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How One PCP Used Online Appointment Scheduling to Close Care Gaps

A pandemic-era online appointment scheduling purchase has helped Eagles Landing Health close care gaps, get new patients, and streamline call center onboarding.

As medicine confronts serious care gaps problems, one Georgia-based primary care provider organization is helping patients self-service those lapses. Using online appointment scheduling technologies, Eagles Landing Health is able to let patients welcome themselves back into the clinic after more than a year of pandemic life.

Of course, those online appointment scheduling tools are accompanied by targeted patient outreach and communication, according to Eagles Landing VP of Marketing Tim Reichert. The healthcare organization flags patients who have missed a wellness visit or a preventive screening and sends out an alert. Using the online appointment scheduling option, Reichert said patients are able to get themselves back into the clinic for needed care.

“In all of our patient outreach, we remind patients that they're due for things like annual physicals, or mammograms, or bone density scans, those preventive measures like that,” Reichert said in a phone interview with PatientEngagementHIT.

“Whenever we send outreach to the patients that are due for those things, we always include a link to the self-scheduler where they can just click on that and schedule on their own. It makes it a lot easier to get patients to actually take action on their own, because they can do it at all hours of the day or night.”

This follows a year and a half during which medical groups across the country saw tanking patient volumes and key patient care access hurdles related to the pandemic. In March 2020, those volume decreases could be tied to non-urgent care shutdowns, but since then many patients not accessing primary or preventive care mostly say they are scared of catching the novel coronavirus.

February 2021 figures from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute showed a marked 36 percent of adults went without care during the first year of the pandemic, with a quarter saying they were worried they’d catch COVID-19 during a care encounter. Of those who went without care, most said their wellness deteriorated, the report showed.

According to Reichert, online appointment scheduling and self-service options aren’t a panacea, but they are actionable tools that helped the organization recoup some of the care gaps it saw in the past year and a half. And that’s not to mention the ongoing insights these patient engagement technologies offer, he added.

“It makes it trackable for us, so we can see as far as how good our messaging is,” Reichert explained. “We can just correlate that with analytics on our end to see, this message went out to X amount of people and here's how many people actually scheduled an appointment from that message, so it makes the analytics part of my job very easy.”

Online patient scheduling tools are a pandemic-era improvement for Eagles Landing, Reicher said. Although these technologies are proving instrumental for addressing today’s biggest challenges, he explained self-service tools were originally set to streamline organizational efficiency and free up the call center for COVID-19 concerns.

“Just like every other healthcare company, we had issues with things during the beginning of COVID as far as phone lines blowing up,” Reichert recalled. “Everyone was completely scared of their minds and worried about what to do. So, we had a ton of call volume starting to flow in during that time in the early stages.”

Before the pandemic, Eagles Landing relied mostly on its call center for appointment scheduling. Although the healthcare organization did have an appointment request page on its website—"which basically was just a nice way of saying, ‘Give us your information and we'll call you to schedule the appointment,’” Reichert noted—none of this was particularly efficient.

When Eagles Landing’s call center began to flood with questions about the pandemic and how to stay safe from COVID-19, the organization struggled to keep pace with actual appointment scheduling.

“We were struggling because people were calling in and holding up our phone lines for a magnitude of things, basically just asking questions around COVID and stuff like that,” Reichert stated. “We couldn't really fill the gap for patient scheduling appointments because our phone lines were all tied up with all those other questions.”

Using the DASH self-scheduling tool from Relatient, Eagles Landing was able to give patients a more streamlined option for getting an appointment without overburdening call center employees.

Today, those benefits are still paying off, Reichert said.

For one thing, Eagles Landing saw a 5 percent increase in new patients within five months of installing the self-scheduling system, something Reichert credits to better patient acquisition strategy. Those new patients trend on the younger side, he added, keeping pace with industry knowledge about generational differences in patient acquisition, particularly that younger patients want a more digital patient experience.

“It's because of the younger population is more tech savvy, and want to do things that way, whereas our older population, they still want to pick up the phone and call, which we do see some of those starting to use some of the online stuff that we offer,” Reichert posited.

The technology was also a boon for operational efficiency, Reichert continued, decreasing the call center training time significantly, largely because the function of the call center job became streamlined. Before the online appointment scheduling tool, onboarding a call center staffer took significant legwork.

“Prior to using the self-scheduler, we had to ramp up onboarding time for our schedulers in our call center, which took forever, because we have 60 plus providers and not every provider can do the same thing and can't see the same types of patients, whether it's age, or chief complaints or just location specific, insurance reasons,” Reichert shared.

“They had cheat sheets and little sticky notes all over their cubicles where they were scheduling from,” he added. “It made for a mountain of learning and a lot of human error.”

The online appointment scheduling tool has been designed with that knowledge, though, meaning it can automatically generate a list of appointment slots based on the providers who could meet a patient’s unique needs and characteristics. Call center staffers use the tool, too, making their jobs easier.

“Now we can pretty much onboard a new scheduler within a couple days and have them scheduling on their own, because the product has all of the knowledge inside the computer there where we don't have to rely on the human element to do that,” Reichert said.

All said, the call center employee onboarding process went from about a month down to only a few days, Reicher noted.

“From an HR standpoint, it was a tremendous time-saver,” he concluded. “Especially in a call center environment where turnover is a lot, it helps having something that we can rely on to get people up and running on their own fairly quick.”

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