Does Online Scheduling Really Add to Physician Burden

Need to make an appointment to have your car oil changed? Fine. Go online to the dealer’s website, choose a date and time, and you’re done. You can make an online appointment to get your hair cut, too. In fact, you can use online scheduling for everything from pizza delivery to making an appointment with your attorney. So why do so few doctors offer online scheduling?

As the thinking goes, doctors are already being overwhelmed by the new technologies forced on them via electronic record keeping. They may be overwhelmed, but how much of that is due to poorly designed software and the overly complex nature of insurance company billing codes? It’s hard to imagine that online scheduling would add to their administrative burden. If anything, it would alleviate some of what they already face.

Success for One Healthcare System

Atlanta’s Piedmont Healthcare decided to try online scheduling earlier this year (2018). Their pilot was an unmitigated success, prompting physicians throughout the system to put their names on a waiting list. It was so successful that doctors are now wondering why they were so nervous about something that seems so simple.

According to Health Leaders Media, the Piedmont system allows patients to directly book appointments online. Once booked, those appointments are automatically entered into the appropriate physician’s calendar without any need for human intervention.

Piedmont was smart enough to not throw the pilot on doctors without warning. They began with an education campaign to help doctors fully understand what they were being presented with. When it was time for rollout, Piedmont moved slowly. Doctors who got on board as early adopters became evangelists spreading the message of online scheduling to other doctors in the system.

Concerns Proved No Big Deal

The success of the Piedmont program by no means indicates that there were no concerns. There were. In fact, doctors expressed concerns ranging from patients not scheduling enough time to those who really should have gone to the emergency department scheduling an online appointment instead. It turns out that their concerns proved to be no big deal.

Many of the negative consequences that could have resulted from online scheduling never materialized. In fact, many of the doctors who signed up for online scheduling were pleasantly surprised that it worked so well. Many called it a very positive experience.

Not only were patients not misusing the system to their own detriment, but they also discovered that online scheduling was a lot more efficient. In turn, that efficiency resulted in a couple of unforeseen benefits. The first is a growing patient base. One particular doctor noted that 40% of the appointments scheduled through the system were new patients.

Another benefit is being able to see more patients in a single day. Online scheduling makes more efficient use of available appointment space so that patients can get into open slots that might have previously been blocked by receptionists. Another doctor who participated in the pilot said that his practice went from 15 patients and 10 open slots per day to 20 patients with only 5 open slots.

Patients Can Be Trusted

At the end of the day, the reluctance to adopt online scheduling seems to be a line of thinking that says patients cannot be trusted to schedule appointments appropriately. If nothing else, the Piedmont pilot proved that this is just not true. Give patients the opportunity to schedule their own medical appointments online and they will do just fine. Locum doctors, hospitalists, private practice owners, hospitals, and clinics all benefit as a result. Most importantly, so do patients. Isn’t that what really matters?