Appointments, Patient Experience and the Age of Convenience

online appointment dogIt’s far easier for you or me to make an appointment for doggie day care than it is to see a doctor. It’s frustrating. Priorities somewhere are upside-down. It shouldn’t be so, but that’s the facts, Jack.

In many (perhaps most) parts of the nation, technologically advanced healthcare providers and medical facilities sadly trail the comparatively unsophisticated small businesses in their community. Consider these semi-hypothetical examples.

In about the time it takes to read this paragraph, I can make an appointment via text message for a puppy play date (plus bath and grooming) at my favorite kennel. Within the same minute or so, I can, via email, arrange for a snow-plowed driveway (or lawn mowed, depending on the season). And now with my schedule clear, I can purchase movie tickets and make an online restaurant reservation. There…done. One smartphone and less than two minutes.

Contrast that with the considerably greater time, effort and headache required to find, qualify, select and make an appointment with, let’s say, a dermatologist in my part of town. Not to embarrass anyone, this is all hypothetical, of course, but your own experience with doctors or hospitals will probably validate this picture.

Someone recommended a particular doctor, but it turns out that “Dr. Smith” (my first preference) did not have a functioning website. So, in spite of the patient referral, this practice didn’t exist for me, and I scratched deeper.

The only option for making an appointment was to call. Provided that I didn’t call during the 90 minute lunch hour; provided that I could get through to a knowledgeable person; and provided that I could wait a month for an appointment. (Dermatology practices have a poor track record in the time it takes for a patient to wait for an appointment; by one study, 38 days on average.)

There was never an option to make an appointment online. At best, the phone-tag appointment ritual—which is the traditional pathway—takes at least an hour, and at worst, a couple days to complete.

Please forgive me if I’m singing to the choir there, but doctors and hospitals should be able to beat the pants off the local dog groomer or auto service center. For one thing, patients and prospective patients are already looking online. And, for another reason, patients are consumers who want, need, and virtually demand greater convenience in their patient experience.

Healthcare marketing professionals, administrators and medical practice owners should consider the following data points:

  • Among individuals who research hospitals online, 44 percent scheduled an appointment
  • Nearly 80 percent of patients used online search prior to booking an appointment
  • Less than 20 percent of patients are able to make an appointment online
  • Over 40 percent of patients would schedule online if available

From a marketing perspective, providing an online appointment option provides an important competitive advantage. Someday—perhaps the next five to 10 years—experts predict it will become an industry standard. But right now, the convenience of online appointments is a significant point of differentiation for attracting and immediately appointing new patients.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

About Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is both the Publisher of and the Co-Founder of Healthcare Success. Stewart has written for dozens of leading healthcare publications and spoken at hundreds of venues on a variety of topics including marketing, reputation management and patient experience. Additionally, he has personally consulted for over 1,500 hospitals and practices. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Stewart worked for leading advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson.

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