The Practice Growth Podcast is an educational resource for doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers about how to market and manage a thriving healthcare practice.
In Episode 8, host Lisa Christy is joined by PatientPop Director of Product James Owen. The pair discuss how online scheduling can help practices drive patient growth and satisfaction, among other benefits. Click below to listen.
Lisa Christy: I recently started planning a long weekend getaway, and somewhere between choosing flights, booking a hotel room, making dinner reservations, and buying theater tickets, it hit me: All of my scheduling is done online. And it’s not just for special occasions: I do the same for common appointments, like visiting my hair dresser and, yes, going to my doctor.
According to one recent survey, 81 percent of patients would schedule a doctor’s appointment online if they could, and 40 percent of patients would consider switching providers for online access. Another survey found 77 percent of patients consider it important to be able to book, change, or cancel appointments electronically.
In today’s episode, we talk more about online scheduling for healthcare practices, including how it can help you drive patient growth and satisfaction, reduce front office workload, and more. Stay tuned.
Hello and welcome to the Practice Growth Podcast, the doctor’s resource for marketing and managing a thriving healthcare practice. I’m Lisa Christy.
Joining me today is James Owen, PatientPop director of product. James, can you tell the audience a little bit about your background?
James Owen: Hi. I’ve been in the software-as-a-service (SAAS) space for many years. Prior to PatientPop, I worked in the self-service SAAS space, and when I joined PatientPop, I initially focused on self-service scheduling. I now lead the product team.
Christy: Great. Today’s topic of our podcast is all about online scheduling. To kick things off, James, first tell me, why do so many people want the ability to schedule doctor’s appointments online?
Owen: Yes, I think a few reasons stand out. Instant gratification is one of them. Most patients find or research doctors online before choosing one. After they’ve picked the right provider, booking right away in that context is just natural for them.
I think another aspect is convenience, and 40 percent of appointments are booked after hours. So even if it’s an appointment request system, and patients submit the request with their basic information, their desired time, and then they follow-up electronically with the practice to book the actual time slot, that still allows patients to interact when it’s convenient to them, and not force them to make a call when it’s not convenient for them.
I’d also say that expectations for voice interaction are changing. There’s a stat that I love, which is that 75 percent of U.K. adults own a mobile phone, and 25 percent of them don’t use it for phone calls. The thought of calling and waiting on hold is enough to distract many from attempting. So I think that’s another interesting aspect.
Christy: That’s super interesting. So people have these phones that they never want to talk on.
Christy: That’s great. Do you have any information about the demographics of people who schedule appointments online? For example, I would think that it’s mostly young people. Is it mostly young people?
Owen: It is mostly young people, according to our data, but it’s changing. If you look at what’s happening with the older population, the internet interaction, along with social adoption, is increasing every year. As that increases, the amount of online bookings that they’re doing is increasing, as well.
Christy: That’s very interesting. A question that I have, and I think a lot of healthcare providers have, is they want to know if online scheduling really helps them attract new patients. Is that a differentiator to patients in the marketplace?
Owen: It is. We’ve seen quite a few surveys that indicate that patients have a preference for practices that allow for booking online. But I’d say, even more than that, the important part is whether it’s finding the right patients for the doctors.
When a practice’s mission is well-represented on the internet, patients make informed decisions and are more likely to choose the best match. So I think it’s a combination of things. The online booking ensures that patients have the experience that they desire. It also makes sure that the patients, as they’re gathering the information and doing the research, will help increase the likelihood that you’re finding the right match with the patient.
Christy: That’s very interesting. It’s not just about plopping an online scheduling tool onto your website, and then hoping that you get the right patients. It’s working in conjunction with the information on your website to make sure you get the right patient.
Owen: That’s exactly right.
Christy: Interesting. Are there any benefits of online scheduling for healthcare practices? It seems so far we’ve talked a lot about the benefits for the patients.
Owen: For sure. We’ve seen that it reduces administrative work significantly, both the online scheduling part of that, and then the follow-ups. Making sure that you have appointment reminders, and that you can make sure that the patients arrive in the desired time, at the appointment time, and that the practice doesn’t have to do the manual follow-ups.
