Yesterday, I received a text from my eye doctor informing me that I have not scheduled my yearly exam and need to make an appointment. The notification was an electronic version of the Annual Patient Postcard reminders. But unlike the old postcards, the text included links to automatically call the office or direct me to visit self-scheduling. Booking that appointment has been on my to-do list for weeks, but I seem to only remember to do it after the office has closed. Yet, with one click and about two minutes of my time, the mission was accomplished. That's when it dawned on me - healthcare is going "Amazon."
You know the drill. You receive a message from Amazon that you haven't ordered dogfood in two months, and based on your purchasing patterns, you have likely run out. You are offered a "one-click" button to reorder, and you click it because Amazon tends to be right. After all, they watch patterns in purchasing, browsing, and searches, then create algorithms that predict what we need or want, ultimately making those items easier to buy.
Would these tactics work in healthcare? Can we promote patient compliance by offering a "one-click" option to schedule appointments? It appears we can.
There have been multiple studies conducted on online patient self-scheduling. Data shows that while 38 percent of patient appointments are already being self-scheduled online, 64 percent of patients say they would schedule appointments online if the option was available to them. But according to American Medical News, "most physicians aren't that enthusiastic" about an automated scheduling process.
Self-scheduling does come with its challenges, the most prominent being:
- Patients incorrectly scheduling appointments.
- Patients selecting the wrong type of appointment.
- Patients not understanding which type of appointment they should book.
- Cost of additional software.
These issues have thus far stymied the quick adoption of self-scheduling, and for good reason. But what if we could overcome these obstacles by becoming a little more "Amazon?" For example, what if the text from my eye doctor contained a link that directed me to three pre-selected appointment options based on the type of appointment I needed, scheduling patterns from my previous appointments, and availability on the schedule? In my busy world, that's a game changer.
Patients could still have the option to request other appointment times by message or phone. Systems could contact patient populations based on rules set by the provider. Scheduled appointments could be sent to patients' Outlook calendars, in addition to the electronic reminders we already receive today.
While challenges do exist, there are many potential benefits of adopting an automated self-scheduling process:
- Improving patient compliance.
- Closing more care gaps for screenings and annual wellness visits.
- Eliminating the old postcards and waiting lists.
- A growing preference for text messaging over phone calls among Millennials.
It is not likely that self-scheduling will ever fully replace the need for a front desk associate. It is also important to recognize that new technology often introduces new concerns. For example, the convenience of self-scheduling may lead patients to devalue the importance of showing up for an appointment. Even with challenges and benefits still left to consider, healthcare may be headed toward "Amazon-ification" whether we are ready or not. Do I really want to shop for healthcare the same way I buy dogfood? If it means not sitting on hold, I just might.
Joni Wyatt, MHA, MHIA, CPHIMS, FHIMSS is a Healthcare Advisor with Kassouf & Co., P.C.