The 7 Myths Stopping Practices Taking Online Appointments

If you’re a Medical Service Provider, Practice Manager or member of their valued administrative staff, and you have looked at online appointment booking solutions but thought it wasn’t for you… then this will be one of the most important articles you read on the topic.

Online appointment bookings are here to stay and right now there is keen competition amongst a number of service providers to sign you up to their systems. However, you need to know that although they may offer a similar solution, the top 3 providers have very different systems.

Before we go too far though, I’d like you to know that I am the Managing Director and Co-Founder of 1stAvailable.com.au which is one of Australia’s leading online healthcare appointment booking providers. So I have an insider’s view of all the systems and know exactly how each one works.

Selecting an online appointment booking solution is not as straightforward as you might think.

Unfortunately, selecting an online appointment booking solution is not as straightforward as you might think. You need to ensure that the selected solution nurtures the existing doctor/patient relationship rather than disrupting. This is vital both for your practice and the health of your patients.

A practice must consider not only its own needs, but now, for the first time ever, they also have to become an expert in online consumer behaviour and preferences. This may seem like an overwhelming and difficult task… but it doesn’t need to be.

The easiest way to work it out, is to remind yourself that you’re a patient too. You are probably familiar with using online systems and apps on mobile devices… and so are your patients. Then think about when you have needed to access healthcare services.

When you think like an online consumer (patient) yourself, you can more easily understand the potential benefits to your practice and ensure you select the right solution. And remember, you need to balance what is good for your practice, but also what offers the most convenience to your patients.

There is no doubt the adoption of “online appointments” is gathering speed in the healthcare market as finally the benefits to both patients and practitioners is fully appreciated.

I predict within the next 2 years, the majority of the healthcare providers will adopt a digital solution.

In fact, I predict within the next 2 years, the majority of the healthcare providers will adopt a digital solution. This will then place new pressures on those practices who do not offer the convenience of online booking to their patients. And I see patients moving towards practices who do.

With more and more practices adopting appointment booking solutions, there is now a greater need to understand how these time saving systems work. Despite growing medical industry acceptance, there are still a number of myths around online appointment bookings. So I’d like to help you demystify 7 of the most commonly perceived myths stopping practices taking online appointments:

Myth #1 – I’d Only Want To Use It To Attract New Patients…

Undoubtedly, online appointment scheduling provides an excellent platform for attracting new patients. However there are several challenges associated with planning to limit online appointments for new patient bookings only:

Your existing patients want to book online too! The Australian Healthcare Access Study tells us that 61% of Australian’s find the current process of booking an appointment by telephone frustrating and inconvenient. Many delay access to healthcare services as a result.

We all do so much online today, that online appointment booking is a very natural change for patients to make (you will need to introduce it to them.)

Within 2 weeks they were begging to be included with online bookings.

You need to be careful where these “new” patients are coming from. If a new patient doesn’t remain loyal to the practice, then you risk losing profitability from servicing a random patient who’s booked online. Most practices prefer “referred” patients and this is possible with online appointment booking systems when you select the right solution. Very few are designed to drive referral business.

A quick case study: I had a practice where two of the doctors (the more established doctors in the practice) decided that they didn’t want “to be online.” They felt it was only suitable for the younger doctors in the practice.

Within 2 weeks they were begging to be included with online bookings.

Why? Well, two important things happened here… The older doctors felt out of the “inner circle” during lunch breaks where there was much excitement being shared about the experiences and patient feedback. And secondly (and more importantly) they started being reprimanded by their patients. The patients would say “don’t you respect my convenience of access to your services? Why are the other doctors easier to book than you? You are my doctor.”

I have seen this happen several times now. When a practice makes the fateful decision to only have their “newer” doctors available to be booked online.

Myth #2 – Google Ranking of the selected system is critical…

Despite what you might think… Google can be the worst source of new patients for your practice. Statistics show patients who come from Google searches are less likely to stick with a practice.

There’s a very good reason practices prefer referred business. Referred customers are more “sticky”. They tend to be more loyal to a practice than a random patient booking with you as a result of a Google search would be.

While I do believe an Internet search can have some value around how you may acquire new patients… you shouldn’t fall into the trap of placing too much weight on this when selecting a solution.

Important tip: If you are using Google ads… measure the results very carefully.

Myth #3 – The more website traffic the better?

Website traffic is not a great measure of value to any practice and this myth closely aligns with the myth above about Google ranking/searches.

It is more valuable to know the percentage of site traffic that converts into a booking. A higher conversion percentage would indicate a greater patient interest in the service and practice.

It’s always advisable to measure against a conversion rate of at least 15%. If it is lower than this, it may indicate poor quality website traffic similar to Google searches.

Myth #4 – I’d only want it to protect my existing patient base…

The challenge here is simple to understand. Any patient with online access is only ever a click away from “Dr Google.”

By this, I mean don’t fall into the trap of believing that you will keep patients more loyal by either:

a) A unique practice based app for your patients, or
b) Offering appointment booking only through your practice website.

We can’t, and mustn’t try to control our patients by offering them only a narrow method for booking appointments.

We can’t, and mustn’t try to control our patients by offering them only a narrow method for booking appointments. The fact is many patients see multiple providers these days – partly because we work in one place and may live in another, and sometimes because a time slot or service being offering doesn’t meet their needs.

Imagine a patient is offered an app that only allows them to book with your practice, for example, and they book with you once, or even maybe 3 times in a year. If they don’t book with you for 6 months, do you think they’ll remember which app they used initially? It’s extremely unlikely.

The reason for this is… if an app isn’t used at least once or twice a month, we soon forget about it and also the details we registered with.

Think about your own online habits. Especially how you use apps in particular. Do you have an app that provides you access to only one specific service, a service you use rarely? Can you even remember the name of that app?

