These days, it’s common for medical practices to have either an appointment scheduling service or appointment request form on their website. However, there are still just as many practices who are resistant to the idea.
There are a lot of valid reasons why a practice might not want to allow appointment scheduling or requests online. Perhaps none of the available online scheduling options integrate well with the practice’s current appointment scheduling system. In other cases, these online requests might not fit into the practice’s current workflow, or there might be concern that these requests might slip through the cracks if front desk employees are already overloaded.
With that said, there are potential benefits to having online options for patients who want to book an appointment. It may be worth the effort to reevaluate your current processes to see if you can make online appointment requests work for your practice.
These are some of the reasons your practice should consider having an online appointment request form:
1. Patients have come to expect online options.
We now live in a time where we can order anything we want, from restaurant orders and groceries to clothing, medications, and even transportation without ever making a phone call. Naturally, people expect to be able to do the same thing for their medical appointments.
While there are still many patients who are totally fine with picking up the phone to call your office, there are others that won’t want to or don’t have the time to call. You could be missing out on those patients. This is especially true if you see a lot of younger patients, who tend to be used to ordering everything they want online.
2. Online forms help you get patients after-hours.
If a patient only has time to contact your practice after-hours, an appointment request form or online scheduling service may be a better option than calling. When given the option, most people won’t want to call, leave a message, and wait for someone to call them back. They are much more likely to move on to a practice that allows them to request an appointment right then and there.
It is important to remember that some patients work full-time during the hours that your practice is open. They may not have time during the day to call your office and make an appointment, especially if it is not an urgent issue that requires immediate care. This is especially true if your practice is very busy and patients typically have to wait on hold to speak to someone. An appointment request or appointment scheduling form gives those patients the opportunity to get an appointment set up whenever they have the time to do so. When people are busy, they want the option that is convenient and will take the least amount of time, and in many cases, that is an online form.
3. Appointment Request forms can actually help to alleviate burden on your staff.
A common argument against appointment request forms is: “We don’t have the time or staff to handle online appointment requests.” Perhaps that is true with your practice’s current workflow, but making workflow changes to accommodate for online requests could actually alleviate some of that burden. If your phone is constantly ringing, you are probably having to put patients on hold most of the time, and it may be difficult for your front desk staff to get anything else done when they are constantly answering phones. This is an unpleasant workflow for all parties involved. An online appointment request or scheduling form can help to reduce the number of phone calls by allowing patients to submit their requests online.
Changing your workflow to include online forms can be really helpful, especially if your office is short-staffed and unable to answer all of the phone calls that come through. One practice that we work with actually updated their automated hold message to let patients know that they could request an appointment via the website. This is a great way to let patients know that the option is available if they can’t or don’t want to wait on hold, and helps to reduce the amount of patients waiting on hold for your staff to answer. You can designate one person to process the online requests, or have the whole team pitch in depending on who has time. Yes, it will require a change to your current workflow and may take some trial and error, but it can be a worthwhile change once you figure it out.
4. Your competitors already have an appointment request form.
In the vast majority of cases, at least one (and likely more) of your competitors will have an appointment request form. If a patient can’t or won’t pick up the phone, there is a very good chance that they will go with your competitor instead.
Now more than ever, it is important to remove all of the potential obstacles that you can in terms of getting patients to contact you. Since COVID-19 has swept the United States, elective procedures have been down compared to previous years, and that trend is likely to continue for at least as long as COVID is an issue. The market for surgery is smaller than it once was, so it is even more critical that you remove potential obstacles with patient acquisition if you want to keep your volumes up.
The bottom line is that people are coming to modern conveniences in all aspects of their lives, and healthcare is no different. Though it may require some workflow changes, patients are seeking out options like online appointment scheduling. If your practice is resistant to the changes that patients want to see, they may move on to another practice that meets their needs.