For today's tech-savvy consumers, patient-centric care begins before they step foot in the doctor's office, hospital or clinic. It starts with the patient trawling the web for provider reviews and ratings. But until recently, online options for scheduling appointments were few and far between.
That's unacceptable to today's impatient consumers. "Millennials don't even want to pick up the phone," said Travis Moore, senior vice president of market solutions for Kyruus, a company that makes software for scheduling and matching patients to providers.
Providers are responding by partnering with online scheduling services. That's a boon for patients and providers alike, as the former experience shorter wait times and the latter improve efficiency and patient satisfaction.
But the practice is still not widespread. About a fifth of appointments were self-scheduled in 2016, according to Accenture, up from 9% in 2015. There's also evidence that many providers are moving backward on wait times. According to a 2017 Merritt Hawkins survey of physicians' offices in 15 major cities, the average wait time for a new patient is 24 days, up 30% since 2014.
All that may soon change. "Consumers expect in healthcare the simplicity and convenience they get from other industries," said Brian Kalis, managing director of digital health for Accenture.
By 2019, the consulting firm predicts, 64% of patients will schedule appointments digitally at U.S. health systems, compared with just 34% in 2016. The firm also predicts that all the top 100 U.S. health systems will provide digital self-scheduling.
For some, this is already a reality. Every month, 6 million patients use Zocdoc, an online scheduling service that launched in 2007. Providers pay a subscription fee to be listed on Zocdoc, which then syncs with their practice management software, finds appointment availability, and, in some cases, directly writes the appointments into their calendars.