Breaking down the barriers to patient acquisition with a digital-first experience

Technology can help healthcare organizations increase appointment volume, build loyalty and trust, and engage patients in their care.
Operations Patient Experience

Consumers can book a hotel room, pay their credit card bill or buy event tickets with just a few clicks online. So why does it often take more steps—or even a phone call—to accomplish similar tasks with a healthcare provider?

In a Phreesia survey, nearly 40% of patients said the ability to schedule, reschedule and confirm a medical appointment online is a must-have when choosing a doctor, yet many healthcare organizations still require patients to call to book an appointment. When it’s difficult or time-consuming for patients to connect with your healthcare organization, they’re more likely to neglect care—or choose a competitor.

During a Phreesia webinar, Rob Gavora, MHA, Chief Administrative Officer at MercyOne Iowa Heart Center, shared the strategies his organization has developed for optimizing patient acquisition through online scheduling. Keep reading to learn how MercyOne is making it easier for patients to access care.

Don’t force patients to call your office
While some patients may be willing to call your office to book an appointment, most prefer not to. Indeed, 84% of patients surveyed by Phreesia said they would book their healthcare appointments online if given the option—and many patients expect it.

“The data shows that we see more patients by having a digital process and platform for scheduling,” Gavora said.

Patients cited a number of reasons why they prefer to book medical appointments online, including speed (55%), after-hours access (31%) or simply a preference to not talk to anyone (29%). By directing patients to schedule their visits online instead of through a call center, MercyOne aims to make it easier for them to seek care and avoid time spent on hold, which can lead to abandonment, Gavora said.

“We’ve worked to eliminate the frustration and awkwardness of scheduling by having something that patients could own themselves, digitally, and that takes moments to complete versus multiple phone calls and multiple handoffs,” Gavora said.

Streamline the appointment-booking process
Even among health systems that offer online scheduling, patients say the experience is sometimes less than ideal. According to one study, 72% of patients said there was room for improvement with their online booking experience, noting that it was often difficult to log in to their provider’s scheduling portal, there were too many steps required to register and there isn’t always a clear confirmation that their appointment was scheduled. Patients participating in the study also complained about a general lack of appointment availability, as well as a need to follow up by phone after booking.

Self-scheduling allows patients to book an appointment at any time, and the best tools don’t require a login or app and offer automatic notification to patients when their appointment has been scheduled. As an added convenience, a smart-scheduling tool can refill open appointment slots when cancellations occur by automatically sending text messages offering patients earlier slots.

Gavora and his team put themselves in their patients’ shoes to determine where scheduling bottlenecks could occur, with a goal of making it possible for patients to book an appointment in just 15 to 30 seconds.

“If I’m a patient, and I can go online in any search engine and type in MercyOne, how quickly can I book an appointment?” Gavora asked. “The more clicks the patient has to take to get to that endpoint, the less likely they really are to get engaged with the organization and think about it as a provider of choice when they need something.”

Consolidate vendors to simplify the patient experience
While nearly 9 in 10 patients say they’re comfortable using technology to manage their care, the ones who feel uncomfortable often say it’s because they don’t think digital tools are easy to use. When healthcare organizations require patients to use different applications to book appointments, check in for their visit, communicate with staff and make payments, they make it harder for patients to engage with their provider and complete these tasks on their own.

By consolidating to a single vendor for scheduling, intake, communications and payments, you’ll simplify the patient experience. Patients will only need to familiarize themselves with one digital platform, and your staff will spend less time teaching them how to use it.  

“We just try to really make sure giving patients what they’re looking for and really trying to make the process as non-daunting and simple as possible,” Gavora said. “Once we get them in the door, we believe from that point on, as most organizations do, that we have the people—providers and personnel—that if we get them at least somewhat intrigued, we can positively develop the relationship from there.”

Learn how Phreesia’s appointment-scheduling tools can help your organization break down barriers to access and support your patient acquisition strategy.