It’s no secret that technology is transforming the way we live. Whether booking a holiday or entertainment, managing our finances, getting directions or buying a product, the internet saves us time and helps with our decision-making.
However, with less than 3% of private healthcare providers in Australia currently taking online bookings, you’d be forgiven for thinking that medical appointments are holding out against the trend and are always going to be made over the phone.
It’s not hard to identify the reasons why healthcare practitioners have been slow to move. For years I’ve had practice managers tell me that their busy, thriving practice has limited appointment availability and no need to change existing systems.
70% of practices administration staff spend more than 25% of their time at work scheduling appointments
But this is starting to change. I know from what I hear on the ground there’s increasing recognition that online booking systems improve staff productivity and patient service levels by reducing the time spent by front desk staff scheduling appointments. Indeed, our research shows that in 70% of practices administration staff spend more than 25% of their time at work scheduling appointments, while in 35% of practices it is more than 50%.
Attitudes are changing to the point where there’s an emerging groundswell of support for online booking systems from right across the healthcare sector. If your practice is one of the overwhelming majority that do not currently take online bookings, then chances are you are already thinking about whether you should be changing that. Independent research shows that more than 80% of healthcare practitioners that do not already take online bookings believe that changes to current appointment scheduling processes are required. Further, some 64% believe they are likely to start using an online booking system.
As practices make the transition they will find patients keen to use the new technology. Growing internet usage by older age groups, faster internet speeds and an increase in the use of mobile internet devices such as smartphones will make sure of that.
But I think the key question that needs to be considered is “are online appointments disrupting continuity of care”?
It’s true that new online services in many other industries have had the effect of disrupting existing business paradigms. In most cases, the outcomes have driven excellent results for consumers but have forced businesses to either adapt or face increased pressure on their operations.
Consumers are now better informed about healthcare options and symptom information than ever before
Whether we like it or not as healthcare providers, consumers are online. Thanks to “Dr Google” they are now better informed (or perhaps over-informed?) about healthcare options and symptom information than ever before, and access to information about specific doctors and healthcare practices is readily available online.
Google enables a patient to quickly and easily, with one click, find the contact details for ANY practices in their chosen location. Further, offering the convenience of booking appointments online by practices is fast becoming one of the most rapid technology-driven changes since the introduction of a PC into a practice.
But do some systems promote the disruption of continuity of care motivated by other commercial interests? Are these systems designed in a way that drives great healthcare outcomes for patients while promoting efficiency and growth for healthcare practices? I think this needs to be carefully tested by a healthcare practice when selecting a system.
I find that before committing to a booking system, very few health practitioners and practice managers actually try and use the system from a patient perspective. Few try it as a prospective patient. Most tend to look at the functionality from a practice’s perspective. Be careful as the patient’s actual experience when using these systems may surprise you! And, if you choose the wrong system you may find yourself with a monthly fee reconciliation nightmare and/or systems that have the effect of driving your existing patients away from you!
Key usability questions to consider are:-
1. Where does my practice rank on the online appointment booking provider’s website of mobile app?
2. Do I have to pay extra for ranking in my location?
3. Do my existing patients have to trawl through competing practices to find their preferred doctor on the system, thereby perhaps being tempted to book elsewhere
4. Do the fee structures have lots of “add-ons”, some of which may not be introduced to you until after you sign up, and monthly reconciliation overheads (like ensuring I am not paying for no shows)
At 1stAvailable we are passionate about improving patient care, healthcare practice and doctor productivity.
At 1stAvailable we are passionate about improving patient care, healthcare practice and doctor productivity. Our focus is introducing the patient to the first available appointment with their “preferred” doctor and not just a random practitioner in their area. In fact, we have designed a service that actually drives “referral” business to a practice and not just random patients that may not stick around following the first appointment.
So what is one example of how we ensure you will always rank #1 on the 1stAvailable service (no matter whether on our website, mobile app or your website), and at no additional cost to you? Well, we do this through our “my favourite practitioner” feature. See the image below for an example.
How does it work? Well it’s simple, the moment a patient books an appointment for the first time through the 1stAvailable service (including from your website), the doctor they have booked an appointment with is now listed in the My Favourites section at the top of the website and app.
Other key design features includes the way we present appointments to a patient and the information we provide patients when making an appointment. This includes guiding them to the correct practitioner based on the treatment type that they require, which also controls the correct length of appointment.
So behind our simple and modern design resides some complex business rules and design features that, at their core, seek to support continuity of care and encourages good patient decisions and drives efficient practice and doctor operations.
Since the 1stAvailable service launched in April 2012, we have established a convenient, easy to use and stable online healthcare search and appointment booking service. We’ve been preparing for the day when online bookings would become commonplace, investing heavily in the look and feel of the site for the patient, as well as integrating with the most widely used Practice Management Systems.
In the last four months, we’ve entered into sale agreements to acquire three complementary booking engines, GOBookings, Clinic Connect and DocAppointments.
We’ve done this because, in the longer-term, the healthcare bookings industry has room for just a few sizeable players. Consumers are looking for a platform that supports their appointments across a range of healthcare and allied health disciplines, and that’s what we’re committed to delivering.
Continuity of care and patient loyalty is what defines 1stAvailable
Key to the success for the acquisitions is the fact that each business has the same underlying philosophy – to promote continuity of care and patient loyalty by making it easy for a patient to book an appointment with their existing doctor or practitioner. This is what defines 1stAvailable.
The combined businesses make an average of around 87,000 appointments each month across around 2,200 private healthcare providers and 134 corporate and government clients. We work with a number of types of practitioners including GPs, dentists, psychologists, specialists, physiotherapists, optometrists and natural healthcare providers in the Private Practice market, and pharmacies, hospitals, government agencies and veterinarians.
Our platform is free to use for patients, while healthcare practices pay a modest monthly subscription. With significant benefits on offer including improved staff efficiency and levels of service offered to patients, 1stAvailable is a prudent and worthwhile investment for your practice.