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Online Appointment Scheduling Falls Short, Dissuades Care Access for 61%

Seventy percent of patients said that despite using an online appointment scheduling tool, they had to complete appointment booking over telephone, dissuading care access for 61% of folks.

More than half of patients are going without care access because the online appointment scheduling systems they rely on are not fulfilling their needs and expectations, according to surveying from OnePoll on behalf of Notable.

Particularly, patients reported that they are being rerouted to other methods of appointment scheduling, like telephone call, when they try to utilize an organization’s online self-scheduling tools.

Self-scheduling has been central in medicine’s transformation toward healthcare consumerism. Patients have been on the record saying they want access to online self-scheduling options for years, with surveys showing that patients like the convenience that online tools offer them.

But although most healthcare organizations have followed that call and installed online appointment scheduling tools on their websites and in their patient portals, these systems aren’t always workable, the survey of 1,005 patients showed.

Particularly, 61 percent of respondents said they did not access healthcare in the past year because using an online self-scheduling system was too complicated.

Although online booking tools are supposed to help patients pick and confirm their own appointment slots, the survey showed this isn’t always happening. Even when an organization has an online appointment scheduling tool installed in their digital suites, patients are often rerouted to a more traditional form of appointment booking, like the telephone.

In total, 70 percent of patients said they began booking an appointment using a self-scheduling tool or the patient portal but were eventually referred to a telephone call with a call center staffer to finish booking.

This can have negative consequences for patient care access and the overall consumer or patient experience, the survey authors indicated.

In addition to hiccups with online appointment scheduling, the survey uncovered problems with appointment wait times, too. Particularly, patients are waiting too long to get from the front desk to the exam room, with the average wait time growing from 18.2 minutes in 2018 to 28.8 minutes in 2022.

Those wait times were calculated via patient self-reports in the survey.

The researchers indicated that these long wait times are linked to pitfalls in the patient intake and registration process. Most patient intake systems host patient self-scheduling tools and pre-registration systems all in one, but when these systems break down, it can lead to more registration paperwork in the lobby and cause longer appointment wait times.

Healthcare organizations may consider digital tools to streamline both appointment booking and patient intake and pre-registration.

During the pandemic, these systems grew in prominence as more hospitals and clinics worked to keep patients from lingering in the waiting room. Online check-in, for example, became popular for organizations optimizing this part of the patient experience.

At Hansen Family Hospital, an Iowa-based facility affiliated with MercyOne, digital patient intake and pre-registration became a necessity if it wanted to keep up with patient demands.

“We've had patients call in and ask, ‘Can I check in online?’” Kathy Hastings, the patient access manager at the hospital, told PatientEngagementHIT in a previous interview.

“When patients aren't feeling well, the last thing they want to do is stand at a counter and fill out multiple forms; or have to have a lot of extra contact with other people; or repeat themselves or get asked the same information that they feel like they've given multiple times. To be able to do that at their convenience is definitely a patient satisfier.”

Offering online check-in didn’t just push patient satisfaction; it also allowed the healthcare organization to capture key patient information like IDs and insurance credentials. That’s åenhanced the back end of patient access, Hastings explained, making for more employee satisfaction.

“Having that information, the demographic information or insurance information up front and correct from the patient to have that flow into the system has been a huge benefit,” Hastings said. “It is definitely a more efficient process. It's reduced rework, reduced denials or write offs,” she continued, offering anecdotal evidence.

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