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Patient Scheduling Options – Opening Up Lines of Communication

As practices work to increase convenience for patients, one place they often fall short is in scheduling. It’s a bit ironic, given that the thing physicians want most is for patients to schedule an appointment…

The fact is, modern communications channels have increased exponentially over the last few years, and practices have a hard time keeping up. It’s true that most patients still want to pick up the phone and speak to a person to schedule. But it’s also true that some would be very happy to be able to text a request, conduct an online chat session, or use an online booking engine.

Let’s look at the benefits and feasibility of each option.

Phone. Make sure you don’t get so distracted by newer technology that phone calls are given short shrift. Phone systems are a known entity, so there’s no excuse for not having an easy-to-navigate menu of options, a way to quickly get to a person, a voice mailbox that someone checks frequently, and schedulers who are polite and efficient. It’s worth the time spent to walk through common scenarios as though you are a patient trying to make an appointment to uncover any places where your system falls short.

Text requests. Texting has replaced phone calls as the preferred communication choice by many—and not just the younger generations. So it seems only natural that patients would want to schedule appointments this way. Furthermore, many practices already use SMS messages to send appointment reminders. The main hurtle with texting is security, but there are new, highly secure platforms designed specifically for medical practices that will help in this area. After that, it’s a matter of setting up a specific number for patients to text appointment requests to and making sure someone in the office is monitoring that inbox.

Online chat. This is a channel not widely used by practices, but as people become more accustomed to it in the rest of their lives, it may make sense in a medical setting. As with texting, this must be done on a highly secure platform, but it could be a way to increase patient convenience by offering a familiar, customer friendly way to book appointments.

Online appointment requests. This channel is a feature of many patient portals and thus has become a popular way to book appointments. While certainly convenient, it doesn’t qualify as true self service, which many patients have grown accustomed to in other industries.

Online appointment booking. In the age of instant gratification, this is the gold standard. Just as we can now book our favorite restaurant using Open Table and a hotel room using Expedia, patients could use such a tool to quickly and conveniently schedule a medical appointment. It’s cutting edge, to be sure, but it’s an option sure to gain popularity over the next few years.

In our next post, we’ll look at the nuts and bolts of online appointment booking options.

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