Wed | Sep 30, 2020

Health + Tech | Patient online scheduling

Published:Sunday | December 1, 2019 | 12:00 AMDoug Halsall
Doug Halsall
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Most medical office management systems include online patient scheduling, and with the increasing number of telemedicine platforms, soon this will become a preferred choice for patients.

Traditionally, appointments are booked either by walking into a doctor’s office or visiting a hospital or by phoning in. With the advent of technology, online scheduling has become possible and now allows patients to either open a portal on the doctor’s web-based practice management system, book via the practice’s website, or use an app to set an appointment directly to their preferred doctor’s calendar.

This option will grow as long as there is an increase in the use of health technology and electronic medical records. Jamaica is already heading in this direction. One must only examine the increased competitiveness of the telemedicine market and existing government policy and actions surrounding the use and introduction of health technology to understand that this will, in years to come, be the preferred method of first-line interaction with a doctor’s office, hospital or clinic.

I would not be surprised if, in future, the e-Care app builds on this and allows for this type of access to health centres across the island once the pilot stage is completed. Most physicians in Jamaica have been seeking out a way to automate various functions of their office, and online scheduling is one of them. Some have already been using this medium as a way of making patient interaction more attractive and seamless, giving them a competitive advantage. In addition, online scheduling generally comes with the option of providing text or email appointment reminders. This is also a plus for both physician and patient.

In our context, one of the major barriers to using online patient scheduling is technophobia. For now, people seem to trust more in going in person than to use an online portal or an app when it comes to healthcare interaction. Technology evolution has reduced the fear of technology over the years. The increase in access to mobile phones has given the industry more leverage and possibilities. Younger persons tend to be the ones who most want to use these more convenient and efficient means of accessing healthcare.

WAITING TIMES

Most online patient appointment scheduling software allows doctors to input the average time they expect to spend with a patient and create appointment slots based on this, although it is usually flexible. This can have a positive effect as it allows for the collection of evidence-based data, which can be used to adjust systems to increase patient satisfaction. For example, one of the major problems in Jamaica’s public-health facilities, and even private offices, is waiting time. An online scheduling portal coupled with a queue management system can provide specific details as to how long each person has waited and how long they have had face-to-face contact with a physician. This can be used as the impetus to help to solve the problem of waiting time, or at least appropriately manage expectations.

In a study conducted in 2018 in the United States, as part of Independent SaaS and SMB industry research (Blaszkiewicz), nearly 200 North American consumers who have booked an appointment in the past 12 months were surveyed. The key findings were:

• 56.4 per cent of respondents are frustrated with waiting on hold and the inconvenient office hours related to scheduling appointments by phone.

• 31 per cent of respondents would be more likely to choose a new service provider if that provider offered online booking options.

• 60 per cent of respondents said that getting a text reminder would make them less likely to miss an appointment compared to phone call or email reminders.

• Respondents would prefer to schedule doctor’s appointments online more than any other type of appointment.

This is fast becoming our own reality. Allowing patients an additional and more efficient means of accessing service is always a win. The trick is to ensure that persons are properly educated about the option and it is truly facilitated. A patient, therefore, should always be able to trust that once an appointment is made online, it will be honoured. This is something that we must wrap our minds around now as patients and caregivers, as soon more appointments will be done online than in person.

Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated SystemsDoug.halsall@gmail.com.