If you can’t… chances are, your patients won’t either, and so your phones will start ringing again!

Myth #5 – I already have online appointments – patients can book through my practice website…

I always think it’s fantastic when a practice progresses to have a digital booking solution, even one that’s been provided with their Practice Management Software vendor. It provides some exposure to the benefits, however the results are often limited, and there is good reason for this.

A more complete solution offers the combined possibility of the option to book through the practice’s website, a mobile app and/or a central portal. And will always deliver more comprehensive results.

Think about it like this. Over the next 2 years your practice’s website will have to compete with the other options available for a patient to book appointments in what will be an increasingly busy space.

The best examples history can give of such lacking hindsight is in the accommodation and real estate industries.

You will carry both the technological and marketing burden of ensuring patients book through there.

LJ Hooker, Ray White, Raine & Horne and other major chains invest massively in marketing, yet they simply cannot get consumers to go to their websites. Instead, they all go straight to either Realestate.com.au or Domain. It is the same with Hilton and Sheraton who cannot get consumers to book directly through their websites. Instead bookings are made on WOTIF.com or Expedia etc. And of course, there are other examples in other industries too. These sites are popular because they are “aggregators” of content. That is, they offer the convenience of everything you need in one place.

If all you’re doing is offering online appointments via your own website, you will carry both the technological and marketing burden of ensuring patients book through there. Which includes technical support for patients who are having difficulties. It’s a potentially a huge burden to be placed on a practice.

You should be careful to select a solution that offers maximum convenience to your patients. And one where the patient’s technical needs are looked after by the online solution provider.

Otherwise patients will soon forget how they booked online. It needs to have just one login and one password… because ultimately, convenience is what the consumer wants. Patients will be increasingly drawn to using a service that allows them to book not only their doctor, but also their dentist, physio, massage therapist and other services through one convenience platform.

Myth #6 – My practice does not need it – our doctors are booked out 3 weeks ahead…

It’s great your practice is bustling, but truthfully in such a busy practice, your front desk staff are inconvenienced by the massive burden of managing appointments manually. And your patients are also missing out on the benefits of being able to book an appointment with you, even when your practice is closed, simply and quickly – online, 24/7. By the time they are able to make an appointment by phone… you may be fully booked, they may be unavailable and then they look elsewhere.

Take a moment to reflect here for a moment. You are a Doctor or Practice Manager. But you’re active online yourself and appreciate the convenience of booking airfares, accommodation, theatre tickets etc. online. Could you imagine doing these things any other way anymore?

So when you think about it, you are also a patient. Now be honest with yourself, wouldn’t you prefer the convenience of booking your own healthcare services online, whether be it an appointment to see your dentist, physio or massage therapist?

If you’d enjoy such convenience, then why not offer it to your patients? They’ll love you for it and so will all your staff! And don’t worry, patients understand that if they cannot find any appointments with you online, if they are an existing patient, they know to call you to see if you can fit them in when its important, and hopefully the online solution that you have chosen helps prompt them to do so.

Myth #7 - My doctors do not want it…

Online appointment scheduling is intended primarily for the convenience of patients and for the benefits experienced by front desk staff. I don’t know of a practice where the doctors wouldn’t appreciate their front desk staff having more time available to service them and patients better.

Front desk staff currently spend an average of up to 80% of their time on the phone managing appointments. Imagine the efficiency and additional service that online booking allows. Including the added benefit of your patients actually being greeted at the front desk (a constant criticism of medical customer service) when they arrive, rather than being ignored because your staff are on the phone managing appointments.

An online appointment booking service should be adopted to remove any barriers your patients may have booking with you. It’s convenient for your patients and they can access your healthcare services more as a result. That’s a good outcome for them and for you.

Everyone wins with online appointments. Doctors, front desk staff, the practice manager and your patients! With the right solution you remain in control of your appointment books and everyone experiences fantastic benefits.

With the right solution you remain in control of your appointment books and everyone experiences fantastic benefits.

So there you have the 7 Myths Stopping Practices Taking Online Appointments.

The Internet is rapidly changing the way people live and we can’t change that. But what we can do is move with the trend and business success will follow.

Too many people will think that their business or their industry is different, but the truth is… most of your patients know how to use a computer, have used Google and have booked accommodation or other services online.

Here is a great example that happened in another industry when a company underestimated the needs of their customers. Borders bookstore was a thriving business. They had stores all around the world and they were popular because everyone loves books. Unfortunately, they didn’t think anyone would want to buy books online. Amazon on the other hand fully embraced the change. Now days, one is a global business worth 157.52 billion dollars… and Borders went bankrupt in 2011.

With many different solutions now on the market, it presents a problem for practices to know which one to select. And if you get it wrong and have to switch, it’s similar to having to change practice telephone numbers! It can be massively disruptive to the business and your patients.

In the GP market, when you look for an online appointment booking provider, you will currently find three major players. There are numerous smaller providers, but some have already shelved their products and others have disappeared completely. You don’t want to be stuck with a system with no support.

When you look beyond the GP market, there are only two solution providers … and 1stAvailable.com.au is one of them.

Now is the time for you to seriously look at the future of your practice and the direction it will take in the next 2-5 years. Will you have a thriving practice filled with satisfied patients… or will your practice be in a slow decline as your patients book online through intuitive, people friendly apps and online portals with other practices instead?

To help you know more about your online appointment booking options, I’d be very happy to help you know more. Simply go to 1stavailable and register your interest.

At 1stAvailable we have thought deeply about the design of our solution in a way that nurtures the existing patient/doctor relationship, drives strong referral business to your practice, minimizes no-shows and doctor shoppers, while the whole time working seamlessly with your current business operations.

Whatever you choose to do, I wish you well in your business and hope you find the solution you are looking for.