Online appointment bookings for Doctors

Online appointment bookings“To have or not to have?”

This is a question most medical practice managers have looked into and one that I am asked quite often. Here are the factors you need to consider:

  1. Your practice and patient service expectations about online appointment bookings
  2. What are the costs?
  3. What are the benefits?
  4. What are the challenges – Is it too hard and complex to implement?
  5. What does it take to make the change to online appointment bookings?

1. Your practice’s service levels

I hear this response quite often – “We would never have online appointment bookings at our practice …it goes against the level of service we like to show our patients.”

What does the research say about online appointment bookings?

  • 50% of people would like the option to book their appointments online at a time that is convenient to them.
  • View research

Here lies the key to this debate:
Online appointment bookings are about what the patient wants. From a service perspective, online bookings are available 24/7. A patient does not have to wait for your practice to open to book. If you are looking to improve your service, isn’t it better to have something a patient is seeking and letting them have access to your services, when they want them and how they want to access them?

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2. What are the costs of online appointment bookings?

I commonly hear the cost of putting online appointments in and having SMS appointment reminders is too expensive?Cost

Well this is an interesting perspective and relies on a few factors:

  1. Does your practice’s software allow online bookings?
  2. What are the costs to implement and;
  3. What are the ongoing costs of online appointments?

What does the research say?

  • 25% – 35% of front office staff time is spent on the phone booking appointments.

What is the dollar figure that amounts for all of your front office staff time spent on the phone making bookings? It probably amounts to somewhere upward of $12,000 a year.

If you aim for 20% of your appointments to be booked online that is $2,400 of staff time saved (multiply this per staff member). They could use this time to improve other parts of your practice.

One practice manager I spoke to recently Linda Osman (member of the Australian Association of Medical Practice Managers) here in Melbourne stated that 40% of their patient bookings are now done online.

What does it cost to implement online bookings?
This is dependant on your practice’s software but once implemented the ongoing costs are around $200 – $300 per month. SMS appointments can be plugged into this service as well and are based on carrier rates of around 5c to 20c per reminder.

From a financial perspective – With the popularity of online appointment bookings only set to rise in the future the savings in implementing online bookings are easily justifiable and reduce practice overhead running costs.

3. Benefits of online appointment bookingsBenefits

These are straightforward:

  • Ease of booking
  • Patients can book 24/7 at a time that suits them
  • Reduce practice running costs
  • They will only become more popular in the future
  • If an online appointment is cancelled via an integrated SMS response this allows you to immediately re-book another patient with no loss of revenue.

Note – Online bookings are best integrated with your practice’s software program. There are a number of providers that supply the service via an email system that front office staff then have to double handle into your practice’s software. Not very efficient and emails can be missed.

4. Online appointment bookings – Too hard and complex to implement

I hear this as a big drawback as most practices have a number of criteria including appointment lengths and costs dependant on the service required.

I was on my local dentists website the other day and they have fifteen different procedures available for online bookings. The website was well laid out and was easy to find the appointment that best suited my needs.

Technology today can overcome any number of hurdles. Once you lay out the process the solution is far easier than you perceive. People have walked on the moon and your phone is probably a supercomputer, so online appointment bookings for your practice are possible.

5. What does it take to make the change to online appointment bookings?Change

Change – The biggest challenge. What has to change in order to make online appointment bookings happen in your practice?

Mapping out a simple plan and communicating to all staff what’s involved, why, the benefits, timetable of what’s happening, testing, training and go live date will go a long way in helping the implementation process.

Most of change is about getting the mindset right. As with all change there are possible teething problems, highlight these upfront and set expectations. Mostly they are ensuring adequate training levels of all staff to operate the system.

The great feature about online bookings (if integrated into your practice’s software) is there is very little training needed.

Ensure your practice’s software has a trailed and tested online appointment booking system.

As you can see there are many benefits to online appointment bookings.