Take Your Medical Appointment Scheduling Online

November 13th, 2008

I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest tech guru. I got a degree in medicine, not in information technology. However, I do know a good program when I see one and I have been telling every colleague that will listen.

I was looking for a way to automate appointment management. My front desk receptionist seemed to either overbook or underbook (mostly overbook) my appointments every day. Also, for some reason, she could not accommodate urgent or walk-in appointments.

Poor appointment management would mean my days never ended and patients became increasingly frustrated as delays increased. It turned into a mess. One problem was the old paper method of medical appointment scheduling that I used. The boxes were small and information in them was not easily erased. They left no room for additional appointments and did not allow any flexibility during the day.

I decided that I needed to move to an online appointment scheduler. In researching my options, I found that a few appointment management programs are extremely sophisticated. For example, the online appointment scheduling system that I went with offers so many features that my practice feels streamlined. This program allows patients to call my office or log on to the web and directly access my patient appointment schedule. Patients love this, by the way. It allows them to set a time to see me of their own choosing. Even though my patients could have accomplished the same thing by calling my medical receptionist, many patients have told me they now feel that they have better access to me. I suppose they do because the software never sleeps, never calls in sick, and never “goes home.” It operates as a 24/7 patient scheduling system that allows me to offer self-service patient appointment scheduling.

The phone voice system is particularly useful in that it uses a natural language dialogue that is a vast improvement over traditional voice mail messaging. Plus it has the added advantage over a live answering service since calls are triaged. That means if a patient calls in with an emergency, they are connected to an appropriate emergency contact immediately. I have experienced unacceptable delays in getting urgent or emergent messages in the past. Before I implemented automated appointment scheduling, some of my patients felt inhibited when they needed to call. Feedback that I get now has allayed my fear that patients would feel that automated appointment scheduling was too impersonal. On the contrary, almost all of them prefer it.

I will say that that people did ask about the safety of their personal information. The program that I use is fully HIPAA compliant. Patients were concerned (rightfully so!) about their privacy and I was able to tell them that their demographic and medical information was secure.

What sold me on my current package is that the software has an appointment reminder feature and it can be set to make appointment reminder phone calls. Best of all, I was able to quit my medical answering service and use this program exclusively. It really is fantastic.

If you are trying to find ways to make your practice more efficient, you really do need to investigate appointment scheduling software. When you do make that jump, make sure that you choose one program that can do many tasks, and perform them securely and reliably. My package functions as an online appointment scheduler, 24/7 physician answering service, automated appointment reminder and virtual receptionist. Because of this switch, I now have reduced my overhead costs considerably. My personnel costs are much lower and I avoid some the hassle of personnel management since I use a fully automated system for so many things. My friends and colleagues think I sound like a broken record when it comes to appointment scheduling software, but I have gotten several of them to switch!

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