How to create a patient-centric appointment strategy

Patients want the digital, self-service scheduling experience that they've come to expect from other service industries.
Patient Experience

Thirty-six percent of patients consider the ability to check in online for medical appointments a “must-have” when choosing a provider, according to a Phreesia survey of more than 4,000 patients. With that in mind, healthcare organizations that want to remain competitive should make sure they’re delivering on this expectation.

In a recent webinar, part of Phreesia’s Front Office of the Future series, Trista Ricketts, Practice Administrator at Women’s Health Specialists of Dallas, shared how she is using digital tools to provide the convenient scheduling experience patients expect. Keep reading to learn about three ways that you can implement a patient-centric appointment strategy at your organization:

Make scheduling more convenient with online appointments

According to Phreesia’s survey, 84% of patients said they would schedule medical appointments online if their doctor’s office offered that option. By allowing patients to schedule their own appointments, healthcare organizations create convenience and alleviate staff burden.

For healthcare organizations that aren’t ready for self-scheduling but still want to make sure that patients can request appointments outside of business hours, implementing online appointment-request forms can reduce inbound call volumes and help staff better manage their workload. 

Making it possible for patients to request an appointment online has been a “lifesaver” for Women’s Health Specialists of Dallas, Ricketts said, as the practice is in high demand.

These features help accommodate patients’ busy schedules and help healthcare organizations reach patients who may not be able to call their doctor’s office during the typical workday. Data from Phreesia’s network shows that 52% of self-scheduled appointments are made after outside of business hours, demonstrating that patients appreciate convenience and expanded access.

Automate appointment reminders to ensure that patients show up

Appointment reminders play a critical role in reducing no-shows. One study published in the International Journal of Pediatrics found that when parents of pediatric patients received a text message in addition to a phone call reminder about their child’s appointment, no-shows dropped by more than 14%. Automated text message reminders can accomplish this without giving staff more work to do. It’s also easy to send links and other information in a text message to help patients directly manage their care.

Ricketts also said automated voice call reminders also play a key role in confirming appointments for patients who are at risk of not showing up.

“When patients don’t respond to our automated text reminders, voice reminders really wake patients up and encourage them to confirm their appointment and check in ahead of their visit,” Ricketts said.

Automated reminders are effective in improving appointment adherence across healthcare settings and patient populations, and should be tailored, specific, and allow patients to easily confirm, reschedule or cancel their appointment without having to make a phone call. Because the practice has multiple locations, Ricketts noted that it has been critical to include the specific appointment location and a link containing directions to the facility. Before the practice upgraded their technology, “it wasn’t uncommon that patients would show up at the wrong location, or not know where to go because our reminders didn’t include their visit location,” she said.  

Reminders should be further customized to handle complex appointment types. Ricketts noted that many visits at Women’s Health Specialists of Dallas contain multiple appointments—for example, labs or imaging, plus a procedure or exam. Even though there may be multiple appointments scheduled on the provider’s backend software, the practice has configured its reminders so that patients only receive one reminder for the entire visit. This streamlined approach eliminates any confusion they may have about when they should arrive.

Keep both patients and staff happy by automatically filling gaps in your schedule

While waitlists seem like a good idea to help patients get seen faster, managing them well is tough. Staff may spend hours each day calling patients to fill cancellations and patients may not be available at the moment they call.

An automated schedule-management tool can quickly fill gaps without any staff effort. When a patient cancels a visit, the tool identifies other clinically relevant patients with upcoming appointments and automatically sends them a text message offering the earlier, reopened appointment slot. The first patient to reply gets that appointment—no waitlist sign-ups, apps, portals or staff work required.

This type of tool can not only fill gaps created by cancellations but also reschedule patients if they no-show or are bumped. In addition, automated schedule management can help reduce overall clinician burnout by filling under-utilized providers’ schedules, shifting patients from overbooked clinicians to those with more time on their schedules.

When healthcare organizations implement a convenient, patient-centric appointment strategy, they demonstrate to patients that they value their time and loyalty. By automating these features, healthcare organizations not only make scheduling easier for patients, but also give their staff more time to focus on providing an outstanding patient experience.

Learn more about how Phreesia can help your healthcare organization improve the scheduling experience.