We’ve seen that the research shows that the average phone call to schedule an appointment takes longer than eight minutes. So that certainly saves the front office time there. And it fills empty appointment slots. That’s one of the big pain points that practices have, especially growing practices, making sure that they get all of their appointment slots filled.
Booking online is efficient at spreading demand, so not everyone is able to book over the lunch hour. We’ve seen that a lot of times the demand can be crunched in particular hours, which increases the level of interaction for the front office — like during lunch hour, for example. That really helps spread the demand, as well.
Christy: Great. You said the average phone call for scheduling appointments was eight minutes. That’s super long. That’s gathering all the information you need, the insurance information, the appointment information, all of that stuff. Online scheduling reduces that because the patient fills that all out themselves, right?
Christy: Very interesting. Let’s take a moment to talk about third-party scheduling, because it’s not just about putting an online scheduling tool on your website, it’s also about people being able to schedule, for example, from Google. Can you tell me how third-party scheduling works?
Owen: Yes. Third-party scheduling allows patients to book appointments on sites that aren’t maintained by the office or by the practice, such as Yelp or Google My Business. PatientPop will add the booking widget to those sites. It gives patients the option to book right away when they’re on that site and they’ve made the decision to see the practice.
Christy: Interesting. So they don’t even have to visit the provider’s website. It’s just, say, I landed on Yelp and I’m like, “This is the provider for me. Schedule an appointment.”
Owen: That’s right. Usually, it’s in conjunction. So they’ve typically done research, they’ve visited the practice website, then they go back to search, and they can see right on the right-hand pane that they have the opportunity to book from within Google My Business. It just allows that extra level of convenience.
Christy: Interesting. Do you and your team see that a lot of patients do schedule via third-party tools?
Owen: We do. It’s not as much as what happens on the website, but it certainly is another option.
Christy: Great. So it’s just another opportunity to attract patients?
Christy: Are there any drawbacks to online scheduling whatsoever for healthcare practices?
Owen: I don’t know about a lot of drawbacks. The thing that I would highlight is that online scheduling isn’t in lieu of a good patient experience when making phone reservations or phone bookings. The practice shouldn’t let their phone support degrade with the assumption that patients will book online. They still need to be as engaged and still make sure that they respond in the same way that they did before.
The other thing to consider is that patients might feel less invested when doing online booking. It’s typical of a lot of other sites where you can book online. The other patient isn’t as invested. That’s why appointment reminders are so important in reducing no-shows, as well.
Christy: Are they not as invested because they didn’t actually connect with a real human?
Christy: Interesting. Well, you have now convinced me that I need online scheduling on my healthcare practice website. What is it that I should look for when I am vetting possible online scheduling vendors?
Owen: I think a vendor who focuses on the entire patient journey. If you look at larger businesses, they have a pretty prescribed way of doing online marketing. If you take PatientPop as an example, we focus on first getting cold leads, turning them into warm leads, having a follow-up to make sure that we can do demos and engage the practice. Ultimately, providing great customer support, so that we can turn around and make them advocates for us, leave reviews online so that other practices can see the good work that we’re doing.
I think a practice is no different than that. If you think about the patient journey, they start with initial impressions, whether that be on a web profile, whether that be on the practice’s website. It turns into research, where they start learning more about the practice’s mission. Is it in line with what they need from a provider? Ultimately, helping them make a decision on a particular provider at a particular location, giving them the ability to book in context at that point in time, and then making sure that they show up at the appointment at the right time through appointment reminders, etc. Then, ultimately, helping them turn into an advocate by leaving reviews for the practice so that other patients can learn from that and go back into the top when they’re doing their research.
I think looking at it from that view, a vendor that provides all of that, then they can understand what’s happening with the patients along the way. Where are there places you need to improve? Where you need to improve? Is the patient dropping off during the online booking part? Are they dropping off when they visit the website? If you’re only doing one part of that, you don’t have the full context of the patient journey, and that’s difficult to provide the full marketing capabilities.
Christy: Sure. If you just have, say, a widget that you plug onto your website, you’re not getting all of this really helpful information that you need about the patients who are either coming to your practice or who are coming to your online scheduler, and then just dropping off and you have no idea why.
Owen: That’s exactly right.
Christy: That makes a lot of sense. OK, James, well, this was really fascinating. Thank you so much for taking this time to talk with us about online scheduling.
Owen: Thank you.
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