Telehealth has been around for 15 years. And for that long, pundits and prognosticators have predicted that it would be “the next new thing.” But those crystal balls remained cloudy; in 2017 while more than 70 percent of Americans had access to Telehealth through their employers’ or insurer’s plans, less than 5 percent took advantage. Then the pandemic hit, and what was predicted to happen over a decade happened over a few months. In March, according to CNBC, telemedicine visits surged 500%, with estimates at over a billion by year’s end.

This dramatic uptick in telemedicine was driven by a “Have to” moment not a “Want to” moment. Patients simply had no choice.  But when it comes to how patients shop for care, these same patients are demanding consumers with high levels of expectation. They wonder, “If I can see my doctor online, why can’t I schedule my appointment online as well? It’s a reasonable question. Patients are “consuming” health care like other purchases in their lives, which means they are demanding the convenience of setting appointments; of instantly having access to physician backgrounds and experience and choosing which one to see; of making their preferences known in advance.

The data is clear: offering search and scheduling options is not just what patients wants, but the technology delivers real results. They accelerate the ability of practices to grow their patient volumes by making care accessible and opening their digital front door to new patients. 

These digital tools also increase loyalty, trigger better ratings, and generate positive word of mouth. It’s the ultimate win-win situation – improving patient engagement and acquisition, while increasing efficiency. The industry clearly can’t wait another 15 years to get there. So why are so many practices reluctant to allow their patients to schedule online?  

Not As Easy As it Seems. Or Sounds.

Effective online scheduling must satisfy many needs and address many nuances, not the least of which is taking into account the requirements of multiple providers.

Because these providers are very specific in their needs and practice management style, the ideal online scheduling platform is far from as straightforward as it might seem. Basic matching that integrates clinical skills, availability and location is trivial; it’s currently offered by multiple vendors and this cookie-cutter approach is not satisfactory. 

The industry needs solutions that addresses questions like:

  • What about provider personal preferences? How they are identified, tracked and maintained?  
  • How will the health organization business logic be kept?  This is very complex because the reality is that every health system, physician group –whether it be a single or multi-specialty practice – is very different in how they work. 

Reflecting provider matching preferences and priorities could mean completely different rules and algorithms at the back end. Failing to take the complexity of these into account is simply not recognizing what providers really need, and is likely to be at least one reason adoption is lagging behind. The industry is ready for solutions that are built to go beyond the fundamental mechanics of scheduling to create a dynamic new patient experience and ecosystem. Ones that are trusted by health system and practice executive, doctors, and schedulers to reflect their real-life considerations in a digitized workflow. 

As an example, our customers expect the Odoro scheduling solution to mimic their workflow by directing patients that have been to the ER recently to an on-call doctor for further routing – before letting them schedule with their family physician. This saves time, saves steps, and eliminates frustration. Our customers also expect us to use algorithms to balance provider workload by offering only the most appropriate and efficient time slots or recognize required sequence appointments and schedule them at once. The reason providers are holding scheduling close, and slowing down their office choreography, is because they know what they want and don’t trust flawed scheduling solutions to meet their needs. They let go once they know technology can really reflect their logic.

Technology That’s Fixed Is Technology That’s Flawed

Just as important as deep personalization – for patients and physicians is a system built with the understanding needs keep changing.  By the minute, by the hour – and over time. 

To blunt, patient access platforms are useless if they unable to respond in real time. Case in point: Back in March as COVID-19 was spiking, many health systems blocked their patient self-scheduling option, knowing their workflows had drastically changed. 

But flexible solutions did not require such inaccessibility; they allowed practices to quickly re-customize them to support their teams during the crisis. They immediately added questionnaires for patients to self-assess their condition prior to scheduling, reducing overhead of triaging patients over the phone. They were also able to send out messages about new office hours and guidelines for patients. And most importantly, allowed their customers to lead their patients to the right workflows; this focused practice scheduling to what made rational sense considering patients’ clinical situation, and whether the practice wanted to treat them virtually or in person.  

The crawl to adoption of online scheduling, which preceded the pandemic, is not a function of physicians who reject change and hold onto their old ways.  We have seen that doctors say a resounding “yes” to digital scheduling when it meets solutions that are relevant, responsive, and that they can control. In the moment and in the future.

About Dikla Ranen

Dikla Ranen is the co-founder and COO of Odoro – a leader in digital patient access solutions for health systems. Over the last 20 years, Dikla has held senior sales, business development and customer success roles in both the digital health and hi-tech sector. Working at the forefront of the changing digital patient access landscape for the past 10 years, she understands first-hand the challenges and issues facing health systems. To learn more about sector best-practices and how latest digital innovation strategies are being used to improve the patient experience, please message with Dikla on Linkedin.