Recent consumer research indicates online appointment scheduling is an influencing factor in provider selection.
Consumers have grown accustomed to researching and evaluating options online, and seamlessly making decisions regarding purchases, reservations, and appointments. Not only do consumers expect instant access to information that informs their decision-making, they also expect to access it from their smartphones. The ability to compare and follow through on a purchase or booking has transformed industries such as travel and hospitality, and is poised to transform the healthcare industry. These changes have shifted cost burdens to consumers, delivered benefits to them as well, and made healthcare more efficient.
Online scheduling: The new norm
Online appointment scheduling (OAS) has become increasingly important. According to a recent Stax Inc. study commissioned by Healthgrades, 83% of consumers are familiar with online scheduling, mostly through travel and restaurant websites. For about 35% of consumers, the study suggests, online scheduling is a major deciding factor when choosing among competing options.
In healthcare, technology has not kept up with consumer expectations. Consumers have not seen the robust online-booking solutions found in other industries. As a result, about 85% of consumers still schedule doctor’s appointments by phone.
Complexity, lack of transparency, siloed provider systems, privacy concerns, and lags in technology adoption have contributed to the industry’s tardiness in this area. However, that means there is now an opportunity for healthcare providers. The Healthgrades/Stax study’s findings show the value of offering online scheduling.
Consumer demand: The big opportunity
Online scheduling can be a differentiator that allows practices to capture more patients, and also improves practices’ operational efficiency. In fact, nearly 60% of doctor’s appointments are now booked outside of office hours.1
The study found that about 80% of patients prefer a physician who offers online scheduling, across both primary care and specialist physicians. The patients who most prefer online scheduling book more appointments (for themselves and others) and tend to be younger, more affluent, and higher-educated.
When given a choice between physicians with similar experience, proximity, availability, and patient satisfaction ratings, the vast majority of consumers (81% for PCPs, and 77% for specialists) choose the physician who provides online scheduling.
Win-win: Benefits for patients and practices
Scheduling appointments over the phone takes eight minutes on average, and only one minute online. That said, keep in mind there is a patient base that will always prefer to speak to another human being when making an appointment — so it is important to have a call center in place even when your organization begins to offer online scheduling. Having both a call center and online appointment scheduling helps attract the largest number of patients. In fact, doctors who offer both see a 24% increase in calls when online appointment scheduling is available.2
Online scheduling also makes physicians more competitive. According to the study, consumers will choose to see providers who are farther away but have online scheduling by a 2-to-1 margin over those who are closer and do not.
Online scheduling is often even more important than appointment availability itself. When choosing a specialist, consumers prefer — by a 4-to-1 margin — to see a physician with less availability but who has online scheduling, compared with an identical physician who has greater availability but no online scheduling.
As providers shift to online scheduling, they will need to communicate change, cancellation, and no-show policies to patients. This is another valuable opportunity to engage with the patient base. This additional opportunity for patient engagement has real benefits, in that it can help to reduce no-shows by as much as 25% when text and email reminders are implemented.3
As practices and hospital systems continue to improve the patient experience, online appointment scheduling represents a clear opportunity to meet increasing consumer demand. Adding online scheduling to an omnichannel approach helps providers capture demand, improve office efficiency, and remain competitive. The transition will require thoughtful communication with patients and a culture shift for physicians, but offers value to both patients and practices.
Learn more about how Healthgrades can help you expand consumer access through online appointment scheduling.
1 Healthgrades analytics, September 2017.
2 Healthgrades analytics, December 2016.
3 Healthgrades analytics, 2016.