By Monica Bolbjerg, MD, co-founder and CEO of Qure4u
When I helped create our first self-scheduling technology in 2001, 30% of the Danish population used it. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve helped hundreds of organizations become successful by following a simple set of guidelines.
Now I’m sharing them with you.
But first, some background.
Initially, many organizations take the same missteps or get stuck on technology challenges because they try to replicate everything they do on the phone. Countless times I’ve heard people saying they can’t use self-scheduling because they have one booking rule that they can’t find a solution for, or that they turned it off because they had duplicate patient charts happening.
If you’re hoping to replicate your manual workflows and get the same outcome, you won’t be successful. But if you’re defining a goal and set your self-scheduling rules around that — then you’ll get the results you’re looking for. You might end up with some manual work, for instance cleaning up a couple of duplicate charts, but at the same time you’ll have saved hundreds of hours of staff time and attract a bunch of new patients.
This is how I approach it.
Step 1: Define your goals
Too many organizations start setting up self-scheduling without defining the goal, and this makes a big difference.
Are you doing it because you want to:
- Reduce the number of patient calls?
- Use self-scheduling to attract new patients?
- Have a more specific visit type in your schedule?
- Balance the load of patients across providers?
- Be more competitive by offering self-scheduling?
- Or something else?
- Knowing what your goals are will help you build your program step-by-step.
Many organizations start with self-scheduling because they have problems with high volume of patient calls and/or are in a competitive area where you need to be more consumer-friendly to attract new patients.
Step 2: Build your program
Once you’ve defined your goals, pick one and build your program around that. That gives you experience in what works well — and what doesn’t — for your organizations before you implement more advanced rule sets.
Depending on your goal, there are things to consider. Here are the most common:
- Reducing phone calls:
If reducing phone calls is most important, you want to make sure that 80% of appointments can be done by the patient, this way you can quickly reduce your phone calls by 50% or more.
How to approach it:
- List out all your appointment types.
- Remove those the patient can’t do.
- Does the remainder of the appointment types account for 80% or more of your visits?
- If yes, then you begin with that list. If not, go back and review the list of the appointment types that you removed and ask yourself why they cannot be done by the patient.
Many times, there are simple workarounds or workflow adjustments that can be implemented for the appointment types that you first removed. Check out these examples:
- New patient appointment cannot be done because we don’t have their insurance card. This is easily solved by sending the patient a task to upload an insurance card right after booking, and making an internal task to review after the patient has booked the appointment.
- Another appointment type needs to be scheduled at the same time. Make an internal workflow to review these types of appointments and schedule that afterwards.
- We need a referral before we can treat the patient. Send the patient a message after the appointment is booked and ask for the referral.
Roughly 90% of the work is done when the patients have booked their appointment, so don’t worry about some cleanup work afterwards because it will end up being much less time than you spend on the phones today.
- Attract new patients
If attracting new patients is the priority, then make sure a New Patient appointment type is available right away — new patients want to get in fast and don’t want to wait weeks for an appointment. Also, make sure you build nice provider profiles with photos, bios, etc.
How to approach it:
- Make sure almost all providers have time slots available fast for new patients.
- If you have providers who are always booked, set up a Team function so you can easily direct the patient to other providers with availability.
- Show availability across providers so the patient can easily see where they can get in first — you don’t want them to get frustrated by too many clicks.
Once you have the patient in the schedule, you should send them a nice welcome email — let them know you’re excited to have them come in. In healthcare, we don’t do this as often as we think we do.
- Increase the number of annual visits in your schedule
Are your patients slow at coming in for their annual visits? Self-scheduling can help. All you need to do is make sure that:
- The appointment type is available and easy to find.
- There is availability fast — open more slots if you have long wait times.
- Balance the load of patients across providers
Do you have providers who are more popular than others and other providers who don’t have their schedule filled? Then this is what you want to do:
- Open fewer time slots for the popular providers.
- Set up team functionality so the patient can find other providers that offer the same service.
- Show first available timeslots across providers.
- Let the patient sort by first-available.
- Be more competitive
Are your competitors offering self-scheduling? Are you new in an area or maybe you’re threatened by new practices moving to your area?
Self-scheduling not only attracts new patients, but also keeps your current patients happy and prevents them from being attracted to a new clinic.
Spend time making the self-scheduling look nice and modern, and first of all easy to use.
Step 3: Make it simple and easy for the patients
Think about yourself when you go to book or buy something online — that’s the experience you want to create for your patients.
Make the scheduling page:
Easy to find. Put a BIG button directly on the first page on your website — patients should be able to get there in just one click.
- Easy to use. Don’t put long instructions on the website. If it’s too complicated, visitors will go somewhere else. Remember, your competitor is making it easy!
- Simplify your rules when possible. All rules cannot be accommodated in self-scheduling, so use the 80/20 rule — 80% should be done online, 20% comes in through the “old” phone way.
- Don’t ask the patient to fill out too much before allowing them to book. Only ask for minimum information to get them on the schedule. The remaining info should come from the pre-registration/digital check-in link they receive afterward.
- Never ask the patient to log in before they can schedule. Most of your patients would rather pick up the phone or go somewhere else.
It sounds complicated, but it’s actually simple, and once you have it up and running, you’ll quickly see the benefits — patients love self-scheduling!