are high. However, most systems have not yet rolled out this tool. Only about 40% of the top 100 largest healthcare systems currently allow patients to schedule appointments online, according to a study by Accenture published in April 2017. Yet, according to the same Accenture report, 77% of patients said that the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online is important in their choice of healthcare provider.
Other than creating better consumer experience, healthcare systems have strong competitive incentive to roll out online scheduling systems. Not only will more than two-thirds of healthcare systems offer online self-scheduling tools by the end of 2019, more than 986 million appointments will be booked using the tools, Accenture predicts.
Here are some of the benefits consumers and healthcare providers gain with online self-scheduling tools:
- Flexibility, transparency, and trust: The traditional method of calling a hospital or healthcare center to book an appointment through a human who manages the schedule can be restrictive for a time-strapped consumer because it requires the individual to call during business hours. In countless studies, consumers say the top benefit of online self-scheduling is after-hours access, according to a review of scholarly articles about online schedulers that was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Many online appointment schedulers also show consumers what time slots are available, which adds transparency and helps them feel more informed and in control. Some systems also allow patients to book same-day appointments. Both of these features mean that consumers often can get appointments sooner, and it maximizes the resources for the healthcare center. Healthcare providers can use the same-day booking option to fill up appointments that open up due to late cancellations.
- Reduces no-show rates: Fewer people fail to show up to appointments without giving notice when a healthcare system has online appointment scheduling, according to the article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. It is not entirely clear why online appointment booking correlates to reduced no-show rates, but the authors of the article wrote, “it could be attributed to the improved access in web-based scheduling that allows patients to easily verify, cancel, and reschedule their appointments" if something comes up.
- Boosts honesty: Consumers are more honest about the reasons they are booking an appointment when they schedule it online through a personal computer or mobile device, according to the Journal of Medical Internet Research article. They provide more detailed descriptions of symptoms they may otherwise be embarrassed to describe on the phone.
The message is clear: the growing population of busy consumers is eager to manage appointments online, and the healthcare systems that give them the option to do so will be more competitive on the consumer experience front. Online self-scheduling may also help build loyalty among patients and consumers because the service helps them feel more in control. While the upfront costs of launching a digital self-scheduling tool can be burdensome, healthcare systems can redeploy funds they previously used to pay third-party appointment managers to do so. The foresight that online appointment management systems provide to patients, consumers, and healthcare systems allows everyone to spend precious resources more carefully. Consumers may cancel an appointment ahead of time in favor of a time that works better for their schedules. Healthcare systems may be able to reduce excess capacity during slower times, or conversely add more staff for busy hours, or better plan for excess staff to handle the possibility of walk-ins. Rolling these systems out can be costly upfront, but the benefits to consumers and the healthcare consumer experience are innumerable.
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