Why some hospitals have limited patient self-scheduling – is it hospital policy or technology?

IMG-5-stages-patient-frustration-750x422-web (2)With the rise of connected devices and on-demand services, as consumers, we have come to expect connectivity and convenience in all aspects of our lives. As an on-the-go mom and business executive, I rely on my smartphone to accomplish tasks like ordering my morning coffee when I’m in a rush, booking movie tickets to get the best seats on opening night, or checking in on my next flight. Technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives, and as it continues to innovate the healthcare industry, patients are asking health systems to offer this same type of convenience and control when it comes to booking, changing or canceling appointments online.

The expectation of convenience opens a unique opportunity for health systems to differentiate themselves from competitors. This begs the questions: In a world where we can virtually do almost any other task from a smartphone, why can’t we schedule our healthcare appointments ourselves? And, do our healthcare providers trust us to schedule the right kinds of visits?

Many assume technology is the primary obstacle when it comes to offering consumers self-service options. The reality is that technology limitations are just half of the story. Much of what patients are allowed to self-schedule is restricted based on hospital policy, not necessarily technology limitations. To explore whether patient self-scheduling services are hindered by technology or hospital policies, we surveyed a sampling of hospital executives and patient access directors to understand barriers. The results indicate those policies may have been established to compensate for functional limitations of the EHR-based scheduling tools currently in use.

Survey results found that:

  • 51 percent of respondents believe their health system could offer a comprehensive list of procedures via self-service, but 70 percent of respondents choose to limit what is exposed to patients.
  • 41 percent of respondents revealed that their current EHR-based scheduling system limits the types of appointments offered via self-service.
  • Concerns over inappropriate scheduling by patients was cited as the primary obstacle by providers in expanding self-service options.

The concerns health systems may have over inappropriate scheduling by patients can be eliminated with a rules-based, self-service technology with built-in logic. With a rules-based system, patients move through the process step-by-step to assure readiness, slot availability, insurance, and other factors as part of the scheduling process. Other factors could include which doctor the patient sees, any pre-existing conditions, patient history and preference, what hospital resources are available or will need to be utilized, and the necessary length of time required for the visit.

The bottom line? By shifting the workflow to a consumer or referring practice, health systems using rules-based self-scheduling substantially reduce labor costs, maximize scheduling capacity and drive up patient volume – while making patients and providers happier. In addition, market reality confirms that health systems that eliminate patients’ frustrations gain a competitive edge. EMRandEHR.com and HealthcareScene.com’s John Lynn highlighted this when he shared our new infographic about the emotional stages patients experience when calling multiple numbers and departments to schedule appointments, waiting long periods of time to get tests scheduled, and often having to get rescheduled. Giving patients self-scheduling options increases overall patient satisfaction, making them feel respected, in control, empowered, and less likely to leave the health system.

Be sure to check out HIT Consultant as well as Becker’s Hospital Review’s drill down of our newest infographic, “Why Centralized Patient Access Matters for an Ideal Patient Experience,” and the five stages of both patient frustration and satisfaction.

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