8 ways doctors can improve patient appointments

Doctors can use technology to improve one basic patient experience: the office appointment, according to a new report based on a survey of 2,000 consumers.

With more patients turning to retail clinics and urgent care centers because of convenience and time savings, physicians can compete by meeting patient's tech-driven expectations, according to the report "No Room for Waiting." The survey, conducted by Sequence, a New York and San Francisco-based agency, revealed the average doctor's appointment experience fails to meet today's standards for convenience, information, and speed, the report said.

"These days, almost anything we need is a tap or click away. We live in a world of on-demand, personalized experiences, from grocery delivery and ride requests, to styling subscriptions, errand outsourcing and text therapy. But healthcare remains behind the curve," according to the report.

Based on the survey, here's some steps physician practices can take to improve patient appointments:

Allow patients to book appointments online rather than by phone, as they do to book restaurant reservations, hotel rooms and flights. Eighty-eight percent of doctor's appointments are still scheduled by phone.  One in three millennials prefer to schedule an appointment via their physician's website.

Use text alerts to notify patients if you are running late. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents prefer a text alert.

Reduce time patients spend in the waiting room. Sixty-three percent of consumers said that is the biggest stressor of an appointment. On average, 85 percent of patients wait between 10 and 30 minutes to see their doctor.

Take a page from the Disney theme parks and make the wait as pleasant as possible. For instance, be sure there is internet access and up-to-date magazines.

Eliminate requests for redundant information. Based on the survey, 23 percent of patients say they need to repeatedly provide or enter the same information on multiple forms or in multiple systems.

Post the estimated wait times in the waiting room so patients know if you or other staff are running late, a wish of 55 percent of patients.

Have a convenient checkout process. Make it clear to patients if they need to sign out or pay for services. Almost half of respondents (44 percent) said they were unclear about how much they had to pay upon leaving the office. Avoid billing surprises when it comes to tests and treatment. Some 38 percent of millennials were stressed out about not understanding their out-of-pocket expenses. Consider a mobile pay solution so patients can quickly determine out-of-pocket costs, a preference for 33 percent of millennials.

Make it easy for patients to follow-up once they leave the office. Ten percent of millennials said they did not understand what was being said to them during the visit and 15 percent were unclear on follow-up steps. Almost half of respondents said they would like to have follow-up information or communication via a secure web or mobile portal.

Physician offices are learning from their competitors. Many practices now offer same-day appointments and weekend hours for patients to compete with retail clinics, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported.

To learn more:
-  read the report