5 Roadblocks to Patient Scheduling for Orthopedics & How to Fix Them
"Patients typically go to their insurance company's website, which aren't always a great resource for them," says Oliver Kharraz, MD, COO and co-founder of ZocDoc. "On our platform, patients can type in the specialty they are looking for and their insurance carrier to see who is available and book the appointment with one click. For the patient, it takes away one of the hurdles that causes them to not seek care, or delays care significantly."
Here, Dr. Kharraz discusses five major road blocks for patient scheduling and how to eliminate them.
1. Long wait times to see physicians. The average time patients have to wait between scheduling the appointment and actually seeing the physician is 21 days. Patients are often frustrated by the long waiting times; especially when daily cancellations leave space open on short notice.
"The typical wait time for patients using ZocDoc is less than three days because we fill patients into empty appointments on the schedule," says Dr. Kharraz. "This is also an advantage for the physicians because it fills in the gaps and generates revenue where there wouldn't have been any before. These are appointments that otherwise would have gone to waste."
This is especially convenient for patients who don't have a regular physician or surgeon. "We find that a lot of people don't have a regular orthopedic surgeon they go to all the time," says Dr. Kharraz. "This technology brings the exploration process into the 21st century."
2. Physicians have a poor online reputation. There are dozens of websites that allow people to post their experiences with physicians online. Patients are increasingly relying on these reviews to decide whether they visit a specialist, even when that specialist was recommended by their primary care physician. While patients may have an excellent experience 99 percent of the time, the one patient who had a bad experience is the most likely to post about it.
It's important for physicians to gather feedback from all patients and make sure the experience is reported accurately with a wide variety of responses. Physician offices should encourage their patients to leave a review, and with ZocDoc, only patients who are registered and actually attended their appointments are able to leave comments.
"Collecting feedback on the physician can be anxiety laden, but when you get feedback from everyone who is on the books you get a representative opinion," says Dr. Kharraz. "When physicians have patient orientation, they tend to get good reviews and amplify the positive word-of-mouth for their practice."
3. Scheduling is only available during work hours. Many people have jam-packed work schedules, leaving only a short amount of time for the visit and no time to schedule the appointment during the work day. Yet, many practices only schedule patients when their front desk staff is available 9am-5pm.
"In many physician offices, the phones are jammed during the noon hour or early afternoon, so the office staff is overwhelmed and there are long waits for patients on the phone," says Dr. Kharraz. "In this day and age, a lot of patients won't find this acceptable. They are looking for an experience that fits their lifestyle."
Scheduling physician office visits online can give 24/7 access to potential patients. ZocDoc allows patients to schedule the appointment online, and many of their appointments are scheduled on Sunday nights or around 10pm in the evening, and some patients find openings on the next day.
"It's a much more respectful way to deal with patients," says Dr. Kharraz. "These are busy professionals and they have a hard time fitting the appointment in let alone scheduling time on the phone."
4. Inefficiency at the office. Physician offices must run as efficiently as possible to create a positive experience for patients. Many practices are concerned with implementing new technology and changing their processes because of the time and energy put into the change. However, more information technology companies are becoming savvy to these concerns and simplifying the integration process by using the Cloud.
"These systems should pull information on available times from the Cloud," says Dr. Kharraz. "We have tools on how the office manager can engage with these appointments. There is also a two-way messaging system to coordinate the times."
There are some practices that don't currently have electronic scheduling. For those practices, there is a web-based gathering system that shows available times. "These platforms should be designed to have a minimum impact on workflow and provide all the information neatly written down in a copy/paste format that can be used easily," says Dr. Kharraz.
5. Qualifications for physicians are unclear. Patients are looking for physicians who provide excellent quality and good service. It's very difficult for consumers to gather accurate information on the physician's qualifications unless they make a concerted effort disseminate that information.
"Patients are often looking for a new doctor they can trust," says Dr. Kharraz. "Right now we are in a really good position to work with them on that. We have a full qualification team that does primary source verification on available information."
ZocDoc allows patients to find surgeons by specialty and see whether other patients had a good experience. "The vast majority of physicians are in a position to help patients greatly, but we want to make it such that a patient can pick any available ZocDoc physician and believe they will take good care of them," says Dr. Kharraz.
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