Today, more than ever, patients are looking for safe, reliable and convenient ways to access medical care. To address those preferences, a growing number of healthcare organizations are adopting digital patient self-scheduling tools. According to an Accenture survey, by the end of 2019, an estimated 66% of U.S. health systems offered patients appointment self-scheduling options, and 64% of patients self-scheduled their healthcare visits online. Self-scheduling aligns with patient preferences for convenient self-service, while helping healthcare organizations improve their operational efficiency, limit contact between patients and staff, fill last-minute cancellations and more.

Here are seven reasons to offer self-scheduling to your patients.

1. Self-scheduling aligns with the new reality of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled tremendous growth in the use of telehealth services as providers look for ways to deliver care safely. Approximately 46% of consumers now use telehealth appointments, up from 11% in 2019. As provider organizations promote this shift from in-person appointments to virtual visits, they can leverage self-scheduling to boost efficiency and cut down on inbound scheduling calls.

To support its transition to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of Phreesia’s large urology clients adopted self-scheduling to quickly meet emerging patient needs. According to its Director of Clinical and Business Systems, 50% of the medical group’s telehealth appointments are now booked through patient self-scheduling.

“Self-scheduling has been a lifesaver for our staff,” he said. “Our inbound phone volume has been very taxing through this crisis, so to give patients the alternative of self-scheduling has been critical for our growth during this period.”

2. Self-scheduling meets patients’ expectations.

According to a Black Book Market Research study, 97% of patients expect to be able to use online scheduling options to engage with their provider. As patient demand for consumer-centric technology and better access to care grows, providers can meet those expectations by offering fast and convenient scheduling options. Self-scheduling allows patients to easily book in-person or telehealth appointments online from their mobile devices, at a time that works for them. Across Phreesia’s network, many healthcare organizations have reported an increase in self-scheduled patient appointments over the past year. For example, when a large, multi-location dermatology clinic gave its patients the option to book non-urgent visits on their own, the number of self-scheduled appointments rose to 70% in less than four months.

3. Self-scheduling improves staff efficiency.

The Accenture survey estimated that by the end of 2019, self-scheduling accounted for 40% of scheduled appointments and contributed to $3.2 billion in value by enabling healthcare organizations to reallocate their scheduling teams to other needed tasks, such as collecting time-of-service payments and capturing quality measure data. Self-scheduling improves operational efficiency by saving staff time overall, as well as reducing incoming call volumes. And if providers are skeptical or resistant to letting patients book their own appointments, they can maintain control over the process: Practices can restrict patients’ self-scheduling options to certain times of the day or customize their scheduling systems to fit providers’ preferences for certain appointment times and patient types.

4. Self-scheduling reduces no-shows and fills last-minute cancellations.

Self-scheduling helps build patient loyalty, boost satisfaction and reduce no-shows because when patients see that you value their time, they’re more likely to value yours. Self-scheduling also gives patients decision-making power, boosting their engagement and improving the likelihood that they’ll notify your practice if they need to reschedule or cancel. It also can help fill last-minute cancellations—and prevent lost revenue from non-billable hours on the schedule.

5. Self-scheduling reduces barriers to care.

It’s not uncommon for patients to face barriers that discourage them from seeking care, such as waiting on hold to make an appointment, or not being able to contact their provider during the day. Patients who work long or odd hours may have limited options for calling during regular office hours. Self-scheduling eliminates this barrier since it allows patients to book appointments when they can. Across Phreesia’s network, more than 30% of self-scheduled appointments are booked between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. Distance and travel time to an appointment may also discourage patients from seeking in-person care, especially those who live in rural areas or who lack access to reliable transportation. Self-scheduling gives those patients the chance to choose an appointment date and time that accommodates their schedule and the travel time they need.

6. Self-scheduling improves patient satisfaction and retention.

According to the Accenture study, nearly 80% of patients said they think the ability to book, change or cancel appointments online is important. That’s not surprising, considering that it typically takes patients more than eight minutes to schedule a medical appointment, including time spent on hold or being transferred. That wait is often frustrating, and patients may hang up and seek care elsewhere. By contrast, self-scheduling an appointment typically takes patients less than a minute and gives them real-time access to same-day or next-day appointments. That speed and convenience boosts their satisfaction and leads to improved patient loyalty and retention, as well as more business for your practice.

7. Self-scheduling drives patient acquisition.

If you’re not making it easy to book appointments, you may be missing opportunities to acquire new patients. Practices that offer self-scheduling not only better retain their current patients, they also differentiate themselves from their competitors and improve their chances of being referred. More than 60% of patients say they would switch healthcare providers if they could schedule an appointment more quickly.

Healthcare organizations that offer self-scheduling can use it to demonstrate their awareness of and responsiveness to patients’ needs and preferences. And with an increasing number of patients using online provider review sites, making sure your patients are satisfied with their scheduling experience matters.

Learn more about how Phreesia can improve patient appointment scheduling for your organization.